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Our corporate leaders need to make their voices heard

Rhiannon Traill is the president and chief executive officer of the Economic Club of Canada.

Earlier this month, I hosted Canada's former foreign affairs minister John Baird in conversation with the former premier of Quebec, Jean Charest. The topic was the Trump administration, and how Canada should navigate the next four years. The dialogue was refreshing and honest, with the two well-known Conservatives talking openly and at points even praising our current federal Liberal government. It's been a long time since I've heard open and smart dialogue between former high-profile politicians that isn't weighed down by unproductive partisan banter. I began to wonder: Why can't Canada's corporate leadership do the same?

At the Economic Club, I host more than 100 events each year across the country, and more often than not, there is a whole lot of talking but not much really being said. I understand why politicians must choose their words wisely and I have a great deal of respect for the pressures that come with holding public office, but my real frustration is with our corporate leaders, many of whom seem to have gone silent.

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Most Canadian business leaders are staying in the shadows, void of any real thought leadership, and I'm trying to understand why. Has the nasty world of social media and the threat of anonymous hate scared them silent, or have we reached the point where the sole objective of a leader's position, on any matter, is that it have a positive effect on share price? If the answer is the latter, I'm truly worried about the lesson we are sending to future generations: that money is more important than civic engagement or social responsibility.

It is time for Canadian corporate leadership to lead. I know I'm not the only one that craves knowledge of the real thoughts and opinions of Canada's best and brightest. There are so many social and economic issues both nationally and globally that deserve attention and innovative solutions, and we can no longer rely on government alone to fix all problems. Now more than ever, we need our corporate leaders to take centre stage, leverage their gravitas and speak up.

Yes, there's some risk involved in taking a position on something political or controversial, but isn't that what innovation is all about? I'd much rather hear our leaders talk about the real issues rather than politely ignoring them all together – something we've become increasingly skilled at doing here in Canada.

I'm been impressed by the surge in focus on corporate citizenship over the past decade – the idea that a corporation has a role and a responsibility to do some good towards society. But so does its leadership. I believe it should be the duty of our most esteemed leaders to give back to society, not just with money but with bold ideas.

Former NFL coach Vince Lombardi once said, "The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have."

Our country is very fortunate to have some of the world's brightest minds leading our industry sectors, and I urge them to end their collective silence and share with us their ideas, positions and solutions on the many issues impacting our lives and our society.

Canada is eager for bold statements, thoughts and positions to guide us forward. Our country is thirsty for intellectual sustenance. We are listening, and we are waiting.

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