Chuck Magro’s parents came to Canada from Malta in 1965 seeking a better life.
“It’s the classic immigrant story,” says Mr. Magro, president and chief executive of Canadian fertilizer giant Nutrien Ltd.
They could have gone to Australia. They chose Canada. But Mr. Magro worries that Canada in 2019 is not the same dynamic country his parents found in the 1960s. It has become too complacent, ceding ground in global trade to more aggressive and determined adversaries, he says.
“When my mom and dad decided to come to Canada … they saw this country that was young and vibrant and building things,” he explains in an interview. “It’s time to get back that hungry, competitive spirit.”
Mr. Magro, 49, is the public face of a new initiative by Corporate Canada to prod post-election Ottawa to get serious about revving up the economy. It’s an effort that suddenly seems more urgent after Calgary-based oil and gas producer Encana Corp.’s surprise announcement last week that it will exorcise Canada from its name and move to the United States as Ovintiv Inc.
Mr. Magro co-chaired a Business Council of Canada task force, alongside Nicole Verkindt of OMX and Louis Vachon of National Bank of Canada, that last week outlined half a dozen things the federal government can do to ensure Canada remains a magnet for talent and capital. Among the recommendations from the group, which speaks for the CEOs of many of the country’s largest companies: overhauling the tax system, boosting immigration levels and focusing on nation-building infrastructure projects. Other recommendations are familiar asks from the business community, such as easing regulatory burdens.
The council also said its members are making commitments to match the level of workplace training offered at comparable U.S. companies by 2025, adopting formal diversity policies and developing meaningful relationships between business and Indigenous people.
Mr. Magro acknowledges that Corporate Canada has generally done a poor job convincing Canadians that such things as trade, growth and competitiveness are essential to their well-being.
“Business has to stop talking about business and start talking about people,” he says. “Yes, we talk about competition and taxation. But all that is just about trying to drive prosperity. Sometimes these things are hard to talk about, but they are foundational to what people do want, which is a better quality of life.”
Until now, he and Nutrien have gone about their business in relative obscurity. The company – created by the 2018 merger of farm products distributor Agrium Inc. and the Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan – isn’t a household name outside Western Canada, but it is a global colossus in the agricultural sector. Nutrien is the world’s largest crop nutrient producer, with almost $20-billion in annual sales and 25,000 employees – most located outside Canada.
Mr. Magro, a chemical engineer, ran Agrium prior to the creation of Nutrien.
The slumping economy of Western Canada helped persuade him to get more involved – and speak out.
“We all want the same things. We want a better life for our children, a higher standard of living,” he says. “The only way we can do that is to get involved, as businesses.”
The farm-and-energy-dependent economy of Western Canada has taken a hit from a commodities price slump and global trade wars. Farmers are hurting. And investment in the oil sands has plummeted.
Nutrien hasn’t been immune, recently announcing temporary shutdowns of three potash mines.
“Our company is structured around the success of the global farmer,” Mr. Magro says. “When farmers are doing well, our company will do well. When farmers are on the front line of a trade war, that hurts them and it hurts Nutrien.”
As China battles Ottawa and Washington on trade, farmers in Australia and Brazil are grabbing market share from their Canadian and U.S. counterparts.
Mr. Magro acknowledges that getting agreement on reinvigorating the Canadian economy won’t be easy. The federal election exposed a divided country, with not a single Liberal MP elected in Alberta or Saskatchewan.
Western Canadians are frustrated and anxious about the future, according to Mr. Magro, who grew up in Southern Ontario but has spent much of his career in Calgary.
“They are worried about their families, their futures and their jobs,” he says. “They want other Canadians to understand that – and they want some help.”
Mr. Magro says it would be “nice” for the minority Liberal government to have some representation in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Nonetheless, he says he and other business leaders are eager to “engage” with the government – to find ways to lure back investment and make Canada a beacon for global talent.
“We have lost a step there,” he laments. “It’s time to regroup as a nation.”
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