A Better Future for Canadians

Goldy Hyder

Fred Chartrand

Remarks given by Business Council of Canada President and CEO Goldy Hyder to the Canadian Club of Ottawa at the Chateau Laurier. October 30th, 2019.

We’re a country that lives our life by looking at the glass half-full. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there is a half-glass empty version, as well.

Now, those of you who know me, know that I love Canada. It’s true that there’s probably no greater country in the world in which to live, but I’m worried about our future.

I’m very worried, in fact, about our future.

Case in point, look at the last federal election – I submit to you Exhibit A! On election night, it was as if Oprah was giving away cars to every Canadian. Everybody wins. Everybody won. Every political leader claimed victory that night.

But let me tell you who lost.

Who lost are Canadians. It was a lost opportunity to engage with the people of Canada who are not immune, who are not unique, who are experiencing the same things that people are facing around the world.

It’s not like we’re cocooned from what’s taking place around the world.

And yet we spent our time talking about what I describe as “small-ball.” Talking about little things about redistributing wealth; wealth, I remind you, that we need to create in order to redistribute. We got camping trips and free museum passes and other such things.

Wonderful I suppose, but the reality is we dodged and failed to have an opportunity to discuss: How do we actually grow our economy?

Because if there’s one thing I am sure about, it is they are looking for solutions.

Solution to the pain that people feel and the anxieties that they feel. Like why is my 30-year-old living in my basement still or what do I got to do to compete in this world?

Solutions are not going to come from running more deficits and increasing the national debt. It’s not going to come from printing more money.

I know of no other way to help us find a way forward than to grow our economy.

Unfortunately, the failure for that to happen has resulted in the outcome that you see now on these charts [results of election showing a divided country with western alienation and rise of the Bloc Quebecois].

We are a nation divided and we should be worried about that. Again, we’re not immune from what’s been taking place around the world.

Now, one of the challenges of being Canadian, of course, is we’ve had it pretty good.

For 75 years, the United Kingdom had our back. For the following 75 years, the Americans have had our back, give or take a year or two.

So good enough was largely good enough. We were doing just fine.

But I submit to you today is that is no longer the case and it cannot be the case.

As a former member of the Business Council said to me, a real public policy scholar in his own right, Ed Clark of TD Bank, said, “good enough is no longer good enough” and we need to make sure that we understand that.

The reason is the world is changing. The world is changing all around us and it’s much more competitive.

I just had the distinct honour and pleasure of being a part of Canada’s official UN delegation in New York for UN Week in September, accompanying people like former Prime Ministers Jean Chrétien, Joe Clark and former Premier Jean Charest and others.

It was stunning to me what I saw from the country delegates we met who were primarily from Caribbean or African countries. They all came with their data on what they are doing to make themselves competitive. Countries, in some cases I confess, I had to look up on a map, were telling me about their ease of doing business ranking and how it went from 186th in the world to 164th in the world. They were proud to share that with us.

So the world is changing. It’s fast paced, the digital age, mobility of talent and capital. Don’t kid yourself, people and money have more options in the world than they’ve ever had before and there is an ease of mobility. We’re witnessing it with the eventual shift of power, economic power certainly, to Asia. That’s all happening around us.

Meanwhile in Canada, our ease of doing business has dropped from fourth in the world in 2006 to, if I’d given this speech last week, we were 22nd in the world, but unfortunately I’m giving it this week and on this weekend the new rankings were released and we’ve dropped to 23rd.

Now, it’s entirely possible that we’ve done nothing different than what got us to be number four.

But what it suggests to you is that other countries are accelerating their growth strategies, that they’re doing things, because, in their cases, good enough is not something they’ve ever experienced, but they see opportunity to accelerate their economic growth.

As for our aging demographics, we know what’s happening with that. About a decade from now, we’re going to face a very severe demographic crunch. Everybody talks about debt to GDP ratios and all of that. But the last time I checked, there’s only one tax payer.

