Canada’s 20/20 Vision

September 13, 2011 11:19 am
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By: Claire Tremblay

Political think tank Canada 2020 wants Canada to have great vision – the type of vision that secures Canada’s prosperity into the next decade. Some might even call it 20/20 vision – the best sort of vision there is.

A self-described centrist progressive think tank, Canada 2020 started in 2006 with the idea of gathering up Canada’s greatest minds to generate ideas to solve Canada’s problems. Twenty leading thinkers were asked to pick a single issue that could transform Canada by 2020. Luminaries including journalist Chantal Hebert, health sciences expert Dr. David Walker, environmentalist Dr. David Suzuki and literary critic George Elliott Clarke offered up their ideas. They identified the rise of Atlantic Canada, Western separation, the Arctic, baby boomers health needs and the prospect of Québec as America’s 51st state as emerging issues.

Five years on, think tank Chairman Don Newman says Canada 2020 has grown substantially. Since then, Canada 2020 has hosted symposiums, overseas politicians and established a web site. Issues already addressed by the think tank include the need to make multibillion dollar upgrades to Canada’s electricity infrastructure, foreign ownership of Canada’s natural resources, inflation targeting, a pre-budget debate and the creation of a sustainable health care system. Symposium speakers have also included Bank of Canada Governor, Mark Carney, the President of the Canadian Medical Association, Jeff Turnbull, Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page, President and Chief Executive Officer of Suncor Energy, Rick George, and Ontario Minister of Economic Development, Sandra Pupatello.

And Canada’s 2020 symposiums and dinners and lunches are proving more than just high-level gab fests. Ideas percolated through Canada 2020 have been picked up in the media (including editorials in the Globe and Mail) and by influential audience members including politicians and business leaders. By getting ideas out into the public forum, says Newman, Canada is better able to direct its destiny.

“The idea with Canada 2020 is to bring out ideas that help Canada,” says Newman. “If you don’t address your problems and try to deal with them in the changing international landscape, you are just throwing the dice,” says Newman.“If you can think about the things you have to deal with and at least exchange ideas first, then you can put out different ideas on how to deal with important issues.”

On the world front, America’s foreign debt problems rate highly as an emerging issue for Canada. In September, Canada 2020 is holding a global strategic outlook conference on the long-term economic outlook for the US. and its implications for Canada. The conference hopes to gain insights on international analysis and forecasting from both Canadian and international minds. Notables attending the conference include Ian Bremmer, President of the Eurasia Group based in London, David Emerson, former Canadian Minister of International Trade and Martin Wolf, from The Financial Times.

Canada 2020 will also hold an event in November with the United States Embassy on North American innovation. Newman says some “high-powered” people from the United States and Canada will attend the conference, including the Mayor of Minneapolis R.T Rybak, a scientific advisor to American President Barack Obama and the American Ambassador to Canada, David Jacobson.

“One of the reasons we are doing all this is to think of policies for Canada in 2020 and to have some idea of what the world is going to look like, how those trends will impact Canada and how we can take advantage of the trends.” says Newman.

The Canada 2020 web site states its goal is to “create and environment of social and economic prosperity for Canada’ through the “engagement of Canada’s business and political and community leaders.”  As to what this looks like in practice, Newman says, it is “about not just some people prospering but everyone prospering.” This includes making social services “that are available and affordable while also knowing what the cost of them are and how we can afford them in a global economy,” Newman says. “If we as Canadians have good ideas about international problems then we will have influence in a multi-power world,” says Newman. “For example how we came through the recession has made the world look at us and ask how did we do things differently.”

An issue closer to home says Newman is energy policy in Ontario. John Podesta, President and CEO of the Centre for American Progress and former White House Chief of Staff has spoken at two Canada 2020 events in Ottawa and Washington. Podesta spoke out in July this year on the Ontario Green Energy policy urging Ontario not to scrap its renewable energy policy.

Issues concerning Ontario are front and centre for Canada 2020 in the lead up to the upcoming provincial election later this year.

