Canada should follow Obama’s stimulus lead: CATA

U.S. president-elect Barack Obama’s proposed stimulus package for the American economy demonstrates the kind of leadership Canada needs to be an economic leader in the 21st Century, according to the president of a Canadian IT industry lobby group.

Obama laid out his economic stimulus package on Thursday, with broadband rollout, an Internet-based smart energy grid and computers for schools as part of the plan.

Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance president John Reid said the Obama plan is very much in tune with what CATA has been proposing as a Canadian response to the economic crisis.

CATA will soon release a position paper called An Economy That Works for comment by the public and private sectors. The alliance is proposing about $60 billion in stimulus spending.

“I take some satisfaction in how well CATA is tracking (with Obama’s proposals),” Reid said. “”It almost mirrors what we’re putting out as recommendations.”

During his campaign, Obama included rolling out broadband, energy issues and computers for schools in his list of goals, but in Thursday’s speech in Fairfax, Va., he called for those items to be included in a giant stimulus package he’ll push Congress to pass within weeks. The stimulus package could cost close to US$1 trillion.

That’s a huge export opportunity for Canadian companies, Reid said.

And it’s not simply a stimulus package, Reid said.

“It’s a stimulus, but you’re investing in a massive transformation,” moving the economy into goods and services that are higher value, Reid said. For the past several years, CATA has been pushing the “Innovation Nation” agenda, a transformation of the Canadian economy of just that sort.

“This stimulus in the U.S. is basically creating their Innovation Nation,” Reid said.

“I just haven’t seen that messaging coming out of Canada.”

Half the battle, Reid said, is making the people feel confident that there’s a hand on the tiller. And Canada’s leadership messaging has been weak, he said.

A CATA survey of Canadian high-tech leaders found almost three-quarters felt a continuing downturn would cause a decline in their revenues or “badly wound” the company. Another six per cent said their businesses could close.

Sixty per cent approved of CATA’s proposed $60-billion stimulus package, with investment in smart infrastructure the choice target for investment of 41 per cent. Other popular areas for investment included traditional infrastructure (23 per cent) and green technology (19 per cent).

Those priorities seem to mirror those of the U.S. stimulus package. Canada’s stimulus package “should message and track along the same lines,” Reid said, while acknowledging there are some unique opportunities in the Canadian economy – for example, the transformation of the resource sector.

Obama has called for all U.S. medical records to be computerized within five years, new computers and technology for schools, rolling out broadband to unserved and underserved areas, and smart energy grids that would allow real-time monitoring of a customer’s energy use through Internet technology.

Part of the package should include rebuilding physical infrastructure such as roads and bridges, Obama said. “But we’ll also do more to retrofit America for a global economy,” he added. “That means updating the way we get our electricity by starting to build a new smart grid that will save us money, protect our power sources from blackout or attack, and deliver clean, alternative forms of energy to every corner of our nation. It means expanding broadband lines across America, so that a small business in a rural town can connect and compete with their counterparts anywhere in the world.”

— With files from Grant Gross, IDG News Service (Washington Bureau)

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