Chairman's Desk

To compete with Donald Trump, Canada needs a new political tool box

My last column discussed how our abysmal productivity will likely grow problematically acute under a new Trump administration.

It really hit a nerve.

Yet, it wasn’t the fear of Trump that caught attention, but rather the disaster that is our nation’s productivity emergency. I put forward the idea that the best way to deal with Trump was to get stronger economically and the best way to do that was to boost productivity.

While many of you quickly agreed, our political leaders are still clinging to the idea that hand-wringing about Trump as well as perpetuating a puppyish reputation in a dog-eat-dog world will somehow save us from economic doom.

Let’s be clear: It won’t.

Canada can only thrive in a Trump-led world by adding new tools to our political tool box. Let me explain.

Donald Trump represents more than just a pearl-clutching excuse to our nation’s political classes. He is the living embodiment of an uncharitable lens Canada’s elected leaders refuse to look through: the view of Canada from the outside.

For decades, that outside-looking-in lens revealed how Canada attracted international companies through our high-quality health-care, our skilled workforce and our stable, sensible government, but is today autofocused on how we must resort to bribing these same companies with preposterously high incentives.

It’s an autofocus that now shows our economy suffering from an alarming brain drain with many high-skilled immigrants picking up their bags and turning around shortly after arriving.

And that same lens projects Canada to be the worst-performing economy out of 38 advanced countries over the next forty years, achieving the lowest real GDP per capita growth.

Dead. Last. Behind Luxembourg, Columbia, and Chile.

What serious Canadian thinks that’s OK?

The very difficult, inescapable truth is Canada is sleepwalking into the future with our politicians leading the way.

All Canadians, but most especially those we have chosen to lead us, need a bucket of cold water to wake up, some Adderall to keep focused and a kick in the pants to get going.
In that last column, I wrote, “Our economic problems run so deep that an effort analogous to a wartime one is needed.”

A wartime effort is needed because it is the only frame of reference that will allow us to escape the political games that have obfuscated and distracted us from the clear structural issues plaguing our economy:

  • That agricultural supply management is bad for food prices and ruinous for our international trade deals.
  • That interprovincial trade barriers are killing our competitiveness and stifling investment.
  • That our public service needs sizable cuts and massive reform that takes advantage of modern technology and drives results.
  • That we simply must find a way to deliver our natural resources to market, particularly natural gas, in a responsible fashion that ensures we recycle profits into innovation that helps solve climate change.

None of these problems can be solved with the current political tool box. That’s the core of my point. These perpetual sticking points, regional complaints and special interest roadblocks can only be solved with new tools.

And that’s where my wartime analogy comes into play.

In times of war, we created new ministries for co-ordinating domestic industry, transformed our economy to meet global demand, and established new Crown corporations to build houses, among other initiatives.

It’s not complicated. We need the same approach today – Canada urgently requires transformative political leadership or the economic pain we’re experiencing today will feel like a mosquito bite tomorrow.

Brian Mulroney has a famous line, “Political capital is accumulated to be spent on the great pursuits of a nation.” Less well known but just as important is the line that followed it, “If you’re afraid to spend your capital, you shouldn’t be there.”

Let that be instructive to all of Canada’s political leaders today.

It’s time for those letting us sleepwalk into the future to step aside. It’s time for those willing to take us to war on our productivity challenges to step up and start spending their political capital — even if it means acting in a way that’s contrary to their short-term political interests.

History will thank them for it.


This article first appeared in Toronto Star on February 11, 2024.

Read More