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Canada's history of boldness: How business and government can learn from our past to achieve more in our future

Followers of this blog will know that at Deloitte, we’re keenly interested not only in what Canada can and must look like 25 years from now — the world’s best place to live and work — but also how we’ll get there: by making bold bets.

Canada’s first 150 years were defined by just such bold bets. Our business and government leaders worked together to accomplish great things for this country though vision, boldness, collaboration and a shared sense of determination. Many of these bold bets are well-known, from Confederation itself to the expansion of the Canada Pacific Railroad and the introduction of universal healthcare.

One bold bet has arguably defined Canada’s economic prosperity more than any other in the past half century: free trade. The Canada-US Free Trade Agreement, which later morphed into the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), dramatically expanded Canada’s opportunities for international trade, created new industries, and expanded our influence on the global stage.

From its earliest conception, these free trade agreements constituted a massive collaborative effort by government and Canada’s businesses community. In the early 1980s, the federal government was initially reluctant to participate in free trade, yet heeded calls to study the issue. In 1982, the government established the Royal Commission on the Economic Union and Development Prospects for Canada — better known as the Macdonald Commission — to better understand free trade, and Canadian businesses were given an opportunity to demonstrate free trade’s potential value to the country. The exercise in collaborative fact-finding worked, and two years later, the commission gave its recommendations. The government decided to endorse the business community’s prevailing opinion that free trade would constitute a net positive for Canada.

Today, as Canada, the US and Mexico reopen NAFTA negotiations, the history of the Macdonald Commission and Canada’s adoption of free trade reminds us that bold bets always require collaboration, and that business and government need to keep an open, ongoing dialogue to reach the best solutions.

How can business and government do more?

With the lessons of history in mind, Deloitte recently held a series of roundtable discussions with Canadian business and government leaders about their vision for Canada’s future and their views on the difficult choices we need to make before our 175th anniversary.

Over the course of these discussions, business and government leaders agreed that the time for action is now—and that we must focus on three bold bets in particular:

  1. Back Canada’s current and emerging global champions: We need to concentrate our investments in areas of sustainable competitive advantage rather than spread our investments too thinly. This means that government needs to allow markets to pick winners, and then focus precious public sector investments on those industries, sectors, and technologies that the market believes can be global champions. This includes removing barriers to success in high-priority sectors to avoid project delivery delays and lost value, which can help Canadian businesses remain at the cutting edge globally ensuring they have access to the most competitive inputs. By working with businesses to streamline regulations, governments can then enable Canadian businesses to thrive and foster innovation at once-unimaginable pace.
     
  2. Take the world by storm: We need scale to compete at a global level. Entrepreneurs and businesses need access to the best global talent and the fastest-growing markets. Canada has a unique opportunity to leverage its brand as an open and diverse nation, focusing on improving credential recognition to help our businesses capitalize on highly-skilled immigrants’ rising interest in Canada, especially our burgeoning technology centres. Governments can also look to create wins for Canadian business by expediting visa processing for foreign-based companies looking to shift their business to Canada. As well, business and government can work together to helping Canadian businesses ‘go global’ and create ongoing value chains with decreased regulatory burdens.
     
  3. Buck the status quo on education and skills training: With a rapidly aging workforce and technological change shrinking the “shelf life” of skills, doubling down on traditional education systems and outdated approaches to learning won’t prepare Canadians for the jobs of tomorrow. To build Canada’s workforce of tomorrow, we need to adopt a fundamentally new approach to education and skills training. This can be achieved through collaboration between government and businesses to establish new pathways to accreditation. At the same time, businesses could invest in education programs that meet employees’ demands, such as online learning platforms that allow employees to train themselves anywhere, anytime.

Why does Canada need to be bold now?

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