“Canada is positioned to be the incubation centre for global change,” says Indian political economist, Shankkar Aiyar.
Canada is floating, trepidatiously, in the middle of a disruptive wave that is soon to crash to shore. The trifecta of climate change, technological and demographic disruption are swelling forwards and upwards, and at their crest sits tremendous opportunity. How we react will define our economy and society.
Many of our interviewees have commented on these three megatrends and how Canada should respond at this pinnacle moment, a moment defined now by a global pandemic. What can we do? What should we do? And what does this mean for Canada’s future economy?
On Technological Disruption
Aiyar is not the first, nor will he be the last, to stress how COVID-19 will accelerate the technological disruptions that Canada was already being engulfed in. By many accounts, we have experienced years of digitization in a number of months—but it’s time to step on the gas pedal.
In a panel on digital identity, data sharing, digital talent and cybersecurity, Keith Jansa, Executive Director of the CIO Strategy Council, indicated that this once-in-a-generation moment requires a robust national digital strategy.
“If we collectively–and this is both the public and private sector–invest in these areas,” says Jansa, “we are talking billion and billions of dollars from efficiencies to opportunities that would be unrealized if we do not address them.”
The strategy encompasses the implementation of a trusted digital identity; secure data sharing; agile procurement; the need for cybersecurity; and a focus on talent acquisition.
Shankkar concluded, “Canada could seize the moment to create data-driven perspectives in the management of the pandemic.” And when it comes to talent acquisition, “fear will drive down traffic, both into educational institutions and acceptance of immigration, and Canada will need to leverage its resident tech advantages to build bridges with technology where human interface will be retrenched.”
It’s time, according to Alex Benay, former CIO of the Government of Canada and Sabrina Geremia, Country Head of Google Canada, to think about talent attraction in the digital age. But who are we trying to attract, and why do we need them?
On Demographic Distruption
In what Aiyar calls the “paved economies,” or the developed part of the world, the population is aging and shrinking, and Canada is no exception. In 2015, those aged 65 and over made up 16.1% of Canada’s total population, and the same group is expected to rise over 24% by 2035. At the same time, economic growth will slow and there will be a significant increase in cost for public services.
This will happen in correlation with a booming population in developing nations. “Around 1.9 billion of the next two billion people on our planet will be from less resourceful, less developed parts of the world, while the developed world will shrink further—particularly the working age population,” says Aiyar. India, he notes, adds 1 million individuals to its workforce every month.
On Climate Change
While climate change stands to devastate economies across the world, Aiyar sees Canada sitting at an advantage.
“Canada is on the frontier of climate change. Because of Canada’s historic policies and technology, climate change could be viewed as an opportunity,” says Aiyar. It could bring down housing energy costs, create the opportunity for public finances to be diverted elsewhere, and lead to a longer agricultural season.
In fact, according to our agricultural expert and interviewee David Dzisiak, COO of Botaneco, “because of climate change, the Canadian agricultural industry will actually increase our yields.” With an additional 10 frost-free days in the growing season, Canada’s productivity is enhanced.
“Canada needs to take advantage of that, because other parts of the world are going to lose their productive capacity [in agriculture] at the same time,” says Dzisiak.
Convergence, as it is traditionally defined in economics, is when countries with lower levels of GDP per capita catch up to countries with higher levels of GDP per capita. Or, by Laurette Dubé’s definition, it’s when “the rest converges with the West.” However, the “golden age” of convergence happened before the 2008 financial crash—peaking in 2007—and the theory has gained a new meaning.
According to Dubé, Chair and Scientific Director of the McGill Centre for the Convergence of Health Economics, the meaning has since changed to a “meeting point between different perspectives and actions that lead to a common goal.” Really, she says, it is about “presenting a framework to help a person do what is good for them and good for society.”
By placing the person at the centre of the economic process, we can “find ways to innovate along the entire ecosystem,” and hopefully increase wealth across nations while mitigating for environmental and social negative impacts.
One example is agri-food and protein. Canada has figured out a way to help resolve childhood obesity by spearheading the development of pulse crops, which was an avenue for creating wealth for the Canadian economy while providing healthy food to those who need it.
“Convergence is about figuring out how to innovate and make money, while also contributing to a more balanced next generation for nature, society and the economy,” says Dubé.
As these three major forces continue to disrupt Canada’s economy, it could be time to put people at the centre of how we approach our pressing problems. By doing so, we just might be able to create and capitalize on opportunities, not only for our country, but for nations across the world.