What does the future hold for Canada? In recognition of its 175th anniversary, The Globe and Mail convened top thinkers and leaders from across the country to share insights and ideas on shaping the Canada we want for future generations at the Canada Future Forward Summit. Below are some highlights from this two-day event, held at The Globe and Mail Centre in Toronto on June 25 and 26.
Day 1: People, Places and Citizenship
1. Canadian democracy and values are under threat
The freedoms and liberties Canadians fought so hard to protect in the Second World War are in jeopardy, said opening keynote speaker Justice Rosalie Abella of the Supreme Court of Canada. Human rights violations around the world, poor access to justice, and the encroachment of social media into our privacy and security are risks Canada will need to address to secure its future. We shouldn’t take our moral ground for granted, she noted.
2. Canada should lower the voting age to 16
Lieutentant-General Roméo Dallaire (Ret’d) questioned why 16-year-olds can drive, be recruited for military colleges, and learn about Canada’s political system and the role of citizenship, but then have to wait two years to vote. Social media has given young people instant access to their peers around the globe, and Canada has an unprecedented opportunity to lead the world by example, noted Dallaire. We should empower our youth and hold them accountable to chart our future now. Climate change, global conflicts and waves of displaced refugees are threats requiring urgent attention, and we must empower our young citizens to act now.
3. Our education system needs a revamp
Panelists speaking to the evolution of Canada’s post-secondary institutions agreed that education needs to shift to an inter-disciplinary mindset. Currently, graduates understand their own profession or occupation, such as engineering, law, marketing or finance, but they have limited understanding outside these individual spheres. The future economy will need graduates who incorporate the perspectives of multiple disciplines, noted several speakers.
Panelists including Dr. Sara Diamond, President and Vice-Chancellor of OCAD University also called for more experiential learning, data literacy and new educational pathways beyond the traditional two or four-year diploma or degree.
4. Work and the workforce are changing
The gig economy is burgeoning, said economist Linda Nazareth. Institutions such as banks need to catch up, establishing new ways to assess itinerant or gig workers’ ability to carry a mortgage or a loan. The concept of a full-time job with a single company only came about with the Industrial Revolution, she said. Before that, it was all the gig economy.
Skills will be different too, added Tim Jackson, president of SHAD Canada, which works with high school students. Future workers will need to be comfortable working in groups and problem solving. Bruce Linton, Chairman and Co-CEO of Canopy Growth Corp., stressed the importance of an entrepreneurial mindset for the future. The experts also called for flexible work arrangements for an increasingly older workforce.
5. Canada will need more people
The birth rate in Canada has fallen to 1.5 children, said Darrell Bricker, CEO of Ipsos Public Affairs. The rate needed for population stability is 2.1. We are also living longer, and given that women still outlive men, society is becoming increasingly female. Yet businesses, marketers and even institutions often overlook women and older Canadians, due to our youth-obsessed society, said Bricker. That will have to change.
Immigration is key to increasing Canada’s population, added Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. Minister Hussen referred to the Century Initiative target of 100 million Canadians as an acceptable target for population growth. He also stressed the need to settle new immigrants and refugees in rural and remote areas of Canada where skilled workers are in short supply.
6. Indigenous communities are poised for economic expansion
We are moving beyond inaction when it comes to building out infrastructure with Indigenous communities. Business and community partnerships are spurring projects worth billions of dollars, said Aaron Aubin, an Indigenous consultant and urban planner. We need to establish effective communication with Indigenous communities to leverage burgeoning economic opportunities, he said. Chloe Ferguson of the Martin Family Initiative added that investments in early childhood education and development in Indigenous communities is leading to positive outcomes, paving the way for future growth.
7. The future of business hinges on faster decisions
Bob Dhillon, Founder, President and CEO of Mainstream Equity Corp. said Canada is already fairly efficient when it comes to procurement decisions and contracts in the real estate sector. Yet business is still navigating a “bureaucratic nightmare” among the three levels of government. Sachin Aggarwal, CEO of Think Research, noted government procurement decisions in other countries take half the time they do in Canada. The panel, which also included Kristen Gale, CEO of The Ten Spot franchise of beauty bars, also called for easier – and cheaper – access to capital.
8. Future generations will not live in traditional houses
The concept of a big house with three vehicles in the driveway is a dying one, at least in urban settings, noted Evan Siddall, CEO of the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). The CMHC’s national housing strategy focuses on rental capacity and recognizes upcoming generations will have less opportunity for home ownership. It is not fair, he added, but young Canadians taking on expensive mortgages they likely cannot afford to pay is not a good alternative, as housing prices continue to rise in large and regional cities.
