December 19, 2016 | By Mowat Centre
As we approach Canada’s 150th anniversary, we can take pride in how far we’ve come as a country. We’ve connected a vast, sprawling and culturally diverse territory into a strong, inclusive and vibrant country and one of the world’s most prosperous and multicultural nations.
But, we also continue to face some important challenges. Canada’s economy is in the midst of a radical transformation marked by increasing inequality that risks leaving some people behind. Our federal fiscal and intergovernmental arrangements don’t work as well as they should. Sometimes, they don’t even work as they were originally intended to.
What could Canada do in 2017 to better meet these challenges? At Mowat, we believe good research and strong evidence not only make for better policy decisions, but also better New Year’s resolutions. In this spirit, and drawing on our work in recent years, we propose a set of evidence-based New Year’s policy resolutions for Canada in 2017.
Smooth our transition to tomorrow’s economy
Canada is in the midst of an important economic transition. A new economy is emerging that is lower-carbon, more tech-driven, more global, and more knowledge- and service-based than ever. It is an economy that promises to give people more choice and more control over their lives thanks to technological innovations and more flexible work arrangements.
But such an economy could also deliver gross inequality and social dislocation. Many secure, good-paying manufacturing and carbon-intensive jobs are disappearing. Low-skilled and repetitive jobs may soon be lost to automation. And full-time jobs continue to be replaced by less secure, more precarious and lower-income work arrangements. It is a transition that, if not managed properly, can lead to rising unemployment and poverty, economic anxiety and social unrest.
As Canada faces the need to support economic transformation while protecting Canadians affected by it, our governments could undertake to:
- Begin to modernize and update the various components of our social architecture that no longer adequately reflect economic and employment realities. Recent Mowat research has highlighted gaps in Employment Insurance and employment skills training, provincial social assistance programs, public pensions, childcare and child benefits, caregiving support, disability support, affordable housing and healthcare.
- Explore and pilot alternative approaches to alleviating poverty, for example a basic income guarantee. In doing so, carefully consider what success will look like, and ensure the necessary data to assess both the positive and negative effects can be collected and analyzed.
- Increase the use of social procurement and community benefits agreements by government agencies and the broader public service so as to better support low-income and at-risk individuals and communities.
- More proactively develop or update regulatory frameworks in industries experiencing technological disruption in order to strike a healthy balance between encouraging innovation and efficiency on the one hand, and mitigating dislocation and job-loss on the other hand.
- Better facilitate the ability of Canadian not-for-profits and social entrepreneurs to deliver on their social service goals and social change objectives, while also providing decent employment to the growing number of Canadians they employ.
- Incorporate shared mobility platforms into urban transit planning, with a particular focus on reaching isolated and underserved low-income neighbourhoods.
- Encourage greater and more active consumer participation and choice in Canada’s energy markets, while ensuring new technologies are introduced in an informed, balanced and transparent manner.
- Better equip our public services to support our transition to the new economy and to respond to the needs it gives rise to by promoting more innovation, transparency, accountability, collaboration and evidence-informed decision-making in government.
- Further support and enhance the ability of governments, not-for-profits and social entrepreneurs to track, demonstrate and improve their social impact to better serve our more vulnerable and lower-income populations.
Broader public conversations about policy matters obviously benefit from good evidence and effective fact-checking, especially at a time when the public discourse is increasingly plagued by emotional beliefs, “factoids” and lies offered as facts.
A more cooperative, efficient and fair Canadian federation
A rapidly aging population, shifting regional economic balances and constrained fiscal resources confronting all governments will challenge Canada’s models for sharing revenues both vertically and horizontally. Fairness, both in the distribution of resources and in outcomes, continues to be a moving target that must be consistently measured and reassessed. These challenges will highlight the need for our governments to cooperate more, not less.
As Canada marks the 150th anniversary of confederation in 2017, federal, provincial and territorial governments could undertake to:
- Strike a more cooperative long-term federal-provincial-territorial partnership that shares the costs of delivering health care fairly and efficiently while incentivizing innovation and transformation.
- Create a more responsive, open and equitable intergovernmental framework to better facilitate active labour market policy across Canada and ensure opportunities to help vulnerable Canadians participate more fully in the labour force.
- Re-examine Canada’s Equalization program and federal revenue-raising and spending practices such that they can be more responsive to rapidly changing economic circumstances while upholding the fundamental principle that all Canadians are entitled to comparable levels of government services regardless of where they live.
- Make meaningful progress, through collaboration, in achieving better outcomes across-the-board for Canada’s indigenous peoples.
Champion facts and evidence in an increasingly post-truth public sphere
Our belief in the value of evidence-informed decisions extends beyond policymaking. The Oxford Dictionaries recently declared “post-truth” as 2016’s word of the year. Broader public conversations about policy matters obviously benefit from good evidence and effective fact-checking, especially at a time when the public discourse is increasingly plagued by emotional beliefs, “factoids” and lies offered as facts. This is an area where Canadians can show leadership and foresight. To this end we offer one final important resolution, to all of us in Canada:
- Make “honesty” 2017’s word of the year.