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Letter To The Editor: Canadian tech is not picking a fight with the construction industry

Jim Balsillie
Letter To The Editor: Canadian tech is not picking a fight with the construction industry


To the Editor;


In the June 11, 2020 op-ed titled “Industry Perspectives Op-Ed: Construction is an ally of Canadian tech, not an enemy,” Sean Reid concludes that the Canadian tech sector is picking a fight with the construction industry.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Council of Canadian Innovators has since its founding argued that every industry, including construction, is a tech industry and as a result Canadian business and policy leaders must approach their strategies with that lens in mind. 

I wrote that “using a traditional ‘shovel-ready physical infrastructure’ lens — whether roads, bridges or hockey rinks — to stimulate demand and drive productivity has no traction in a 21st-century global economy where intellectual property (IP) and data are the most valuable business and national security assets.”

The word “lens” is key to the sentence and yet the author missed it.

Technology is now used to devalue physical assets and the greatest productivity gains go to those that own and control IP and data that’s embedded in traditional infrastructure. This is most evident in how front-end technology interfaces have significantly collapsed the value of physical assets such as taxis (Uber), newspapers (Facebook) and hotels (AirBnB) and, possibly, farms (John Deere).

Building more infrastructure without an adequate IP and data strategy to capture the wealth effects of that infrastructure will only result in Canadian firms receiving the least amount of economic benefits. 

It’s telling that the author suggests that “the recent failed Sidewalk Labs venture exposed several weaknesses in Canada’s readiness to embrace innovative urban development.”

Canadians rejected the project because it posed a significant threat to our prosperity, sovereignty, civil and digital rights.

World-renowned architects, smart city experts and urban planners have repeatedly pointed out that Sidewalk’s proposal was “conventional and boring,” bringing no new innovations to smart city developments.

The economic development portion of the project for Canada was relegated to a handful of traditional construction and GR (lobbying) jobs while the U.S.-based firm reaped in return the enormous profits and an even larger stake of political control.

That Mr. Reid believes Sidewalk Toronto was innovative and good for the Canadian economy only proves he doesn’t understand the project, the economics of technology or the business models at the center of the innovation economy.


Jim Balsillie, chair of the Council of Canadian Innovators

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