“We’ve entered into an era in which economic value is added through knowledge, and in which the Canadian business community now has to be prepared to seek out opportunity in a rapidly evolving global marketplace. The key to our future success will be to develop and maintain the ability to compete on the basis of quality and value. We’ve got to focus on finding ways to continually move up the value chain by effective application and commercialization of knowledge.”
– Perrin Beatty
The country is facing some important long-term economic issues that will call for visionary leadership on the part of government. As the newly appointed president and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Perrin Beatty heads an organization whose mission is to serve as the “Voice of Canadian Business.” He’s acutely aware of the challenges and opportunities that are present in the modern global economy, and is determined to provide elected officials and senior public servants with advice that will help them make the policy choices that are right for Canada’s future.
The 57 year-old Beatty brings impressive credentials to his new assignment. A graduate of the University of Western Ontario, he was elected to the Commons in 1972, at age 22. At 29 he became the youngest to be appointed to Cabinet, as Minister of State for Treasury Board in Joe Clark’s short-lived government. Beatty returned to Cabinet following Brian Mulroney’s landslide victory in 1984, and over the next nine years served in the key portfolios of Revenue, National Defence, and Health and Welfare. Jean Chretien appointed him president of the CBC in 1995. From 1999 to 2007, he was CEO of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Association. He began his current job in August.
Headquartered in Ottawa, the organization that Beatty leads has a reach that extends into every corner of the land. Founded in 1925, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce now has a membership of 175,000 businesses that are represented through a network of 350 Chambers of Commerce and Boards of Trade located across Canada. The Chamber’s membership includes companies of all sizes that are drawn from every sector of the economy, and its activities are overseen by a high-powered board of directors whose membership includes executives from industry-leading organizations such as RBC Financial Group, CN, Alcan, Bombardier, and EnCana.
As someone who has looked at policy questions from both sides of the table, one of Beatty’s most important goals will be to provide guidance intended to help government put in place the conditions that will allow Canadian enterprise to thrive.
In articulating his vision for the future role of the Chamber, Beatty says his main priorities are focused on activities that will help the organization to effectively fulfill its mandate as the leading advocate for the private sector. “In my view the primary mission of this organization is one of providing a mechanism that will enable the Canadian business community to speak with a unified voice on issues of national importance. One of the main things we want to accomplish is to facilitate dialogue between government and the private sector on key issues that affect economic growth, and encourage the two constituencies to work together in partnership to support initiatives that can help to build a more prosperous future for all Canadians.”
Not surprisingly, championing policies that will contribute to strengthening Canada’s economic competitiveness is the action item that’s at the top of Beatty’s agenda. His view at this point is that the nation enjoys several important strategic advantages, but at the same time, he believes that Canadians must never allow themselves to take the status quo for granted. “The bottom line is, in the global society of the future, nations will compete with each other for the best minds,” Beatty observes. “Human capital will be the foundation upon which dynamic and successful economies will be built, and one of the most pressing challenges Canada will have to address will involve finding ways to continually broaden and deepen our reservoir of intellectual talent.”
In terms of specific areas to which he feels government policymakers need to devote more attention, Beatty has several items currently on his list. “Given the enormous importance of the economic relationship that exists between Canada and the United States, we need a border that works. I think it’s clear we’ve got some issues to address in this regard. I also want to encourage the government to look critically at our tax and regulatory system and give careful consideration to what kinds of changes may be needed. The other issue that has become a very key priority is the need to put in place the kind of physical and technological infrastructure that will be needed to support sustainable economic growth.”
Fundamental to Beatty’s game plan for the Chamber is his understanding that while government cannot mandate economic prosperity on its own, it can make essential contributions to supporting the process of wealth creation through thoughtful and enlightened policy decisions. “The role of government in a free market economy is one of providing leadership and helping to create the kind of economic fundamentals that will enable private enterprise to succeed. Canadians always have to remember that other countries want the same kinds of things that we do, and our competitors won’t leave ineffective economic policies in place if it becomes clear that they’re impeding innovation and growth. The Chamber’s goal is to work with all levels of government in a consultative manner to support implementation of policies and regulations that will help the business community to flourish.”
Though he’s only a few months into his new mandate, it’s clear that Beatty is enthusiastic about the opportunities that he sees for Canada and passionate about the role the Chamber can play. “It’s true that we’ve got some complex issues to address, but at the same time, in this day and age, Canadian business has opportunities for wealth creation that are arguably more significant than anything we have ever had in our past history. In order for Canada to prosper the way all of us want it to, leaders of both the private sector and government must recognize that they’re all on the same team, and they need to work together in ways that will serve the larger best interests of the nation.
“A big part of the Chamber’s role will involve helping bring key decision makers together, in order to try to achieve consensus on critical issues and make policy decisions that work. This is an exciting time to be in business in Canada, and we’re committed to helping our members make the most of the opportunities that lie ahead of them,” Beatty concluded.
An Agenda for Action
In a November 20, 2007 letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and copied to the premiers of all provinces and territories, Perrin Beatty presented a list of policy initiatives which the Canadian Chamber of Commerce is recommending to help enhance national economic competitiveness. Key recommendations include:
· Review existing and proposed regulations to reduce overlap and eliminate those that provide no meaningful benefit.
· Create a single securities regulator administering a single code.
· Accelerate regulatory cooperation with the United States.
· Aggressively reduce barriers to trade and labour mobility across Canada and pursue new agreements with other countries to reduce barriers to Canadian trade and investment.
· Develop national and international accreditation