So we really should accumulate the deficits and the debts from our federal government, our provincial governments and our municipal governments. What you will find is we have a very bad record when it comes to accumulating deficits and debts.

It might be fine as we are in a low interest rate environment, I’m not an economist, but I know enough to know these things are cyclical. Someday they’re going to go up and if we don’t do something about it when we can, we’re going to experience 1993 all over again. Then you’re going to get really angry people.

We know what’s going on with trade. Multilateralism and globalization is literally on trial. I mean, just this morning I thought it was fake news when it was shared with me that Chile canceled hosting the APEC and COP.

Now, I understand their rationale for doing it, but it just goes to show you the rapidly changing environment all around us. Meanwhile, we have put 75% of our eggs in one basket. It’s all trade with the United States.

It’s something that we, those of us who’ve immigrated here are equally guilty of. You come here and you say, “Well, I’m just going to do as the Romans do, I’m going to do business with the U.S.”

We have not taken full advantage of the diasporas that are here in our country and governments to their credit, blue stripe, red stripe, have put in place the policies. Trade diversification is real. The policies are in place and as my friend Jim Carr, Minister of International Trade Diversification, likes to say, we built the bridge. It’s our job to walk across it, so we need to pay attention to that. We can’t get our resources to market.

I have an entirely different speech on that one if you want to hear it as an Albertan and believe me, you want to talk about emotion, that’s when I really get going.

It’s absurd that we can’t get our resources to market in a country like Canada where we are blessed with resources that are not just about oil and gas. We need to change that frame.

It is a national natural resources strategy that we need from one province to the other and start talking about how to get our resources to market. If you want to have influence in the world, part of it will be the fact that you have things that people want and believe me, there’s a lot of demand for our products around the world.

So, unfortunately our reputation is becoming one of a place that can’t get things done.

We don’t build things anymore and that’s a real problem. I’ve often said if the goal was to build a national highway or the national railway system today, it would not get done. It would not get done. But don’t just take my word for it.

Let me quote the government’s own Advisory Council on Economic Growth in which it warned that short of action,” we’re going to experience slow growth and stagnation for years to come”. Finance Minister Bill Morneau in 2015, said at the Toronto Board of Trade, Canada’s economy was facing “considerable headwinds”. He talked about our rapidly aging population, our levels of increasing household debt and above all the need to promote long-term economic growth.

Yet sadly our election addressed none of that. So why should we care? Because again, it’s good enough.

I don’t talk to regular Canadians and get through all the data that I did with you.

I focus on values. What do we cherish? What do we care about? And when you ask Canadians what their care about, one of the things that comes back at you is “we’re damn proud to be Canadian”. Yet I think we’re failing to understand that policy choices that we make, or don’t make, actually determine the thinness or the thickness of our border.

So Washington can make your foreign policy and Washington can make your energy policy. Washington can make… you can’t let that happen.

We have to have independence in our country to make policy decisions so that our sovereignty is not at stake. We are Canadian, proud of it and there’s a very thick border to define that so that everybody understands we’re not the same as anybody else. We’re proud to be Canadian.

So our sovereignty is eroding, literally and we have to be mindful of that.

The other thing that defines us as Canadians is our social programs. We are a country of caring societies. Even our equalization formulas is about sharing and caring for each other. But our social programs are at risk.

I haven’t seen an election in the last three or four where anybody talked about the future of health care. It’s like a dirty word. We don’t talk about healthcare and yet I think Canadians are more than ready to talk about healthcare.

We know that our social programs are underfunded, but again, I ask you what is the way in which we can invest in our social programs?  I don’t know of a special bank account that was set up when Canada was formed that said this is just for your social programs. You have unlimited supply of capital to use for this.

We don’t have such a thing, so we must have a plan. We must have a plan to grow our economy if we’re going to have the ability to be sovereign, if we’re going to have the ability to invest in our social programs.

Probably just as important, the other value that Canadians really take pride in is, we’re a country that is punching above our weight globally and has for a long period of time. Some of it is because of geography, but some of it is also because of who we are and that’s also at risk.

