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President Obama Is Right: The World Needs More Canada

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President Obama addresses Canada's Parliament. (Photo: Adam Scottie/PMO)

President Obama ended his address to Canada's Parliament on June 29 with the words "The world needs more Canada." At this point in time, those words are very true.

The U.S. election campaign has had both parties' candidates talking about protectionism over globalization. There is talk of building walls, renegotiating trade deals and punishing U.S. companies that import foreign goods and services. The Economist Intelligence Unit notes the potential for several years of instability as the Republican and Democratic parties wrestle over their policy positions on closed or open borders, and globalization versus nationalism. A Brookings Institution Blog makes clear "U.S. city and regional leaders should not back down on trade and global engagement. The global economy is hyper integrated -- enabled by technology, air and freight networks, and complex supply chains more widespread and faster growing than new trade agreements. Local leaders have a responsibility to help their firms and workers navigate, not ignore, the benefits and drawbacks inherent in globalization."

Europe is faced with its own challenges. The Brexit vote was to be a strong vote of confidence for the United Kingdom's participation in the European Union. Instead, there is a new prime minister after David Cameron resigned, and the Labour Party leader has also resigned. Post vote, the British pound faced a significant decline versus the U.S. dollar. Speculation continues that other EU countries may follow.

The situation in both the U.S. and the U.K. indicates disenchantment with conventional political elites. Donald Trump has been playing heavily to white voters who have seen an erosion of jobs, and for those with jobs, no real wage growth. Blame is being placed on immigration and bad (for the U.S.) foreign trade deals. The U.K. vote saw the London region in favour of staying within the EU and areas outside London choosing to leave. The older demographic disliked EU immigration policies. Conversely, young people appreciated the mobility that those same policies offered.

Against this backdrop of polarization, political discontent, uncertainty and nationalism comes Canada. The federal election of October 2015 saw the election of a Liberal government led by 43-year-old Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The Liberals had run on a platform that included stakeholder consultation, deficits to improve city infrastructure, increasing trade and investment agreements, and a new openness in government.

Since the election, the government has shown its commitment to globalization. At the G7 summit in Japan, prime minister Trudeau confirmed Canada's commitment to free trade and foreign investment. The NAFTA Leaders' Summit in Ottawa saw a re-affirmed commitment to free trade and the continuing improvement of the relationship between the three countries. "The three leaders strongly support regional economic co-operation as a ‎means to promote shared prosperity, create jobs, enhance North American industrial and agricultural production, and protect workers and the environment."

Minister of International Trade Chrystia Freeland re-enforced Canada's commitment to its free trade agreement with the EU (CETA) at the recent G20 Trade Ministers meeting in Shanghai, and stated that "CETA will provide a strong foundation for Canada and the EU to demonstrate global leadership on a progressive and inclusive approach to trade. It is an excellent agreement and will deliver positive results and economic opportunities to our middle class."

Canada is in an excellent position to demonstrate the global leadership identified by Minister Freeland. It is undergoing a consultation process that is examining how that can be achieved. Three suggestions are:

1. The Federal government should formally recognize that city regions are a primary driver of the Canadian economy and a valued partner of the government in achieving national economic prosperity. The top 11 cities in Canada represent 52.5 per cent of Canada's population, 56.8 per cent of its GDP and most importantly, 63.8 per cent of GDP growth.

2. Federal support to the attraction of foreign investment should be centralized and placed into an agency that has the operational and financial flexibility to improve targeted policy development, effective resource utilization and the approval times for initiatives and resources.

3. Operational and project resources to city region organizations involved in trade and investment should be consistent across the country, increased, and provided in a framework that allows individual cities to maximize the effectiveness of the resource.

Canada's value proposition as a destination of choice for the foreign investor is excellent and only going to get better. President Obama is correct. The world absolutely needs more Canada.

Michael Darch is the founding President of the Consider Canada City Alliance Inc.

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