Overall, Canada has weathered the global financial meltdown better than some other nations. However, premature statements of self-congratulation are unwise. Are we prepared for the very real possibility that a fragile global economy might slide back into recession? A smart economy is one that is resilient. A smart economy resists complacency when global signals, such as the rapid increase in energy and food costs, suggest we are not out of the woods yet.
Even in these difficult economic times, most Canadians enjoy one of the highest qualities of life of any people in the world. We are blessed with abundant resources, a skilled and educated workforce, and a highly innovative corporate culture.
Still, the economic recovery is fragile. Too many small businesses are going bankrupt, while major industrial sectors such as manufacturing and forestry struggle to stay afloat. Meanwhile, the auto sector has received giant bailouts from provincial and federal governments without adequately protecting Canadian jobs or committing to making the transition to green technology. Unfortunately, employed Canadians are also among the most overworked citizens in the industrialized world. A report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) states that the richest 10 per cent of Canadians are the only ones not working longer hours. The report concludes that, despite being better educated and working harder, Canadian families are now “running faster just to stay put and the bottom half is actually falling behind.”
As the ranks of the unemployed expanded, access to the insurance system designed for times such as recessions was reduced. Now that we are coming out of the recession, the federal government has announced a significant ramping up of premiums from employers and employees to make up for the temporary freeze on EI premiums in 2009 and 2010. The government will recoup deficits in EI by increasing EI premiums (up to 15% a year) starting in 2011. In effect a $10 billion increase in EI premiums is planned over the next five years.
It is essential that we become far more creative in reducing our unbalanced dependence on trade with U.S., and that we significantly invest in a National Clean Tech/Energy program to remain price competitive and sanction-free. And finally that we conserve natural resources and invest more in long-term education and re-training.
Sadly, Canadians just experienced the only economic stimulus package in the world that deliberately ignored the new economy. Around the world, governments invested significant resources to stimulate the economy. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon called for a “Green New Deal” with investments focused on renewable green energy, green jobs and greater energy efficiency. The Obama Administration in the U.S. invested $150 billion in renewable energy to create 1.5 million new jobs. President Obama has an aggressive plan to reduce dependence on imported oil as well as to invest $13 billion in expanded passenger rail. European Union governments also embraced the Green New Deal, lining up economic objectives with climate-protecting goals. The Government of China made the largest investment in green technology to confront the recession − $600 billion in new green investments. The Harper Government has made Canada the only country in the industrialized world to cut environmental protection and to reduce investments in green energy as part of a stimulus package.
This generation has the potential to capitalize on the single biggest business opportunity in human history – the shift to a low-carbon economy. Whether this is driven by the need to end the recession through economic stimulus, high energy prices, dwindling oil supplies, strategic geopolitical threats to foreign oil, the climate crisis or all of them combined, the country that mobilizes resources to develop and commercialize low-carbon technologies (e.g. alternate fuels, renewable energy and energy efficiency) will survive the price shocks of fossil fuel’s last gasps and emerge with a thriving economy. Canada should be that country.