When I was at a meeting this week listening to former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and four former foreign affairs ministers, they were talking about where are our investments in international aid.  Where are we in the military? What are we doing to meet our obligations to NATO and so forth?

Again, all very, very important questions, but the only way to do that is to grow our economy.

Now, it doesn’t have to be this way. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can actually shape our own destiny through action and that’s why we at the Business Council set out to provide leadership but we also know that we’re not alone.

Let me emphasize this, this is not some tablets from the C suite in the 60th floor of Bay and King. That is not what we are doing here. We set out to provide this leadership and we also set out to recognize that it’s so easy to blame our politics. It’s so easy to just say it’s somebody else’s fault, but that’s not fair.

We as Canadians need to look in the mirror as well. Many of us who are actually influential in public policy and advocacy need to be asking ourselves, what are we doing to advance this?

The UN recently ranked us in the World Happiness Report as amongst the happiest people on earth. But the problem with happiness is it breeds complacency. It’s that old saying Canada was born on third and thinks it hit a triple. Baseball is on my mind because of course the Washington Expos are playing tonight in game seven so go Washington, go Expos.

Complacency has become to Canada what confidence is to America. We’ve taken our place in the world for granted and we need to change our culture. We cannot allow, as Pierre referenced and Heather referenced, ourselves to be divided along the old fault lines, big business versus labour, big business versus small business, rich versus poor. One class of society versus another class of society, East versus West. This is a time for unity.

This is a time for all of us to come together and put the country and our citizens and the kids and the grandkids who’re coming after us before all of that noise.

One of the first things I did when I went to the Business Council is reach out to labour movements. My friend Hassan Yusuf of the Canadian Labour Congress is a great example. He said, “I can’t even be seen with you, so we’d better do this meeting in your office.” We met, we sat down and I said, “Here’s what I want to do, Hassan. I want to write down on one side of a ledger, all the things that labour in business can agree on and I want to write on the other side of the ledger, things that you think we disagree about and we might, but let’s draw that up.”

It was a very long list of things we agree on and a very short list of things we disagreed on. I said to him, I said, “Is it right for your kids and my kids that we can’t find a way to work together on the things that we work on? So let’s do that.”

We’re trying to change that course forward, but I think we all have to look at ourselves and say: what are your moments in which we can reach across the aisle and work with people who, apparently, are not the ones we’re supposed to be working with.

The other thing about our culture is we rip down the successful. We resent those who achieve in this country, including those who have achieved by overcoming all kinds of adversity.

Here’s a plug for the podcast. Listen to the stories of some of my members who we want to rip apart. One of them came, escaping violence, in the back of a trunk. Another one came as a refugee, four or five years old, not speaking a word of English or French. These are people who aspired and achieved great success. We should be celebrating their success, not ripping it down.

We cannot, ourselves, settle on scale. Another great big problem that we have in Canada is that we don’t scale up very well. The grand ambition is to start a company, build it, if you’re lucky, to 10 million, sell it, buy a cottage in Muskoka and watch the Leafs. That’s not how we’re going to be able to compete as we go forward.

So I’m going to suggest to you that one of the reasons we all felt so let down by the last federal election campaign was that no one was really offering us a sense of national purpose and the determination to make that happen.

Now, I’m going to go even further and make a bold prediction, which I hope you’re going to hold me to account for. But I predict that the next party to win a majority government in this country will do so because it demonstrates an understanding of the scale of the challenges facing Canada’s economy. And it will be rewarded by voters for being honest with them and actually laying forward a plan of how we’re going to move our country forward.

It cannot be a plan just to spend money. It actually needs to promote sustainable long-term economic growth because it’s our obligation, whether you’re in government or not, to build a better future for the country and for all Canadians.

