At this time of global uncertainty, Canada has strong frameworks: a sound political and legal environment, effective public services, one of the best-educated, most diverse workforces in the world, a competitive tax system, and an attractive business climate.
But, talent is only valuable when it is productively deployed; a competitive tax system is only worth the investment it attracts; strong research capacity only creates wealth and jobs when it is commercialized; global opportunities only create jobs when our firms take advantage of them. Canada has the building blocks for success, most certainly; but if we rest on them rather than build on them, we will lose ground.
This brings us to today’s new global reality. The context we now face is a pervasively interconnected world. In this changing world, the global center of economic gravity is shifting back toward Asia. A two-speed world is emerging, where the West is in the slow lane and the emerging economies are setting the pace in the fast lane. For the first time in a very long time, we’re collectively aging in many countries, not just the West but also Japan, Russia and China. The demographics of societal aging will have huge but poorly understood consequences for economic growth and fiscal frameworks. It will also create a global hunt for talent, where the winners, both countries and firms, will be in the driver’s seat.
This is all taking place during an information revolution where, within a decade, we have shifted from low bandwidth connectivity in the West to a hyper-connected world. The reality of what a market is, how it can be accessed, where work can be done, and the nature of communications is under constant change.
At the same time, we are seeing an enormous drop in the public’s trust of leadership in many countries. This matters: it challenges the presumption that when you say something, advocate for something, put forward a new proposal or suggest change is necessary, people will take you at your word. For leaders and institutions, trust must be earned, not presumed, and never abused.
This changing world provides public servants an opportunity to help reshape the future: to harness these drivers of change and create tomorrow’s sustainable and competitive economy through innovation today; to connect cultures and people, as well as continents and markets; to break down the barriers of yesterday and bridge demographic divides; to explore whether the complex interactions among global markets can be better matched by innovations in global governance.
In periods of profound change, government matters. It is essential, a shaping force, an embodiment of a society’s values, aspirations, ambitions and accommodations. But it is only as good as the strength of its institutions, the leaders who stand for elected office, the quality of its public servants, the participation of its citizens, and citizens’ engagement in civic life.
Good government is about making a difference: it should encourage innovation in public policy and public service delivery; it should embrace change, not the status quo in a shifting world; it should be ambitious for its citizens and the country.
Canada has incredible potential in this changing world but it is just that, potential, not entitlement. To realize our potential, to prosper economically and socially, we need to be clear about our strengths and weaknesses, and even clearer about our national interests. We need leaders, in both public and private sectors, in both elected and unelected positions, who embrace change and understand where we should focus:
• A mindset focus: we must “disrupt the status quo” in the way we think and operate;
• A timeframe focus: we need to balance shorter-term exigencies with longer-term investing;
• An innovation focus: we can successfully adapt to this changing world provided we are innovation leaders, not followers; and
• A policy focus: world-class companies and world-leading countries need to have a clear strategic focus, and manage to global excellence, not local superiority.
And, in all this, a focus on a strong, effective, non-partisan public service. Public service matters in building the future Canada we want.