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Renegade CEO Takes On Canada

“Calls for a tax on non-renewable resources to fund a renewable economy”

I am a self-proclaimed Renegade CEO. An armchair quarterback that offers opinions and ideas. I draw upon my 30 years of experience helping organizations large and small, and the individuals who guide them compete in an increasingly volatile marketplace. I love powerful insights, big ideas and actionable strategies.

Today I take on Canada because it needs our collective attention. Canada's best days are behind us. I know my statement will anger some, it certainly angers me.

Here is the hard truth. The standard of living we have come to expect, the social net that we constructed and paraded as being among the best in the world, and the security we feel knowing that our Governments can always borrow to fund our livelihood and our retirement is at risk…serious risk and we are doing very little about it other than delaying the inevitable.

Rhetoric from Political Spin masters who move blame around like a pinball, who buy votes with your borrowed dollars and make promises that we know are impossible to keep is not the answer. Most of them have one move – to put Band-Aid upon Band-Aid of debt upon our festering wound.

Democracy is still the answer but the focus must shift from posturing and borrowing to finding a way to grow our economy. I am told we have it good here. In fact, The Legatum Institute of London ranks Canada number 5 on their International Prosperity Index, for economic progress, health, opportunity and freedom.

High Five and Big Applause.

Now the reality. Canada has a math problem, and math is the language of the universe.

The highly respected World Economic Foundation, which measures a range of criteria to determine a countries competitiveness, ranks Canada 15th in the world and six countries have passed us in the past five years. Our ability to continue to fund our prosperity and our standard of living is directly connected to our ability to compete.

As you can see from this chart - size doesn't matter. Switzerland has ranked number one for six consecutive years followed by Singapore than the United States, Finland and Germany.

If you are hoping for a silver cloud in the lining or a 'red maple leaf in the trees' look again. On the criteria that matter most to our ability to compete, Canada doesn’t make the top ten. On higher education or training we rank 18, nor do we crack the lineup for innovation (R22), infrastructure (R15), institutions (R14), macroeconomic development (R51), market efficiency (R14), Technological Readiness (R22), or Business Sophistication (R23). We manage a top ten with Health and Primary Education (R7), Labour Market Efficiency (R7), Financial Market Developments (R8).

When you compare Canadian workers to our cousins south of the border we generate much less value for every hour that we work. This shortfall has tripled in the past 30 years and is now approaching $10,000 per worker per year. The difference is meaningful and impacts our ability to attract foreign investment and create jobs. We become reliant on a weak dollar.

The math clearly points to an economy is in trouble and with falling commodity prices we can no longer count on a "Hail Mary" by pumping oil or hewing wood to balance our budget. Nor can we continue to operate with the fiscal incompetency we have seen in Provinces like Ontario where under Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne, Ontario’s net debt soared by 89% to $269 billion through an annual deficit that is now higher than the combined deficits of all other provinces and the Federal Government.

We have to grow our way out of this problem at a time when global headwinds – the fiscal crisis in key economies, structurally high unemployment, income disparity, water and food scarcity, climate change and extreme weather events, global governance, and social instability and terrorism are stunting if not blunting most economies around the world.

We need to shift gears from reverse, populated by soft and passive participants where most citizens feel entitled to prosperity to a fierce global competitor who climbs over other counties in the rankings. We have to throw a few Gordie Howe elbows.

There is no reason that we can’t achieve this and frankly, we owe it to our children to clean up our mess. It will take a vision, an actionable plan and a commitment to work together. If we do show that this is a country where individuals and organizations can prosper then we can play some very exciting cards to attract others. We can offer the world’s brightest minds, and investors searching for a safe haven and growth as much or more than any country on the planet.

Canada has the fresh air, water and food to sustain life, the energy to heat our homes and businesses, vast space and a culture that embraces diversity. We are governed by a strong democracy and a judicial system that protects both the innocent and intellectual capital. We share a border and language with the largest economy in the world and we have borrowing power to invest in the new economy and to reap the dividend for generations to come. So what's that vision for our new economy? One that is feasible that'll capitalize on both our strengths and on market opportunity and solves a big issue in a way that makes us unique?

I have one and it deserves to be debated. It’s not sector-specific – like the Swiss with precision instruments or financial services, or the Dutch with their dyke technology to repel the ocean's rising waters. It’s not scientific like Singapore with their investment in creating a biology industry, or consumer packaged goods or content where so many American firms dominate. It doesn’t need a scale or a low Canadian dollar to be viable.

The problem I want to solve and our opportunity to create a new economy has to do with our polarizing global marketplace. On one side we have so many competitors racing to zero chasing a deal-driven consumer. They rely on one-size-fits-all messaging and they use price to create a tiebreaker to move their constipated supply chain. “He who can sell it cheapest wins” this race and the casualties are mounting as they drive into crowded hairpin after hairpin without an airbag. With Canada’s labour costs and lack of scale, this is not a platform for us to build our new economy on.

On the other side of the marketplace, we have a new economy based on reimagination and reinvention. Google and Alibaba have found a way to connect the dots faster, Apple to put 1000 songs in your pocket. Amazon has become the world’s biggest vending machine, and Viagra is enabling grown men to prance in front of their partners.

In every corner of the marketplace, there are disruptors emerging. The entrepreneurs, engineers, scientists, inventors and organizations are turning the world upside down by shifting the focus from mass to mine. They are designing goods and services that enable a consumer's life or a business's livelihood versus simply providing functional benefits. The ones that succeed are finding an infinite marketplace and unimaginable market value because they feed an innate desire of many consumers to get more life from life.

This is where the growth is in the global marketplace but it's a tough gauntlet to run. For every Uber or Canada Goose that succeed thousands fail even though they are armed with powerful insight, a big idea, and a well-capitalized plan. Why? Speed to market. More often than not they were sideswiped by a competitor that got there first - and in this marketplace, first-mover advantage is paramount for attracting consumers, media and capital.


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