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Pushing for a post-pandemic economic vision for Canada

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  • Dec 10, 2021
Pushing for a post-pandemic economic vision for Canada

“Canada doesn’t work if jurisdictions don’t collaborate,” the Honourable Senator Peter Harder remarked during a recent Lawrence National Centre event focused on Canada’s growth and prosperity in a post-pandemic world.

In a 75-minute webinar, moderated by Canadian Chamber of Commerce CEO and LNC Advisory Council Member, Hon. Perrin Beatty, Harder and three of his fellow senators Sabi Marwah, Brent Cotter and Pierrette Ringuette, all members of the Senate Prosperity Action group, examined how Canada needs to create a framework for developing a new economic vision.

As a means of focusing this vision, the discussion centred around the Senate group’s succinct 66-page report titled, Rising to the Challenge of New Global Realities:  Forging A New Path For Sustainable, Inclusive and Shared Prosperity in Canada. The report highlights gaps which exist in Canada’s current policy landscape and offers findings and advice via 4 key pillars of recommendations, including an analysis of current economic trends; creating sustainable, inclusive and shared prosperity; re-building fiscal sustainability and resilience; and creating collaboration through a ‘grand alliance.’

“Increasingly, it’s obvious that solutions require broad stakeholder coalition to align the collective objectives and performance indicators of success,” exclaimed Senator Harder.  

While the country had been mired by sluggish economic growth, labour market gaps and low business investment predating the pandemic, COVID-19 has brought these issues into laser focus. It is clear the country needs to take a “Team Canada” approach to during this time of transition, including a shift to a low carbon economy, advancing the digital revolution and changing workforce needs.

The event honed in on some of the key areas which require immediate attention. Here are some highlights: 

Creation of a Prosperity Council

Call it the need for a grand alliance. While the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has brought together the federal, provincial and territorial governments for meetings some 35 times, there is little coordinated effort combining both economic and social policy. The senate group is calling for the creation of a Prosperity Council to hold all levels of government and other stakeholders to account for their contribution to, and to meeting specific objectives.

“A lot of that is much greater partnerships than we’ve seen before, whether it is between industry and government, between federal and provincial and territorial governments, trying to get us so we are all pulling in the same direction,” said Senator Cotter. “This needs to be a rich collaborative bargain, the roles of the federal and provincial governments are critical.”

Harnessing the digital economy revolution

Canada has a strong track record of idea creation and starting firms in the digital economy space. But according to Senator Marwah, the country lacks an ecosystem that allows companies the access to large pools of capital to scale-up and grow globally. This also includes the need to vastly improve the relationships between academic institutions and businesses too.

“On the digital economy side, we have an incredible list of start-ups that we could scale it put our mind to it,” said Marwah. “We have great centers of expertise in artificial intelligence. We have excellent academic and research institutions. So on that front, we've got a lot going for us.”

Closing the human capital gap

The senators found there is a major gap when it comes to human capital in Canada. While the unemployment rate is seen to be improving of late, there are nearly one million job vacancies in the country at the moment. With the employment participation rate at only 65%, there is a clear mismatch between workers’ skills and the demands of employers. Senator Ringuette believes there must be greater coordination between the business community and the broader education sector, with an emphasis on developing and promoting short-term training programs.

 “So we already have all of these Canadians not looking for employment, and we have to ask ourselves why,” said Ringuette. “Is it because the infrastructure for training is not adequate. Is it because of access to technology?...We have to move, we’ve been saying this for a long time, lifelong learning, we need to move toward that.”

Inclusivity necessary for prosperity

Reflecting upon his time as a deputy minister in New Democrat governments in Saskatchewan, Senator Cotter noted while there was a significant social commitment from the government, it was understood you couldn’t achieve the social prosperity you hoped for without sound economic prosperity.

The senate report recommends that the development of a National Economic Growth Strategy must adopt an "inclusive approach" that generates prosperity for all people and regions across Canada, and especially those previously left behind. This means applying an "inclusive lens" to strategies and policies related to employment, education, training and business opportunities.

“What COVID has underscored is the need to have a post-COVID economy that is deliberately more inclusive of previously excluded groups,” said Harder. “We will not have the legitimacy to pursue economic goals, if we do not include social objectives that underscore the economic challenges we are facing.”