Just read the Bank of Canada’s report today. It’s got us slowing down. Now we can feel good about being at 1.5 because somebody else is at 0.9 but that’s not growth. That’s margin. That’s rounding error. We need to really accelerate the growth of our economy double that if we’re going to have any chance to preserve this country in the way in which we want it to be.

Of all the places I can give this speech and of all the places that understands the importance of a plan, it’s here in this ballroom at the Canadian Club of Ottawa. This is where Sir Wilfrid Laurier made his infamous remarks, which almost every speaker I’ve ever heard the Canadian Club refers to, where he said the 20th century belongs to Canada. But it didn’t.

It didn’t because a slogan wasn’t good enough. We needed the actual plan. We didn’t have one.

So let’s not repeat the mistakes of history. We are offering a plan today. It’s the result of an eight-month process of research and consultation by our Task Force on Canada’s Economic Future.

I want you to know that I’ve worked in previous positions with large Canadian companies and Canadian business leaders for many, many years. I can tell you this was a very unique initiative.

We launched the Task Force last February with three of our members CEO’s to lead the way: Louis Vachon at National Bank, Nicole Verkindt at OMX, and Chuck Magro of Nutrien.

We said right from the beginning that, before our members even talked about the final product of what the Task Force report might look like, they spoke about what they definitely didn’t want it to be. They were adamant that it shouldn’t be just a laundry list of self-serving recommendations to benefit business.

Instead, the focus should be on what is good for Canada as a whole. It shouldn’t try to boil the ocean and it shouldn’t ask the government to do things that are unreasonable that you wouldn’t do if you were in power. I often say, I’d like the GST to be 10% but I don’t go door to door advocating for that policy.

We have to make sure that our asks are doable for our government. Equally important, we felt very strongly about consultation with the general public but starting out with people like you in this room and others who really understand how public policy gets made.

So it could not have been done in an echo chamber. We decided at the very outset that we would solicit and welcome input from Canadians at our website, www.itsaboutCanada.ca. We’ve heard from tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of Canadians with their own ideas. I was expecting all kinds of vitriol there. It turns out it’s not Twitter, it’s actually people who took the time to think about it and what they want us to be able to do about it.

We heard from, other business organizations, but we also heard from labour, we heard from indigenous groups, we heard from social policy experts, we heard from urban planners, we heard from environmental groups and many, many other sources of advice. We’re doing what I used to say in my last job is trying to build a parade, a parade of like-minded Canadians.

We don’t have to agree on everything, but we need to at least agree that there’s a country that needs our help and we should plan and map out a strategy of how to do that.

Based on all of that input, we identified a small number of specific, practical and achievable things that Canada’s new government can do to accelerate the pace of economic growth and ensure a better quality of life and standard of living for all.

Here is the result. We’re calling it a Better Future for Canadians because that is our focus. I encourage you to read it and consider whether the ideas we’re putting on the table make sense. Now, I’m not going to go through each policy recommendations. There are six of them, just six of them in just six areas.

I just want you to hear what the areas are: skills and talent. When I speak to my members, number one or number two answer to the question, what’s keeping you up at night is usually skills and talent, labour.

Two: energy, environment and infrastructure, deliberately lumped together because we have to figure it out. We’ve got to figure it out.

We’re an organization, a business organization that was the very first in North America over a decade ago to endorse carbon pricing. We’re already on board with the environmental agenda.

We’ve got lots of people talking about that, but we better figure out how to make sure that we’re building the infrastructure for our resources right across this country.

The importance of innovation in new economy. We can’t just be looking at what we have. We have to look at where the puck is going and we have to make sure that we can support them.

And the two that I know you’re all waiting for hear: taxes and regulations.

A lot of people say, “oh, there’s nothing new here. There they go again, taxes and regulations”. Well, just like a cake has certain ingredients that you need to bake it. It turns out as the same thing for an economy.

So the reason you keep hearing businesses large and small saying the same things is that we haven’t addressed those issues. We’re losing our tax competitiveness and our regulatory competitiveness to other countries.

