Government relations expert Gregory Stulen tells us when business and local government can expect Ottawa’s “build back better” RFPs to begin — and what they can do now to help ensure those plans work for them
It’s no secret that the current federal government views investing in clean technology as one of the key priorities of its mandate. This was laid out in its Speech from the Throne in September and in its more recent Fall Economic Statement. While these types of addresses tend be light on details, we can read between the lines based on these and other related announcements to predict how the substance of the federal strategy will be rolled out from here.
Understanding those details and likely outcomes will be critical to helping businesses, local governments and other organizations to develop their own plans and strategies to help shape and then tap into a post-pandemic “building back better” program anchored around Canada’s clean technology sector.
A central question is the timing of the government’s release of its “building back better” stimulus resources. For a clue, look to its expectations for public health.
In late December, the government laid out its goal to have provided a vaccine to everyone who wants one by the end of September and various provinces have released similar timelines. The timing of vaccinations being available to the Canadian general public is important because it will signal two things — the end of the ongoing public health emergency and the beginning of the rollout of economic stimulus spending to get local and national economies back on their feet.
Given the government’s publicly stated late September objective, it is likely that Requests for Proposals (RFPs) related to “building back better” funds will begin to be released in October — although this timeline is subject to change as vaccination rates happen at a faster or slower rate than is being planned by these respective governments.
This timeline is also well-aligned with the rollout of funding that all governments typically spend in the 12-to-18-month period leading up to an election. If we assume that RFPs are typically posted for one to three months, and that they take another three to six months after they close for winners to be announced and for funding to flow, realistic timing for “building back better” funding to be released is the spring or summer of 2022. This puts the government well within the 18-month window that would precede an October 2023 election, and allows them to do so with the reasonable narrative of an economic stimulus program.
It is possible that the federal government may go into an election before 2023, given that we’re in a minority parliament. But my view is that this is unlikely for two reasons. First is the NDP’s willingness to support the Liberals for only minor concessions as a result of that party’s poor financial state. Second, there is a lack of interest from all opposition parties to go into an election against a government polling as strongly as the federal Liberals have been.
That said, even if an election were to be called prior to October 2023, it would be very unlikely to happen prior to the end of the pandemic, if for no other reason than it is a logistical nightmare to run a national election campaign during a pandemic. This means the current government would still have time to begin to release post-pandemic economic stimulus funds and the ability to fault opposition parties if the launch of this stimulus program wasn’t possible because of an unexpected election.
All of this is to say that an election prior to the release of stimulus spending is unlikely, which means that the October 2021 timeline for the release of RFPs and the rollout of “building back better” stimulus resources in the following spring or summer continues to be a likely outcome.
We know from the 2020 Throne Speech and Fall Economic Statement that the government sees a zero-emission-vehicle-driven future as a key component of addressing climate change and building an economy and workforce with the skills of tomorrow. It follows, then, that this focus on “future skills” and “clean technology” is likely to continue as they prepare to roll out their post-pandemic economic recovery plan.
Another central theme of this government has been its emphasis on supporting the development of disruptive technologies that give Canadian companies a competitive edge in global markets. This has been paired with large-scale public investments to achieve medium- and long-term strategic policy objectives. An example of this is the almost $1 billion that was invested in the Innovation Supercluster Initiative, intended to support and attract investment for innovative made-in-Canada disruptive technology companies.
These trends, coupled with a federal economic recovery plan valued at $70-to-$100 billion over three years, hold the promise of creating ample opportunity for the disruptive clean technology sector — including ZEV automotive and charging, utilities, and other related industries — to see real growth once the government’s attention shifts from the ongoing public health crisis to recovery.
Businesses and organizations that broadly fit within these categories will benefit from engaging with government decision makers to help define these billions of dollars in spending before the government begins to roll the funding out. This is a critical step in ensuring that funding intended to strengthen a green economy through the ZEV sector and related industries is invested in a way that is informed by the business community when it is being positioned to achieve the government’s desired outcome.
Where to go from here
There is a relatively short, nine-month window between now and the anticipated release of funding and procurement RFPs from the federal government. Expect the federal government to use this time to define with much greater clarity the size of and eligibility for funding available to different audiences.
The fact that the government’s plans for the ZEV sector remain unclear beyond a series of headlines and surface-level key messages represents an opportunity for those in the industry to influence and help define it. Knowing that the government’s aim is to fund programs intended to position Canada to both 1) have economic growth, and 2) meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets, this is the critical time for businesses and organizations in the ZEV marketplace to make their case by showing why investments that align with their work and expertise will help the government to achieve its objectives.
Gregory J. Stulen, a senior associate with Pathway Group, is a government relations professional with expertise in federal, provincial, and municipal governments in Canada.