Business Not As Usual
In these deeply uncertain times, there’s at least one safe bet: we’re not returning to business as we understood it a few short months ago. So, how can Canada give itself the best shot at long-term prosperity?
Here are 10 ideas we offer in the spirit of getting from ‘now’ to ‘next.’
- Radically re-think patent and intellectual property (IP) policies
Canada used to be considered an international laggard when it came to protecting and enforcing IP. While we’ve made headway in recent years, the next big home-grown ideas aren’t going to wait for us to become an IP leader, nor will investors and researchers wait for us to incentivize commercialization in a meaningful way. Canada has an abundance of innovation entrepreneurs. Where they go and what they do next will be determined by how seriously and urgently we get our act together to greater protect and enforce IP across the board.
- Invest in trade-enhancing infrastructure
As a trade-reliant nation, Canada’s free trade network through North America, Europe, South America and the Asia-Pacific is unparalleled in the G-7. By any measure, our exports should be exploding across a variety of sectors. Yet, they’re not. That’s largely because we’ve not matched our trade agreement ambition with our investments in critical trade-enabling infrastructure. From ports to railways to our air cargo capacity and other vital transportation links, we must ensure we’re combining a 21st century trade agenda with a modernized plan to get our goods to world markets. Such projects will support economic growth now and set us up for long-term success.
- Support social enterprise
With government deficits in the tens and hundreds of billions this year alone, a public finances reckoning looms large. Social service agencies and charities – already struggling with major shifts in donor behaviour pre-pandemic – will need to be especially creative to diversify their revenues and reduce their reliance on the public purse over the coming years. Social enterprise brings together the best of the private, the public, and the plural sectors to spur community economic development. Canadians need to become much more familiar with it, get better at it, and support its potential to create opportunity without government assistance.
- Put Indigenous economic development at the forefront of recovery
Canada’s Indigenous population is growing four times faster than its non-Indigenous population. And the economic challenges facing some Indigenous communities are well documented. Prioritizing First Nations, Métis, and Inuit economic development would advance Canada’s economic recovery and reconciliation efforts. Successful models exist in B.C. and elsewhere. Governments, businesses, and – most importantly – Indigenous people themselves would benefit from replicating what works and adapting these structures to local realities on a much larger scale.
- Increase economic immigration to attract the talent we need
Without immigration, Canada’s population growth is virtually non-existent. With waves of boomers set to retire in the coming years, skills gaps and labour shortages that were hiding in plain sight pre-pandemic will only get worse. We need workers, and so we need more economic immigration – something in the neighbourhood of 200,000 economic-class migrants per year. This does not mean saying ‘no’ to family members or the persecuted. But we can give our economy a badly needed shot in the arm by prioritizing large-scale economic immigration programs that are smart, ordered, and get the global talent we need here quickly.
- Support rules-based trade and aggressively open new markets
The World Trade Organization (WTO) is at a serious crossroads. Its primary dispute resolution functions have been paralyzed. Members complain it lacks transparency and teeth to deal with serious issues such as the rise of protectionism and the ongoing China-US trade war. And it has not made major progress on trade liberalization in nearly two decades. Yet in a post-pandemic world, predictable rules and an effective multilateral trading system will be crucial to economic recovery. Canada has been wise to be at the forefront of WTO modernization and must remain so. At the same time, we must continue to open new markets and lessen our reliance on the US and China. It’s time for businesses to take risk, seize opportunity, and take on the world.
- Reduce unnecessary regulatory and other barriers to growth
In addition to going global, we must remove internal trade barriers here at home. Some Canadian businesses have greater access to markets across the world then they do the province next door. This is ludicrous. It’s also time for a serious and comprehensive review of federal regulations across leading sectors of our economy. Simply put, each and every one must serve a valid purpose. We must especially ensure that federal regulations do not duplicate those already in place at the provincial level. This isn’t about letting business run rough-shod; it’s about giving Canadian enterprise and our nascent recovery a fighting chance.
- Buy local, think bigger
This spring, when governments were scrambling for personal protective equipment and as grocers struggled to keep certain staples on store shelves, we heard lots of talk about supply chain vulnerabilities. Canada should not have to rely on, or be beholden to, other countries to meet our needs, especially when it comes to essentials such as critical emergency gear, agri-food, and pharmaceuticals. But as an export-dependent country, we should be careful with how far we take this rhetoric. For the most part, Canada has no shortages of these items. We export half of the food we produce every year. Overdoing it on ‘self-sufficiency’ would very quickly harm our economy rather than help it. Buying local is noble, but has its limits. We need to be supporting our SMEs and encouraging them to maximize opportunities abroad.
- Create ‘clean tech’ tax-free zones
Canadians rightly care about the environmental legacy we leave our kids. For many, combating climate change is job number-one. And while we may be bit-players in terms of global emissions, smart tax and fiscal policies could make us a global clean tech powerhouse. A concerted ‘Team Canada’ approach involving all orders of government could attract long-term investments by forward-looking, multi-national businesses. Getting them to set up shop in newly designated zones with preferential tax regimes across the country could employ tens of thousands of Canadians for years to come.
- Get serious about tax reform
The talent and firms that will power Canada forward can settle almost anywhere. Canada needs to compete for them – and enhancing our competitiveness is not a one-time act, it must be a constant focus of policy-makers. A serious look at our tax code would involve lowering personal income taxes in favour of consumption taxes. For example, increasing the federal basic personal exemption to $30,000 for people under 30 and for working families would help us make the demographic transition our labour force needs. Similarly, cutting corporate subsidies and lowering business taxes will help our job creators thrive into the future, and finally get government out of doing a job that is better left to market forces.
Adam Taylor is principal and founder of Export Action Global and Chris Day is president of Winston-Wilmont, Inc.