Last but not least, is Canada’s place in the world, something that Canadians really cherish. We’ve got to make sure that we understand what is going on out there because it’s not what went on in the last 150 years we’ve been around. We’ve got to figure out our place in the world with a sensible, smart, strategic, shrewd foreign policy, really a global strategy. We need a global strategy.

So as I said, just one proposal in each one of those, and I can assure you that what you’re going to read is not a radical blueprint sent to me from Wall Street.

That’s not what this is about. On the contrary, I hope that what you’ll see is that our recommendations are actually in the true traditions of Canadian public policy.

We’re a country that does incremental things. We don’t take big leaps. There are anomalies in our history where we have, but overall we kind of inch our way along. So while we can’t exactly inch our way along, but maybe we can do like six inches at a time.

Some of the things we’re talking about here are not at all radical. It’s moderate, inclusive and nonpartisan. There’s nothing partisan about the document, but I will say what is possible. Listening to that advice, consulting with us and all of you, with that advice will allow a plan to emerge that will allow the country’s trajectory to go forward.

Now, before I wrap up there’s one more thing, I want to mention and that is we in the business community have looked in the mirror and said what are we doing? What are we doing for Canada? What are we doing for Canadians? So we recognize that business has to step up too.

We are stepping up with tangible recommendations and actions. We’re putting forward six recommendations for businesses beyond the Business Council. We’re doing it, we’re making these commitments, but we’re encouraging others to take a look at what we’re talking about here and do the same thing.

This is what it includes in no particular order with six items. We’re looking for opportunities to improve labour force participation amongst indigenous people. That’s not because it’s topical, it’s they have a demographic that’s completely different than the rest of the country. It’s good for them, it’s good for business, and it’s good for the country.

We have to stop making false choices. If I win, you need to lose. It can be a win, win, win for all of us. We need to fully embrace diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and there are a number of measures that we can do to do that. It’s beyond gender. We have immigrants who are not being fully utilized. We have people with disabilities not being fully utilized in the workforce. We have indigenous communities not being fully utilized. We need to do a better job of making sure that people are getting a chance.

All of you know about Bell Let’s Talk, the mental health program. Why is it just Bell? We should all be looking at our mental health programs.  George Cope at Bell will be happy to share with you the data on what impact mental health programs have had on productivity, on health, on insurance, and on the economy writ large. So we are committing as the Business Council to make sure all of our members are looking at putting in place mental health programs for our fellow Canadians.

We’re going to invest in learning and development because one of the great stresses out there right now as I said is, “Why is my 30-year-old at home?” We’ve got to make sure they got the right skills. We have to make sure that they’re being prepared for the world that is going to be not the world that was.

None of these things I’m mentioning to you today, in terms of what we’re going to do, require government. Government’s welcome to be a partner and is a partner in some of these things.

But we’re not waiting for government to give us a mandate or a regulatory regime around these things. Please don’t do that.

We’re just going to do these things ourselves and hold us to account for that.

We have to expand career opportunities, as I said, for young Canadians.

Then finally, we need to do a better job of supporting our innovators and our entrepreneurs. That means providing them mentorship. But it also means sometimes making that little more expensive purchase from a Canadian start-up than maybe going out and getting it from somewhere else in the world.

Give our own businesses a chance to grow and to scale. That falls on us to do that. We’ve accepted that responsibility. And we do so because we believe that business investing in people is a responsibility that we have and that we take seriously.

It does, however, also depend on our political friends making sound policy choices. I don’t want to diminish the importance or pick a side one six or the other six. They’re both important.

We need our governments to act and build the framework, the regulatory framework, and the policy framework. At the same time, businesses need to do a better job ensuring that we’re there for Canadians as we deal with adversity and anxieties.

So our goal is to work together. Our goal is to work together with you, with governments and others.

Because here’s the thing, we are the first group of people in the history of this country who are not on track to provide our children and our grandchildren with a better standard of living and a quality of life.

And that should sicken us. We owe it to them. We’re looking forward to working with you. And I thank you for being here today.