At the PPF’s all-day gathering, Canada’s top business and government leaders give their prescription for prosperity

Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Bloomberg TV’s Amanda Lang shared a light moment at the PPF Growth Summit, but Morneau also had a serious message about inclusion. Photos by Martin Lipman

By Carl Meyer for the Public Policy Forum

Develop innovation ecosystems

Canada needs to encourage the development of innovation ecosystems or clusters, where talent stemming from higher education, federal and provincial governments, and large and small firms can all come together. This approach creates efficiencies where, for example, governments can become key customers, big companies can be encouraged to stay in Canada, and R&D and commercialization outfits can work toward shared objectives.

Stephen Carlisle, GM Canada

Create a national infrastructure bank

Many participants promoted the creation of a bank or agency at the federal level that would vet and select projects within an overall mandate for a bold vision for Canada in the next century. An infrastructure bank would ensure efficient capital allocation and effective delivery. Matching infrastructure demand with historically low investment costs would drive productivity-enhancing projects that would provide short-term stimulus and long-term benefits.

Focus on talent here and abroad …

The development, acquisition and retention of talent is a key ingredient in Canadian economic growth, particularly in the scaling up of small businesses. Canada also needs talented leaders and managers who can bring global perspectives to bear and be able to navigate startups through growing pains to become larger firms. The country should strive to become a global talent hub.

… educate Canadians and fill skills gaps …

Canada needs a stronger emphasis on education for all. Not only should more education be available more widely to Canadians of all income groups, but Canadians themselves should be educated more about how different groups in their society contribute to economic growth. Canadians should demand a high level of excellence from their universities and expect them to be at the top of their game globally. Canada also needs to focus on training and retraining for new jobs and look beyond STEM skills.

… and make work-integrated learning the norm

Students need experiential or on-the-job learning experiences to understand how their work can translate into commercialized applications. Canada has a problem matching workers to jobs and jobs to workers, which is exacerbated by the lack of a comprehensive work-study approach to learning. More universities should be offering this kind of education in more streams.

Ensure inclusive growth

The successes of Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders and Brexit, and the rise of anti-trade attitudes in the West have demonstrated the importance of inclusive growth, or ensuring that all groups in society experience a rising standard of living. This includes, but is not limited to, obtaining social license for infrastructure projects. Unless people are shown the benefits of increased trade, they can’t be expected to be engaged in or support trade’s positive outcomes.

Indspire’s Roberta Jamieson and economist Chris Ragan.

Ensure Indigenous participation

Canada has both a moral and legal obligation to include Indigenous peoples in economic development, and it makes business sense to do so. Canadian natural resources firms, for example, which play a significant role in the economy, need global market access in order to realize their potential. Indigenous peoples need to be part of the solution, and need to play a decisive role in project management from end to end.

Boost immigration

Immigration is crucial for talent acquisition and a central driver in economic growth. Canada will fall further behind in the global economic pecking order unless it boosts its immigration levels. Governments across Canada need to confront a public reluctance to increase immigration levels by better explaining how immigration creates more, not fewer, jobs. There is room for the permanent residency process in particular to become smoother for landed immigrants.

Innovation and Science Minister Navdeep Bains tells John Manley that he’s getting pushback on immigration from his party and the public despite newcomers being a key driver of growth.

Prepare for more disruptive technologies

Disruptive technologies will continue to proliferate, and Canadian firms must be prepared to not only weather, but capitalize on, this shift. The energy industry, for example, has already seen the effects of new technologies on global supply, while the transportation and hospitality industries are being upended by new internet-enabled firms. The process of digitization will increasingly automate white-collar jobs, including in fin-tech and education.

Raise the bar on competitiveness

Not enough attention is being paid to the importance of bringing private capital into a firm’s funding picture. In contrast to the United States, where much focus is put on attracting private sector financing, there is a tendency in Canada to retain in-house expertise in raising government funding. Boosting global trade while pursuing more private capital at home and abroad would improve Canadian firms’ competitiveness.

Governor General David Johnston brought his enthusiasm and encouragement for Canadian innovation to the summit.

Promote a culture of innovation

Canada needs to foster a culture of innovation that celebrates — even boasts — of its successes, and encourages responsible risk-taking when it comes to venture capital. This culture would permit firms to stick their necks out and develop a stronger tolerance for failure. It would also help dispel the Canadian stereotype of timidity, instead building a narrative of a scrappy, innovative business community similar to the mythos surrounding Silicon Valley.

Go green

Canadian industry is ready to confront environmental challenges like climate change by competing globally to dominate the clean tech sector. Canadians, like the rest of the planet, are being affected by urbanization issues such as congestion and pollution, and care about the responsible development of natural resources. Canadian federal and provincial carbon pricing schemes are changing the cost landscape in which firms compete.

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