Just as impressive as the issues Canada 2020 tackles are its founding members and supporting organizations. Newman for one is a Canadian icon.  A veteran journalist of 40 years and former Senior Parliamentary Editor of CBC Television News, Newman is now a senior consultant with Ottawa public relations firm Bluesky Strategy Group and columnist for, an online political hub. Other founding members include Tim Barber and Susan Smith, owners of the firm. (Both Barber and Smith worked on Parliament Hill in the 1990s as political aides). Fellow Hill veteran and award-winning author Eugene Lang is Vice-President at Bluesky.

High profile Canada 2020 backers include the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Scotiabank, Telus, pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association and Canadian National Railways.

However, Canada 2020 is not just about high-profile Canadians working to affect positive change in Canada. The think tank also welcomes all concerned Canadians to participate

in Canada 2020. Sign up to its newsletter, contribute as a sponsor, participate in Canada 2020’s blog or watch Canada 2020 events online.  More information on Canada 2020 can be found on the organization’s web site,

The Politics of America’s Economic Decline

September 6, 2011 9:27 am

America’s economic crisis is showing no signs of abating. Late last week it was announced that no new jobs were created in the month of August. The most recent figures suggest over 14 million Americans are jobless; the real figure is undoubtedly much higher. Panic grips the stock market every second day or so. The U.S. housing market remains depressed in many pockets throughout the country. Perhaps most distressing of all, governments seem either ineffectual or simply powerless to address the economy’s chronic problems. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that Congress finally passed a motion to raise the debt ceiling. But even that measure has done little to inspire confidence among either businesses or regular citizens. Nor have the Federal Reserve’s relatively tepid measures done enough to stimulate any sort of real recovery. President Obama will address the nation on Thursday of this week with a new jobs creation plan. But few anticipate the sort of initiatives that will dramatically stimulate job growth and thus reduce unemployment. Many Americans are no doubt feeling hopeless about the country’s economic future.

Though it’s no longer in vogue to think so, the crisis is in keeping with what Karl Marx anticipated and John Maynard Keynes understood had to be corrected if capitalism wasn’t going to collapse under the weight of its own contradictions. America’s economy is suffering from a classic combination of high rates of joblessness and insufficient consumer demand. The two problems are self reinforcing. Slumping consumer demand undermines the incentive to hire more workers, which, in turn reduces demand even further. The crisis has been prolonged in part because of the preceding collapse of America’s housing market.  An over inflated market was cause and consequence of too many Americans being over leveraged. Once housing prices started their precipitous decline, personal indebtedness also increased. Record numbers of foreclosures is the most dramatic symptom of the housing market’s collapse. Another has been to further depress consumer demand. So long as this remains so, job growth will remain anemic. It’s a vicious circle.

Tea Party's Michele Bachmann

As Keynes understood, In such scenarios governments must assume a more active role in stimulating job creation if recessions are to be avoided. Contrary to what most Republicans suggest, there are ways of doing so that are fiscally responsible.  As many economists have argued, the housing market’s collapse will continue to play a central role in keeping America’s economy mired in recession like conditions. Mitigating its effects will thus require some sort of mortgage relief for distressed home owners. Investments in necessary infrastructure programs should be forthcoming. Companies should be given strategic incentives to hire more workers. Getting most of America’s millions of unemployed back to work will remove an important drag on the system. Instead of collecting employment insurance or welfare, they will be paying taxes. In the case of America, fiscal responsibility must ultimately entail tax increases for the most wealthy. (Warren Buffet, one of America’s richest citizens, recently stated that he and others in his income bracket should be paying far more in taxes.) As the economy grows, reducing the deficit in a responsible fashion is much easier.

For members of the Tea Party and most Republicans, however, the jobs crisis is at best of secondary importance. Instead they insist that the country’s economic problems all more or less stem from an over reaching, over spending government. A combination of deep spending and tax cuts, from their perspective, is thus the only viable path towards economic recovery. Towards this end, the Republican controlled House refused to raise the debt ceiling until the threat of default seemed perilously real and President Obama agreed to their very disagreeable package of demands. Among other things, the president agreed to immediate and back loaded spending cuts.

