Tawfik Hammoud is a member of the Boston Consulting Group's global executive committee, based in Toronto. Michael Sabia is CEO of the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, based in Montreal.
In our work around the world, we both do a lot of benchmarking – investment returns, operating efficiency, the usual things you see in corporate presentations. We often find ourselves mentally benchmarking the country we're currently in against Canada – and Canada usually stacks up well. "Best practice" or "top quartile" is what would appear on the PowerPoint slides.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, this week, there has been a lot of discussion about technological innovation, failed states, climate change, oil prices and slow growth – big issues playing out against a worldwide backdrop of intensifying ideological beliefs, polarizing identity politics, cultural intolerance and income inequalities. But amid these challenges, Canada represents a different, better path: a blueprint for a country that works. Because the world has a lot to learn from us, Canada has to stand up and speak out.
We may not have the global swagger some others do, but we have what many others wish they had: a successful, relatively harmonious and fair society, respectful and open to all. Canada's confidence shouldn't be affected by the price of oil or the value of the loonie, which go up and down. Our confidence should be grounded in who we are as a country.
There is much about our model that sets us apart. Here are three things worth highlighting.
Canada faces many of the same economic issues as other countries today – slow growth, pressure on middle-income families – but Canadians made clear in the last federal election that they have little appetite for divisive rhetoric and a strong preference for practical, middle-of-the-road answers. We may be the only Western country left without a reactionary populist movement, left or right. By global standards, our politics may be dull, but they work.
We express Canadian pragmatism in so many places: our strong and relatively equal health-care system, our efficient and largely non-partisan system for redistributing income, our world-leading approach to retirement security. Take the latter, which is a time bomb for many countries. We've built a system that combines personal, corporate and public savings plans, including highly successful public pension funds. Why successful? Because we've allowed them to deliver their public mandate by working on private-sector principles. Today, these funds manage $1.1-trillion, triple what they managed in 2003, with 80 per cent of that growth coming from investment returns. They are among the world's largest and best infrastructure and real-estate investors. Canada's public pension funds are among our best-known global brands.
Look beyond the daily show in the House of Commons to the institutions, such as our brand of federalism, that enable diverse interests to work as a country. Look at the paralysis of the euro zone or the political dysfunction plaguing the United States to understand just how hard this can be.
Canadian federalism has allowed us to bridge wide differences and share wealth across regions. The process may be more cumbersome than we would like, but it has given us the tools to be more innovative in a world of changing needs. Its genius is how, by decentralizing, it fosters more pools of experimentation – solutions developed locally are shared nationally.
In a way, our brand of federalism is a manifestation of something deeper in our national temperament – our capacity for constructive dialogue. That's rarer than you might think in a world dominated by one-way monologues. It's one reason why we've made the compromises needed to build cities with a quality of life admired around the world. Two recently topped The Economist's list of best places to live.
Canada remains an open society. Most leaders we meet view us as a gold standard in building a post-globalization society with a multiplicity of identities and a rejection of fear and "otherness." Our capacity to foster co-existence is rare and increasingly important given both the migrations that are under way and the proximity of once-distant cultures.
We are also world leaders when it comes to opening our doors to qualified immigration candidates – and we do so without exaggerating security concerns. Canadian opinion polls show a majority in public support for the world's highest immigration levels. No political party advocates cutting immigration. We should be proud that seven million of our 35 million citizens were born outside Canada, that the federal cabinet has as many women as men and that a few cabinet members arrived here not so long ago as virtual refugees.
None of this is to say that Canada is the promised land. There is work to do. Our pension funds need to think more creatively about how to invest in city infrastructure. On immigration, let's step up language training and really accelerate foreign-credential recognition to expand the labour force and increase economic growth. We have to invest to rediversify an economy that has grown far too dependent on commodities. And of course, climate change – we have let others shape this debate for too long. There is a real opportunity for Canada to reassert itself as a leader in curbing greenhouse gas emissions, while still taking advantage of our natural resources. The fourth industrial revolution is one of the main themes at Davos this week. Let's harness all that technology and innovation can offer to sell today's energy and tomorrow's new energy technologies.
There is no shortage of Canadian leadership opportunities: public education, health care, financial-system reform, taxation, medical innovation, free trade. We need to be good at these things, and when we excel, we need to make sure the world knows about it.
We are encouraged by the fresh leadership we see across the political spectrum and at various levels of government. These leaders seem committed to reasserting Canada's place in the world, and they are not alone. Most business and social-sector leaders we meet in Canada are ready to do their part. What we need now is a new level of national ambition and confidence: Let's stand up and be vocal about what we can contribute to solving the world's challenges.