Day 2: Growth and Connections
1. Canada needs a national data and IP strategy
In a critique of Canada’s current innovation strategy, CIGI Founder (and co-founder of RIM, now known as BlackBerry) Jim Balsillie, said that for decades Canada has been pouring resources into new technological frontiers (including AI), but we have done little to stymie the flow of the benefits of these innovations to corporations and other entities outside our borders. The new USMCA agreement, in particular, is not doing Canada any favours, Balsillie stated. Not only do we need an updated framework for keeping the IP we develop for our benefit, we must also update our data infrastructure to protect the integrity of Canadian democracy.
2. The Canadian government must do more to protect its citizens’ personal data
Harvard Law School professor, and internationally-renowned data expert, Ruth Okediji noted that the 21st century economy has been dominated by moments in which consumers have had to hit “accept” on terms and agreements in order to use even the most basic digital products. The problem is the inherent power imbalance – consumers must hit accept without having any recourse to decide how or when their personal data is used by the companies that collect it. Consumers have often been left to feel powerless in these instances, which is why Okediji argues that governments must step in and have a more robust plan for protecting consumer data, not only in the interest of personal freedoms, but also in the interest of preserving democracy.
3. 5G implementation will rely on more unity among Canada’s policymakers
The rollout of 5G technology in Canada will require a more unified voice from Canadian lawmakers and creators of policy. There’s a rising level of sophistication in Ottawa in terms of understanding 5G technology, but it’s still difficult to grasp all of the nuances involved, said Stephanie Carvin, a faculty member at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University. This has led to disagreement between agencies, including the RCMP and CSIS, on how to move forward in implementing 5G. Between concerns over privacy and encryption, versus wanting to improve innovation and bring in investment, “there’s no one unified voice in the Canadian government,” said Carvin – a factor that will need to change if a 5G rollout is to be successful.
4. Indigenous voices must continue to play a bigger role in Canada’s resources debate
The Globe’s Shawn McCarthy, who moderated a debate over the future of Canada’s resource economy, noted a major change in more recent discussions about pipelines and renewable energy – that the voices of Indigenous communities are finally starting to be heard in more meaningful ways. While there is still much progress to be made, efforts to enshrine the self-determination of Indigenous communities in future agreements over resource extraction or renewable energy projects will only serve to benefit Canada as a whole, and will further us on the path to true reconciliation.
5. Canada must continue to promote its values on the global stage
Bruce Heyman, former Ambassador of the United States to Canada under former President Barack Obama, noted that Canada has faced backlash in recent months for certain international declarations, including a statement on human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia. Heyman’s own theory is that an increasingly isolationist American foreign policy has resulted in the perception that Canada has less protection from its powerful ally, resulting in the massive reaction from Saudi Arabia towards Canada last summer. While Canada may have stirred up some controversy, Heyman believes that it remains the country’s duty to stay true to its liberal democratic values, even in the face of irritated trade partners. If we compromise on our morality, we will lose much more than a trade partner could ever take away.
6. Canada’s future success will rely on its ability to nurture communities
“Networks are not communities,” said Fogo Island Inn founder, Zita Cobb, during her closing keynote address. The digital frameworks that connect us via the internet are important for commerce, but they do not create a tangible, physical space where people interact with one another and care for each other’s well being on a daily basis. In order for Canada to continue developing in a positive direction, we must reprioritize the creation of communities, and care about what’s happening next door as much as we care about what’s happening online. For author Esi Edugyan, stronger communities will also be ones that celebrate multiculturalism and place a premium on funding the arts, including libraries and cultural institutions. “We need to ensure that all possible selves [and] all possible journeys are open to everyone,” said Edugyan.
7. Canada’s future generations are looking for a purpose
Vishal Vijay, the 18-year-old founder of charity EveryChildNow, gave the audience a sense of what future generations are looking for when deciding on a career. Given the challenges that will continue to be posed by climate change, and the millions of people who still live in poverty worldwide, Vijay noted that in his own work he is always looking to answer the question: “What purpose does this serve?” Even his position at CIBC this summer has given him a purpose, as he is part of a team looking for better ways to receive and process charity donations. If young people in the workforce are given the opportunity to both work hard and effect change, we will likely get the best of what they have to offer to the organizations they work for.