US President, Barak Obama

President Obama and his team of economic advisers are smart enough to know that such measures will only exacerbate the country’s unemployment problem. But somewhere along the way Obama seems to have lost his nerve. He has too readily capitulated to Republican demands, in part because the GOP controls the House of Representatives. His capitulation is most reflected in the narrative he constantly invokes in explaining what his administration must do. Too often Obama refers to the very misleading analogy of the government being like a “family” that must “tighten its belt” and “reign in uncontrolled spending.” But like it or not, the government is not like a family. On the contrary, its responsibilities are different and far greater in scope. In addition to sound financial management, they involve generating conditions conducive to higher employment and protecting the air we breathe and the water we drink.  In supposedly democratic countries, they have a profound responsibility to nurture democratic approaches to problem solving. Besides families wouldn’t be living in homes or buying vehicles or other large scale items if they weren’t themselves going into debt. This is why financial institutions issue mortgages and lines of credit. President Obama should be more forthright with American citizens and find more effective analogies when describing what his administration must do to improve the country’s prospects.

But for all of the Obama administration’s failures, it is highly misleading when equal blame is assigned to both the Republicans and the Democrats for the dysfunction in Washington or the prolonging of the economic crisis. On the contrary, the sources of the toxicity hanging over American’s capital can almost all be attributed to the Republicans and their Tea Party members. Their approach to the economy has been to hold it at ransom as a way of advancing a very partisan agenda, namely, to ensure Obama is a one term president. Perhaps there’s an element of racism in their determination to sabotage his presidency. In any case, doing their part to sustain high levels of unemployment is their best chance of achieving their objective. The Tea Party and the GOP also seem intent on widening the gap between America’s rich and poor while simultaneously severely restricting the government’s capacity to address the country’s problems. For this is what a combination of deep spending cuts and tax cuts amounts to. Yet they talk as though their twin demands reflect virtue of the highest order. They are either very cynical or simply unaware of the extent of their extreme narrow-mindedness. When it comes to the Tea Party and most Republicans, it’s always hard to know.

Counting on the Drinkers’ Vote

September 2, 2011 2:03 pm

A few weeks ago I sat down at my computer and opened an email  that had a link to a special interview with the leader of the Provincial Conservatives, Tim Hudak. With an election only weeks away the rhetoric and the promises are flowing like water. However, in terms of the main concern for Ontario’s wineries, greater access to the market, these have been largely ignored by the McGuinty government; but it seems that Mr. Hudak has got himself a plan.

Tim Hudak’s promise of  VQA-Only stores seems like a genuinely great one. However, the recent past suggests that the Leader of the PC Party will have quite the fight on his hands. Particulalry from LCBO and the Californians, who have achieved unparallel success here in Ontario, and who are threatening to blow the Free Trade whistle if Tim goes forward with his plan to loosen the market for VQA wines.

Tim Hudak

In the past, Mike Harris, a conservative and once premier of the province – who had a Common Sense Revolution – also had plans to revolutionize the LCBO. However, this was a promise he did not fulfill.  Mr. McGuinty also made some noise about the liquor board and even followed through with a study and report, called the BASR report, but  similarly the issue was scrapped and the report buried.

Mr. Hudak has not said he’ll take on the Board, in fact he is promising greater access to market for local wines (being a Niagara-boy he’s doing his riding proud), but the KGBO knows that would be the first step in losing control of the whole system.

Although the idea to take on the Board and the Californians, is potentially a good one, the question remains: How many Ontario/Canadian wines are in Californian liquor stores?  Can we lodge our own complaint against them?  The question will be how far will Mr. Hudak get in his endeavour to bring VQA wines to the masses?  History doesn’t bode well for the would-be premier of the province and that’s too bad, because many Ontario vintners would love to see the marketplace pried open; but something tells me the LCBO will take the Charlton Heston NRA approach:  you’ll have to pry the control of booze out of their “cold dead hands”.

Vineyards of Ontario

A quote found in a Globe & Mail article from July 6, 2011 sums up the situation brilliantly: “If Ontario wants to boost market share for local winemakers, then it should simply privatize alcohol sales and give fair treatment to all vintners.” Mr. Jim Clawson [chief executive officer of JBClawson International, US industry’s top trade consultant since the early 1980s] said, “You make it awfully difficult for consumers to buy a bottle of wine in Canada.” With this one statement, Jim has said a mouthful, but this now leads to the next question for the campaigning PC leader:  Why stop at VQA?  I think Clawson has given us a better idea; if you’re gonna pick a fight, might as well be for the whole enchilada, not just for the cheese topping.

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