Angel Gurria, 64, is the Secretary-General of the Paris-based Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development, which advises Canada and the group’s other 33 member-countries on economic issues. National Business Correspondent Barrie McKenna talked to him in Montreal at the International Economic Forum of the Americas about inequality, climate change and Canada’s lagging exports.
You have talked about the need for “inclusive” economic growth in the world. What does that look like in the Canadian context?
Canada is one of the countries that is less unequal in the OECD. But it’s at a relatively manageable level. I would not say income inequality is a very burning issue in Canada. This is good. But it’s a problem you don’t want to have. We’ve already seen the kinds of consequences. The trend is very fast and it grew faster in the crisis, and the question is where does it take you? It goes beyond what can be fixed by sheer traction from a recovery of growth.
Your report also talks about other types of inequality – inequality of housing, inequality between regions of Canada. Can you expand on that?
The point of the whole commentary is that it is not about income. It is about income, yes, but it is about health, education, job opportunities. It’s really about inequalities, plural … We know people who are more educated live longer.
Some of your harshest comments in the report are about Canada’s climate change policies. Prime Minister Stephen Harper says Canada is just more “frank” about the issue than other countries. What do you say to that?
We celebrate honesty with transparency. But it does not mean that [climate change] can simply lie there unresolved. … I am saying that Canada committed to the 17-per-cent drop [in greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2020]. By the Canadian government’s calculation, it’s going to be 0.4 per cent lower. That is a very big slippage … There is a world out there saying, ‘what are the big guys doing?’ Canada is a G7 country. It is one of the most important suppliers of energy in the world.
Canada has suffered from sluggish exports coming out of the recession, with loss of market share in key markets. Do you see Canada regaining its export strength to where it was?
The challenge is to have a more knowledge-based type of production and exports, and a greater sophistication and complexity of your exports. It doesn’t mean you’re going to stop exporting commodities. If it sells at a good price, that’s fine. The question is to what extent do you accelerate the diversification of the production model. You have universities, research centres, entrepreneurs and the talent, and you have access to the markets because you’ve signed free-trade agreements. The question now is to go for it. Add value.