By Barinder S. Bhullar, May 6, 2020
Our world has changed significantly. We are in an incredibly unstable period. Governments and businesses around the world are turning their attention to the urgent need to restart the economy responsibly. The interplay of this present pandemic crisis and the second and third order economic and social challenges that spin off from it are challenging decision-makers to shift their thinking beyond traditional policy solutions.
In this context, it is time for both the Canadian public and private sector to welcome the perspectives of a younger generation of Canadians at the executive levels of Canadian trade. Canadians whose heritage of immigration and upbringing in Canada provide a vital bridge for success in navigating the world. The generation that intuitively understands the opportunities of the gig economy, that bridges the experience of baby boomers and millennials, that succeeds in a pluralist Canada, must be enabled to contribute to the prosperity of the country.
The data is clear: according to McKinsey, companies that embrace the dynamism and unique perspectives inherent in diversity are more competitive than their peers. It should come as no surprise that social diversity (that is, diversity in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, race, etc.) helps provide a wide range of experiences and insights that help give companies, businesses, and start ups a competitive edge.
We will soon be embarking on a national debate defining the opportunities and risks for Canadian economic recovery. For Canada to realize true economic independence – that is, to define the crucial role that Canadian resources, manufacturing, innovation and expertise, strategic thinking – we will need to prioritize Canadian competitiveness in the global marketplace.
Taking stock of Canadian companies, boards, and executives today, it is clear that there are opportunities to better apply social diversity in order to succeed in the modern business environment. There remains the scant capacity to navigate global opportunity at the senior-most levels of corporate governance and leadership. The vast majority of medium-sized Canadian enterprises lack the confidence in advantaging themselves to the opportunities that 50 plus trade agreements Canada has established across the world.
Our country is in a unique position. The free trade agreements established with the USMCA and CETA position Canada as the sole country that serves as a portal to the Western developed world. Bilateral and multilateral agreements in the Americas, Africa and across the Indo-Pacific (particularly with the CPTPP) have created pathways to opportunities unprecedented anywhere in the world. While the potential to accelerate trade with a distinctly Canadian proposition to generate jobs, investment, and strategic partnerships for Canada does exist, it is up to Canadian enterprises to seize the opportunity. This is especially true in the post-COVID-19 economic order to come. Canadian industries will need to respond to the global economic reorder upon us, in which restructured supply chains across all aspects of global economic life provide real value for Canadian prosperity. What is needed is for Canada to embrace a model of global economic leadership, based on the inclusion of the best that Canada has to offer.
As an advisor to a Canadian Premier and her Finance Minister facing the vast opportunities our status as a Pacific nation affords us, I lamented the homogeneity of the executive class of the country. Many immigrants have arrived on Canada’s shores seeking opportunity and refuge. They left behind a legacy of failed and failing states in search of long-term survival for the families they cherished, and opportunities for the next generation of Canadians.
Today, their children hail from every region of the world, are finding success across Canadian society, are raising Canadian families, and are untapped potential that ought to be seconded in the cause of Canadian competitiveness. Canadian businesses would be very well served by enlisting their insights, expertise and experience in shaping a post-COVID-19 economic order. As we encounter unprecedented global economic turmoil, Canadian prosperity would be well served to think beyond the United States for the economic success of our country, in fact, we have no choice but to engage in a global economic reorder.
To do so will require policy-makers and business leaders to tap into Canada’s uniquely dynamic and diverse human capital advantages. There are young, smart, and talented individuals who are ready and able to usher in a new wave of Canadian prosperity; we’ve but to unleash them on our economy.
Barinder S. Bhullar is the former Director of Policy to British Columbia to Premier Christy Clark and published this article for the Macdonald Laurier Institute with the Sappani Fellows Program.