Inclusive economic growth should translate into improved living standards for the average Canadian. But what are the existing systemic barriers that prevent this from actually happening? How do we achieve true equality and robust change if everyone isn’t in the room?

By Lee-Anne Goodman

Panelists Gemma Corrigan, World Economic Forum, Mayor Naheed Nenshi, City of Calgary, Tamara Vrooman, Vancity, and moderator Shannon MacDonald, Deloitte, talk strategies for inclusive economic growth at the PPF’s second-annual Growth Summit in Toronto on April 20, 2017.

The thorny issue of economic inclusivity — how to court it, encourage it and ensure it thrives — was a key topic of discussion Thursday at the Public Policy Forum’s second-annual Growth Summit.

In a wide-ranging panel discussion, participants said inclusive growth has to ensure all members of society benefit equally.

Moderator Shannon MacDonald, vice chair and chief inclusion officer at Deloitte, asked the panel members if it was wrong to focus inclusivity efforts on certain segments of the population, like women and Indigenous communities, rather than aiming for inclusivity “from the get-go.”

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi seemed to bristle at the question.

“There are people in this country, in a nation of unparalleled prosperity, who do not have the luxury of clean drinking water every day, and there’s not just a few of them, and it’s not a new thing,” he said.

“So it’s ridiculous to say that broad-based policies that help everyone will lead to economic growth for everyone when there are people who are living in conditions that would be unacceptable to the vast majority of the rest of us. So you’ve got to have a baseline … we are not at the point to say everyone’s starting at the same point.”

If people don’t have a job to go to, don’t go to school and can’t afford a bus pass, then investments in public transit, to name just one example, don’t help them, Nenshi added.

Gemma Corrigan, economist at the World Economic Forum, said fostering growth while battling economic inequality can be tackled at the same time — it’s not an either/or proposition.

Video: Watch the whole session

“Growth and social inclusion can go hand in hand, and in fact they should,” she said. “Inclusion can be an important driver of growth.”

“Companies can help support global communities and drive social equality while remaining profitable.” The PPF’s inclusivity panelists discuss possibilities for economic growth that is far-reaching and equitable.

Tamara Vrooman, president and CEO of credit union Vancity, said businesses can help drive inclusive growth.

“The allocation of capital is one of the single biggest tools we can use to facilitate the future that we want,” she said. “Who gets access to capital and who doesn’t makes a big difference to the future that we want to create.”

Nenshi urged those pondering inclusivity not to over-think it.

“It’s easy to get so technocratic on this question that it becomes completely divorced from people’s everyday lives,” he said.

“I say to every one one of my colleagues in the city of Calgary … multiple times a day, every day, ask yourself the question: ‘Is what I am doing right now making it better for someone to live here? Is what I am doing making life better?’ And really, sometimes it’s that simple.”

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