If in 10 years or so we begin taking stock of where it all went wrong for our beloved country, we should note the gentle exhortations of people like Jean Charest.
Charest, the former federal cabinet minister and Quebec premier and now corporate law firm partner, has taken up a new cause of late: raising the alarm over Canada’s rapid descent into international irrelevance.
He recently told a national television audience, during a conversation about the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, “For Canada there is a bigger message here that isn’t just about this pipeline. The general impression it has left, not just in the United States but elsewhere in the world, is that Canada is a country that can’t get its big projects done.”
This may not sound like a dire warning – Charest is, after all, an elder statesman in the party currently in power in Ottawa, so his tone is in keeping with his stature – but the subtext is clear: Canada is risking its future by driving away growth today.
Charest knows what he’s talking about. In the last 18 months alone, three major energy infrastructure projects – Pacific Northwest LNG, the Northern Gateway pipeline, and the Energy East pipeline – totaling more than $60 billion in private investment, have been crushed under the weight of overregulation and political uncertainty. A third, the aforementioned Trans Mountain pipeline, is on the brink of suffering similar fate.
According to statistics Canada, foreign direct investment is also at its lowest levels in eight years, down 26 per cent from 2017 and, astonishingly, by more than half from 2015, due almost entirely to paralyzed growth in the energy sector.
Charest is also not alone. Politicians, CEOs, and financial institutions from around the world have all found serious fault with how Canada conducts its business. A 2017 World Bank report ranked Canada 34 out of 35 OECD countries in the time required to obtain a permit for a new construction project.
John Chambers, president of energy investment bank GMP FirstEnergy, sardonically summarized Canada’s predicament like this: “Canada remains locked in its own straitjacket, like Houdini locked in a box underwater with the time running out.”
Now, there are two problems with that predicament. Number one, the voting public isn’t likely to be moved by the plight of who they perceive as the political and economic elite; number two, the real-life impacts of Canada’s capital strike haven’t yet fully trickled down from the country’s boardroom tables to its kitchen tables. But they will.
When they do – when Canada’s middle class becomes so wracked with economic anxiety because our leaders failed to secure our collective future – we will look back at this time with regret.
Indeed, the most important issue we face today is whether Canada will choose to compete
for prosperity and opportunity in an ever more challenging global market, or if we will slowly wither away and get left behind by the serious nations of the world.
For Canadians’ sake, we need to make the right choice. Perhaps it’s time to stop being gentle about it.