Despite likelihood of NAFTA deal, BMO head worried about trade

By The Canadian Press | September 20, 2018 | Last updated on September 20, 2018
2 min read
Maze and businessmen, miniature,
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The chief executive of the Bank of Montreal says that while the Canadian economy is showing positive growth in almost every province, one economic headwind worries him the most: trade.

But as Canada’s negotiating team in Washington continues to try and bridge a divide that’s keeping the country out of a North American free trade pact, Darryl White says he believes a deal will eventually come to fruition.

“I fundamentally think it will come together,” White said in an interview. “But underlying that, it’s hard to predict some random events. And there are some random events.”

White’s comments on the broader economy come as the Toronto-based bank announces a new initiative aimed at tackling economic disparity among neighbourhoods at home in partnership with the United Way Greater Toronto.

When asked about boosting economic growth across the country more broadly, White said Canada should be “leaning in” on encouraging investment, including potentially examining regulations and “the ability to complete projects as planned.”

His counterpart at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Victor Dodig, recently called for Canada to boost its global competitiveness in various ways, including offering clearer foreign investment rules and matching a U.S. policy that allows companies to immediately write off the full cost of capital investments. The CIBC chief executive also pointed to the debate and delay surrounding the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project as an example of difficulties getting business done in Canada.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau is looking at targeted measures to enhance the country’s competitiveness rather than broad-based tax cuts, sources have told The Canadian Press. Morneau intends to announce plans in his fall economic update to bolster Canada’s competitiveness.

White said he didn’t have one specific ask for Morneau, noting that the government is being “very careful and very thoughtful” about the issue. But the evaluation of a Canadian investment opportunity would take into account many factors, including affordable housing, taxes, depreciation and regulations.

“It’s hard to particularize exactly where we ought to be leaning in on encouraging investment, but to me that’s the goal,” said White.

“How can we encourage continued investment into Canada by Canadians and by non-Canadians […] It’s a basket of features, not any one particular feature.”

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