Beatty speaks his mind

The head of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce says Parliament needs to move beyond partisan politics and focus on long-term economic opportunities for the country.

Perrin Beatty

The head of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce says Parliament needs to move beyond partisan politics and focus on long-term economic opportunities for the country.

Perrin Beatty, who served in the cabinets of prime ministers Joe Clark, Brian Mulroney and Kim Campbell, and as CEO of the CBC and the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, spoke at a Red Deer Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Tuesday. He expressed frustration with the consequences of having a minority government in Ottawa.

“The message that we hear, loud and clear, from businesses right across the country . . . is that it’s time for the politicians to put the public’s interests ahead of their own partisan self-interest, and to focus on what needs to be done to strengthen Canada’s economy.”

Beatty, who has been president and CEO of the Canadian Chamber for the past two years, said this country has suffered less than many others during the global recession.

“We’ve been fortunate, because at both the provincial level and the federal level, successive governments over the course of the last decade have been paying down debt instead of running it up.”

That gave them the flexibility to act to minimize the effect of the economic downturn, he said. Canada’s financial system has also withstood the turmoil better than most.

That gave them the flexibility to act to minimize the impact of the economic downturn, he said. Canada’s financial system has also withstood the turmoil better than most.

As a result, said Beatty, we are in a position to gain a competitive advantage in the global marketplace. But we must first address some structural impediments.

For instance, Canada needs to increase the skills of its workforce, encourage innovation and investment in people and technology, commercialize knowledge developed in the public sector and enhance its relationship with the United States, said Beatty.

He cited protectionism, border delays and high compliance costs as among the things hurting trade between Canada and the U.S.

“As a result of public policy in Canada and the United States, we are putting the North American industrial base at a disadvantage by driving up the cost of doing business in North America.”

Instead, said Beatty, the two countries should collaborate on issues like transportation planning, border management, the environment, energy security, labour mobility, international trade and tax regulations.

“A fresh Canada-U.S. partnership is absolutely critical.”

Canada needs to look at its own tax and regulatory systems to encourage domestic and foreign investment, he added, and boost infrastructure investment so that goods can move more easily.

The problem is, such “long-term structural issues” require government decisions that may not produce results for years, said Beatty. And those timelines do not fit our current political situation.

“In a majority parliament, you can look where the province or where the country is going to be four years from now; in a minority parliament, the politicians think about where they’re going to be four weeks from now.”

Beatty also spoke in length about the importance of Alberta’s energy reserves, especially the oilsands. Government needs to support industry in bringing this resource to market, and the rest of Canada should recognize that it also benefits from this geological windfall.

“We shouldn’t be envying the Alberta advantage, we should be looking at how we can sustain it, strengthen it and ensure that it’s able to go ahead.”

hrichards@bprda.wpengine.com

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