5 minute read 27 Aug. 2020
Young woman walking through subway tunnel

How can a microscopic enemy unite us to create massive transformation?

By Anne-Marie Hubert

EY Canada East Leader

Known as a connector in the market and a change leader to help grow our people, clients and communities.

5 minute read 27 Aug. 2020

The views of more than 30 local business leaders offer fresh insights and optimism for the future.

In brief
  • The report shapes a vision of a Québec economic future state that fires aspirations and presents ways to create value in this time of pandemic.
  • The discussion with business leaders allowed us to brainstorm insights, explore opportunities, and celebrate how they are helping build the future.
  • The report reveals some shared trends, in particular the digitalization of economic activity, while others focused on specific industries.

Reimagining Québec: agile and determined for an inclusive and sustainable recovery

We’ll remember 2020 for a long time to come. Overnight, the COVID-19 health crisis turned corporate priorities upside down. The situation intensified pre-existing pressures on businesses and forced leaders to accelerate plans for change in their organizations. And we’ve witnessed some inspiring exploits of solidarity, agility, innovation and transformation.

But what’s next? As Winston Churchill is credited with saying, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”

To better understand what our leaders see beyond the pandemic, EY, the Québec Business Women’s Network and QuébecInnove talked with more than 30 top executives across many strategic sectors of Québec's economy between May and August 2020.

Beyond inspiration, their insights offer clear visibility into the new opportunities the pandemic is opening up in their industries and for the community at large. These women and men also shared their perspectives on the challenges ahead in the coming months and how they expect to continue creating value for all their stakeholders. Their comments suggest guidelines for reimagining Québec. Our conversations revealed some shared trends, in particular the digitalization of economic activity, while others focused on specific industries.

Never let a good crisis go to waste.
Winston Churchill
Investing in digital is a priority

The vast majority of leaders stated, often several times, that investments in digitalizing the economy — particularly through artificial intelligence, robotization and digital infrastructure — are opportunities to seize on now to help them exit the pandemic and propel them toward recovery.

“There’s the impetus and the willingness to invest in productivity and drive digitalization. The timing and incentives have never been better aligned,” notes Jean-François Gagné, President and CEO of Element AI.

For leaders in health care, these investments will not only drive the shift to telemedicine, but also let them get to know their patients better and provide more effective care in the future.

E-commerce and evolving the customer experience, which are deeply tied to digital investment, are among the changes the crisis has spurred ahead, according to retail and manufacturing leaders in particular.

“In some ways, the current crisis is like a catalyst. It’s enabling us to accelerate transformation in several sectors,” says Mélanie Dunn, President and CEO at Cossette.

Solidifying supply chains

Nearly two-thirds of the leaders we interviewed said the crisis caused by the pandemic also needs to be seen as an opportunity to simplify and increase the resilience of supply chains across a variety of economic sectors. They believe that supply chains need to integrate more local components to encourage the local economy, among other things. This is particularly important in view of potential protectionist backlash in many countries, they remarked. Several leaders stressed this aspect, particularly in the manufacturing, construction, commercial real estate and agri-food sectors.

According to Frédéric Dugré, Chief Executive Officer of H₂O Innovation, “Local supply partners and accessibility are key to long-term stability and resilience.”

Social responsibility and talent management

More responsible business practices were identified as major opportunities for the future by nearly half of the leaders who took part in our interviews.

First of all, how we recruit, manage and retain talent will be highly strategic in a world where face-to-face is no longer the only option. And as that world becomes increasingly digital, we’ll need to make sure recovery is inclusive. That means being ready so all Quebecers — the young and not so young — can help drive recovery using the tools of technology.

In fact, a significant percentage of leaders believe that telework is here to stay and that current technologies have facilitated uptake and efficiency.

It’s one thing to feel that you are on the right path, but it’s another to think that yours is the only path.
Paulo Coelho

Regarding the environment, the leaders agree that certain practices will have to be reviewed and corrected if the recovery is to be truly sustainable.

“It’s an exciting chance to refresh and innovate faster than we normally could: it means learning, unlearning and relearning at lightning speed, and rethinking everything we thought we knew,” claims Nathalie Palladitcheff, President and CEP of Ivanhoé Cambridge.

Looming challenges

The economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is having a significant and almost alarming impact on government debt levels, according to almost a third of the leaders interviewed. In their view, this may affect the ability of governments in the future to invest in certain strategic sectors.

Some see businesses, also more indebted and with tighter liquidity, as likely to continue feeling the effects of the crisis on cash flow and investing less, particularly in innovation.

Many leaders also cited the shortage of specialized labour, which was already a significant issue before the pandemic, as a growing concern, particularly for the health network, but also in technology.

Cautious optimism shines through

Despite the difficulties our respondents noted, the vast majority are cautiously optimistic about the future. The adaptability of businesses and their ability to collaborate were identified by several as sources of hope.

“Entrepreneurs never know if their efforts will pay off: that’s the ultimate test for the optimist. That entrepreneurial drive needs to shape the political and fiscal landscape,” asserts Peter Simons, CEO of La Maison Simons.

Are you ready for what’s next?

Read the highlights of our interviews by sector and our participants’ insights, and find inspiration for your most ambitious reboot projects.

To quote Brazilian journalist and best-selling author Paulo Coelho, “It’s one thing to feel that you are on the right path, but it’s another to think that yours is the only path.”


Now that the pandemic’s wave one is behind us, it’s time to make the most of all the lessons learned. In fact, the last few months have been an eye-opening experience across sectors in Québec. What could wait a few months ago can no longer be put off.

All survey participants are unanimous in that reopening the economy delivers opportunities. The renewed economy will have meaning only if it is purposeful and proactive, driven by innovation and buy-in for new ways and means.

Each one of us has the power to be a change agent. We’re leaning, growing and getting better as we go. And more changes are expected ahead. Sectors and businesses that stay agile and are able to transform will thrive in the new normal.

About this article

By Anne-Marie Hubert

EY Canada East Leader

Known as a connector in the market and a change leader to help grow our people, clients and communities.