Address by Minister Van Loan at Global Business Leaders Day

No. 2010/7 - Vancouver, British Columbia - February 22, 2010

Check Against Delivery

Reshaping the Global Corporate Landscape

Welcome and good morning.

Our Global Business Leaders Day is an opportunity to discuss ways in which the world can position itself for global economic recovery. We have a number of great guest speakers with us today, and we’ll also be hearing from a panel on how corporations can best position themselves for success through and beyond the recovery. And I can tell you that this issue—economic recovery—is on the minds of just about everybody here in Canada.

The global economic downturn that hit in late 2008 was felt in countries around the world, including Canada, but due to our strong fiscal position, the stability of our banking system and our government’s quick response with an aggressive stimulus package, we were able to, I believe—and I think most agree—move through this downturn better than most countries around the world.

We enjoy sound fiscal fundamentals. Our financial system has been widely seen as an island of stability in an unstable world. The World Economic Forum has of course been telling us that our financial system is the soundest in the world. And Canada is well-positioned for the future, economically and as a great place to invest. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the International Monetary Fund, Canada will enjoy strong economic growth this year and beyond, and in fact next year we’re expected to lead the G7 in economic growth. Let me also remind you that among G7 countries, Canada has the lowest overall tax rate on new companies and new business investments entering our economy, and we’re on track to have the lowest corporate tax in the G7 by 2012. And for these and other reasons, the Economist Intelligence Unit has identified Canada as the best place to invest in the next five years.

I invite all of our visitors who are here today to find out what Canada’s businesses can offer in a range of areas from advanced manufacturing to other knowledge-heavy sectors, like life sciences and renewable energy technologies, and the list goes on and on. And you’re able to see many of these advantages in this city—right here in Vancouver. And we’re hoping that visitors in town for the Olympic Games will also take time to discover the city’s other attractions, especially on the business side.

Vancouver has built a well-deserved reputation for leadership in cutting-edge industries like high technology, gaming, animation and environmental science and technology.

You can see this kind of innovation and creativity in cities all across Canada, including my home of Toronto, as well as Montreal, Halifax, Edmonton, Calgary—all of them cities on the rise across this country.

Before I went into public life, I spent a couple of decades in the private sector. I practised municipal law, acting on behalf of a lot of developers in the Greater Toronto Area mostly. And I remember during that time that a lot of what they did involved trying to attract investors from elsewhere in the world to do business here, for example as tenants to occupy their space and open up retail outlets in Canada. And often I got involved in making the pitches to those folks on why it would be a good thing to come to Canada. It was a little bit outside my main line of work at the time, but it’s something I was often asked to do.

And what I was amazed by, as I look back on it in this new job, was that in every single case in which one of those investors made the decision to make the leap and come to Canada for the very first time, without exception they were pleased with their decision to invest. The investment turned out very well for them, and they’re all still happily doing business in Canada today. And, in fact, that was before we enjoyed the kind of advantages we have now. And we’ll continue to see those grow.

You will hear later today from Richard Florida, one of the foremost thinkers on the importance of having a vibrant, creative economy of innovators—of creative workers. This is something that Canada has excelled at, and that’s one of the things he’s written about: that we have that combination of diversity, of tolerance, of innovation.

When I was in the private sector, I also taught land-use planners at the University of Toronto. I taught them about Joel Kotkin, who did some work that laid foundations for Richard Florida’s. He wrote a book called The New Geography, and one of his main points was that, unlike the olden days, when there were real geographic imperatives for where to locate a business—you had to have cities based along rivers and on lakes, or they had to be beside the resources—what was coming in the future was that it would no longer matter where you put a city or your business based on geography; people could be portable. They could go anywhere. What would matter would be other, softer issues and, more and more, human talent and, more and more, where you could get the creative talent that would drive a new economy.

And that drove exactly the kind of advantages that Canada had, the kind of things I’ve talked about: a strong economy, a sound banking system, competitive tax rates. But also, most importantly, quality of life. Because those workers, those individuals who had the ability to add the most dynamism and innovation, were the kind of people who could pick up and go anywhere.

And where did they want to go? Places where they had safe streets, where they could raise families and be confident that their families would enjoy a good quality of life, partake in rich culture, look at the beautiful natural environment—such as we have just outside this hotel here all around us in British Columbia, in fact throughout Canada.

And that’s one of the reasons why Canada has been so successful economically, why we’ve been able to attract some of the best and brightest from around the world to our shores as immigrants to make their futures in this country, and why our economy has become so dynamic.

So think about some of those things when you listen to Richard Florida today. And you’ll realize why so many of those investors we persuaded to come to Canada were happy with their investment here and why those investments exceeded their expectations.

Of course, when it comes to creative people and a high-calibre workforce, Canada has the highest proportion of people with post-secondary educations of any member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. That’s a pretty strong testament to the quality of the workforce that Canada has to offer.

But Canadians recognize that these advantages aren’t enough. Economic recovery also depends on forging partnerships beyond our borders. At the recent meeting of the World Economic Forum, Prime Minister Stephen Harper reminded global leaders that you can’t talk about economic recovery without talking about trade. From the beginning of the crisis—in fact, well before it—Canada has consistently pursued a pro-trade, open market policy. We have an aggressive agenda of trade negotiations in place right now. And our economic stimulus package included a unilateral elimination of tariffs for machinery that our businesses needed to compete and succeed. We wanted to see Canadian businesses be the most productive in the world, and we thought “the freer the trade, the better.”

We recognize that when our businesses succeed, our economy succeeds, and that when our economy succeeds, Canadians—all Canadians—succeed and are better off. That’s why we’ve worked hard to give our businesses the tools and market access they need to continue growing even in the face of the global economic downturn. In fact, the link between freer trade and economic recovery will be among the priorities during Canada’s G20 Summit in Toronto this June.

We look forward to welcoming the world once again to Canada, and to pursuing this theme of recovery and new beginnings. We’re very excited about having these kinds of discussions right here in Vancouver today; it’s an extraordinary time in the world’s economic history.

We’re privileged to have with us today a number of speakers and panellists who will help us move toward economic recovery in the coming months and years.

Let’s work together to create the opportunities that can help spur the global economy into recovery, and let’s help people in all our nations create the foundations for tomorrow’s prosperity.

Once again, welcome to Vancouver. I look forward to an exciting and stimulating knowledge-building day for all of us.

Thank you very much.