The Modest Recharge: Transformative Post-COVID Economic Recovery for Canada

Commentary, Economy, Marco Navarro-Genie, Sara MacIntyre

Canadians want change. It has been more than a generation since we have felt the overreaching power of government as in the past year. Daily freedoms have been curtailed, millions of livelihoods impaired, savings drained and countless fines and arrests created for new offences, like playing hockey outdoors. 

Our elected leaders have abdicated their responsibility during a global pandemic. Instead of balancing public health needs and expert medical advice with the economic and financial needs of families and businesses, a feckless political class buckled and failed at both. It has resulted in the preventable deaths of thousands of our most vulnerable and in the devastation of tens of thousands of small businesses. Not to discount the immeasurable social and psychological consequences of their heavy-handedness, which have been dire: numerous deaths by overdose, depression, suicide, denied medical diagnostics, family violence and child abuse. Round after round of lockdowns inflicts more suffering and demonstrates a gross inability to solve the problem. 

After two years of ineptitude, Ottawa finally tabled a budget with the largest deficit it ever recorded. The runaway spending will saddle the next generation with innumerable negative ramifications. On a per capita basis, Canada has spent more than any G7 country and fared worst in outcomes. Our economy was downgraded. Debt to GDP ratios are unsustainable and as the 2021 Budget demonstrates there is no sign of accountability for such unfathomable rates of spending. 

The minority parliament was neutered by the populist spending and the media surrendered to a prime minister holed up in a cottage while he handed out massive contracts for his friends who repay his family with lucrative benefits. The vaccine fiasco continues indirectly to cost lives. It put Canada so far back in the world vaccination queue and snatched medicine from the world’s poor, while the prime minister hypnotically repeated that he has our backs.

This litany of failures has Canadians hungry for change and the prime minister means to capitalize on this by adopting the Euro-leftist plan for a “Reset.” Though nebulous in details, the so-called Great Reset is a reinvention of government designed to make government increasingly bigger, assuming greater command of the economy: new economic arrangements aimed to reduce market freedoms and erode critical rights like private property. The larger the government’s presence in our lives, the less autonomous space for citizens. Witness the prime minister’s Bill C-10 through which internet content will be state-regulated. To say nothing of rewarding failure: Should governments that enabled and mismanaged the COVID-19 crisis and ravaged economies now be granted more powers and greater control over our lives? Larger governments are always capable of greater oppression. 

Canadians do desire change and need a sustainable post COVID-19 economic recovery plan. But the path forward is not in the collectivism that grew the largest self-serving bureaucracies, squandered trillions, impoverished billions and starved millions of people in the 20th century.  Canada must not be reinvented by the light of failed ideas. 

Subjecting Canadians to greater dependency on government is not the way forward. The way forward should be focused on modest but realistic goals: getting back to work, rebuilding and forging growth that is inclusive and realistic. First, let us repair what has been the most damaged: the small business. Despite the prime minister’s disdain for small entrepreneurs, small businesses in Canada employ 97.9 per cent of the workforce and contribute 41.9 per cent to the country’s GDP. The 2021 Budget provides some nominal spending for small business recovery, but the way forward is to reanimate national economic capacity and unleash entrepreneurial creativity by removing barriers and fostering conditions for families to advance.    

We propose three basic repairs to counter the mercantile mindset of the Great Reset: open internal trade, reform banking and telecommunications and increase incentives for retraining. 

Canada should be one market. Let’s once and for all deal with inter-provincial trade barriers, rules and regulations that restrict the free flow of goods, services, people and capital inside the country. Current rules adding friction to interprovincial openness are the equivalent of a retrograde seven per cent tariff. They contradict the founding spirit of the Dominion. Liberalizing trade within Canada would generate upwards of $130 billion yearly, a wealth pool equivalent to $7,500 per household. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. What Canada needs is leadership. The New West Partnership, which includes B.C. and the three prairie provinces offers a working model from which to expand.

The post-COVID economy will need to provide greater incentives for our labour force to become better skilled. Encourage more people to go into trades and emerging growth sectors, particularly digitization skills. And there is no better time than right now. Online educational offerings have finally caught up to market demand. The federal government in conjunction with the provinces and post-secondary institutions should develop a framework to provide advanced skills training for the expected changes to the economy. This requires leadership and the right mix of incentives and disruption. Those receiving the Canada Recovery Benefit should automatically qualify for skills training. Colleges and universities should collaborate with industry and provincial governments to get needed credential programs approved and offered quickly, not the usual four to six years that is typically the pace now.

Legislators and policy makers would be well to recognize two significant obstacles to up-skilling and entrepreneurship in this country: banking and telecommunications. The banking sector, particularly the big five Charter banks, are the biggest barrier to entrepreneurship. It is virtually impossible to access home equity as a small business owner with any of the big five. A lack of available capital is holding back existing and potential small business owners from investing, hiring and training more Canadians. It is critical to unleash the economic power of the SMB to reform banking legislation in this country once and for all, however much the banking lobbyists oppose it. 

We live in an online world, but 15 per cent of Canadians do not have access to high-speed internet services. Access to quality internet services is essential in a large country with a small and dispersed population. The enshrined oligopoly that charges exorbitant rates for poor service and horrid customer service must change. The need for small businesses to digitize to compete is hamstrung by internet costs, mobile services and the absence of competition in the telecommunications sector. Instead of strengthening it, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) and the minister of Canadian heritage should be working to break down the protected triad: Bell, Rogers and Telus. The most recent billion-dollar Rogers-Shaw deal is a prime opportunity for the Competition Bureau and the CRTC to put citizens, families and small businesses’ interests first.

Interprovincial barriers, banking and telecommunications are holding back Canadian entrepreneurs and small businesses. Let us reject the political scheme of a reset. It is time to free our entrepreneurs from the mercantilist shackles and unleash their power to create, grow and hire.

Sara MacIntyre is CEO of Vuca Sera Inc and Marco Navarro-Genie is Director of MNG Consulting. They are Advisor and President, respectively, of the Haultain Research Institute.

Photo by Pawel Czerwinski on Unsplash.