Elyse Allan is the president and CEO of General Electric Canada. Christopher Ragan is an economist and director of McGill University's Max Bell School of Public Policy. Mark Wiseman is global head of active equities for BlackRock. All are members of the Advisory Council on Economic Growth
Few things are as central to economic growth as business investment – which is especially important in a world of rapid technological change, an eastward shift of economic power, and an aging population.
But, despite many well-designed policies implemented by governments past and present, Canadian companies continue to invest far less per worker than their American counterparts. Lower investment means that our workers use older machines with less advanced technology, which makes Canadians less productive and prevents their wages from rising.
Responding to these challenges, the Finance Minister's independent Advisory Council on Economic Growth called last month for targeted reforms to Canada's regulatory system to make it more agile and conducive to investment and innovation.
The reforms, spelled out in the council's new report, would see Canada's regulatory system become more supportive of innovators, more efficient, and better co-ordinated across the country – while still maintaining the safeguards that have done so much to keep our country safe and fair. Such reforms will also encourage businesses to invest, and ultimately help Canada thrive in an era of change.
The council provides a three-part blueprint for how to improve our regulatory system.
First, we must be more open-minded about the potential role of regulations. While they must continue to restrict and limit certain activities, they should also encourage other activities and adapt much more quickly to technological advances. Governments can do this by moving quickly to clarify the rules in new and emerging industries, and creating legal frameworks that make it easier for entrepreneurs to develop, test and market new ideas.
For example, recent breakthroughs in regenerative medicine have shown that diabetes and Parkinson's disease may be treatable with the use of stem cells – a potentially life-changing development for those afflicted by these diseases. Yet, while Canadian researchers have been at the forefront of many new advances, many clinics have had to stop their trials of these treatments because we lack the necessary regulatory frameworks for this type of work. Japan, by contrast, established a comprehensive framework for regenerative medicine three years ago, and is now considered a global leader in the sector.
Second, our regulations need to be more predictable and efficient. As any small-business owner knows, going back and forth with regulators can be a painstaking process. The problem is often not that the regulations are themselves too stringent; rather, it is that unforeseen delays occur frequently. Convoluted rules can be difficult to interpret and follow, as well.
Unexpected delays in major infrastructure projects, for example, can sap billions of dollars of investment from Canada, costing us jobs and tax dollars. Regardless of how rigorous we decide to make our laws, we should be able to agree that decisions about these projects should not take years longer than they do in other countries, such as Australia or the United States.
Finally, regulators in different parts of the federal government, and in different levels of government, need to work more closely together than they do now. You would be rightly frustrated if you found three different parking tickets on the windshield of your car – one from the city, one from the province, and one from the federal government. Yet Canadian companies experience such duplication regularly.
Different rules between provinces also make it more difficult and expensive to introduce new products across Canada. Emerging fintech companies, for example, need to get approval from each provincial regulator before expanding their business into new parts of country, which reduces the choices available to consumers from coast to coast.
In the face of these issues, it is clear that we can – and must – do more to enable Canadian companies to reach their full potential. Doing so would promote faster economic growth, which benefits all of us: increasing the annual growth rate of GDP per capita from the currently forecast 0.8 per cent to 1.8 per cent would mean incremental income of $15,000 per year for the average Canadian household in 2030.
Of course, regulations play a crucial role in our society, keeping workers and consumers safe, ensuring people are treated fairly in markets, protecting our environment, and setting the rules for our financial institutions to be resilient. Regulations like these form the bedrock of Canada's market economy.
But we can maintain these important standards while also reducing unnecessary obstacles to investment and innovation.
Thoughtful reforms to our regulatory system can increase investment and make Canada a more innovative and productive country, which will benefit everyone. That is an investment worth making.