The CanaData East Construction Conference is well known for providing construction forecasts, but this year's event will also offer insights into the political climate south of the border with political analyst and journalism icon Carl Bernstein sharing his views on a "muddled political environment."
"This is going to be an exciting conference because the whole world is just so freaking confusing right now. What are we supposed to make of what's going on in the United States? If you're in the industry you've got to try and stay on top of this and try and figure out what is going on. You've always had to be nimble on your feet but the way things are changing so rapidly now, you've got to dance even faster than you used to have to dance in the past. The only way to learn how to 'cha cha' fast enough is to come to something like the CanaData conference."
The 32nd annual conference, taking place Sept. 21 at the Liberty Grand Entertainment Complex in downtown Toronto, features Bernstein as the keynote speaker. Bernstein is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author, known for breaking the Watergate story.
"He's supposed to give us insight into the Trump administration and certainly he's uniquely qualified to do that," explained Carrick. "It's really incredible that we've got him speaking because he's really one of the people who will be remembered from the last century because of the Nixon resignation and Watergate. He's an icon."
Bernstein's presentation is entitled Applying Lessons from the Past to the Current Muddled Political Environment. Carrick said Bernstein will address one of the conference's three major themes — the unpredictability of Canada's major trading partner.
"He may be able to provide some insight as to what Washington is really going to be able to accomplish and that gets into the area of infrastructure and the negotiations that we're having with the United States on trade in such areas as NAFTA and the Softwood Lumber Agreement," explained Carrick. "The bottom line here is that we need whatever insight we can possibly get on U.S. politics because frankly it's become quite unpredictable. Canada is a country that is so much dependent on trade that, of course, you need to have certainty in those areas and at the moment they are up in the air and that is a problem for us."
The second theme, Carrick said, is transitioning.
"Is the Canadian economy transitioning away from raw materials towards other areas like high tech, knowledge-based industries and communications?" asked Carrick, adding a number of speakers, including himself, will be addressing the subject. "Also, there is the question of are we going to be forced to transition because of our situation in the world relative to where we used to be. The assurances we used to have in terms of our trading relationships are no longer. They may not be in place over the longer term."
Other speakers at the conference include Bern Grush, an autonomous fleet strategist with Grush Niles Strategic; Peter Hall, vice-president and chief economist with Export Development Canada; Dina Ignjatovic, TD economist; Peter Norman, chief economist and general manager with Altus Group Economic Consulting; Craig Roberts, vice-president of marketing and business development with ConstructConnect — Canada; and Raymond Wong, vice-president of data operations, data solutions, Altus Group Limited.
A third major theme is how the world is changing and how that affects the demand for construction. Carrick used driverless cars as one example of the unprecedented technological change currently underway.
"It's coming and it's coming incredibly quickly, much faster than people ever expected and it all has tremendous impacts on us. Technology is changing our world phenomenally," Carrick commented, adding the decline of brick and mortar businesses will undoubtedly impact the construction industry. "There isn't a category of construction where if you're an owner you don't have an option to do something different than building square footage."
Carrick will conclude the day giving perspective on where the jobs are. He will also discuss transitioning, regional construction markets and categories of construction.
"I like to talk about where the jobs are because that really tells you what's going on in the economy, but you have to put it in perspective," said Carrick. "There are rapid increases in some areas of high tech, no question about it, but if we're going to have a high standard of living we can't just abandon what brought us here, we can't just leave the party."