Alex Paterson

Our 2013 Speaker Series kicks off in front of a packed house

January 31, 2013

This year’s The Canada We Want in 2020 Speaker Series kicked off last night in Ottawa, with a spirited, insightful and provocative conversation about why competition matters to Canadian productivity and innovation.

In front of a packed house in the Chateau Laurier’s Drawing Room, we convened a group of four leading experts in the field:

  • John Manley, President and CEO of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, and former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Industry in the Chrétien government;
  • Glenn Ives, Chair of Deloitte Canada, a company that supports a highly-regarded research programme on Canadian productivity issues;
  • Marcel Cote, Principal at KPMG SECOR and author of the book Innovation Reinvented: Six Games that Drive Growth; and
  • Melanie Aitken, Co-Chair of Bennett Jones LLP’s Anti-Trust and Competition practice and former Commissioner of the Competition Bureau of Canada.

The panel, which was moderated by Don Newman, Chair of Canada 2020′s Advisory Committee, began with a framing question: “To what extent does increased competition drive productivity growth in Canada?”

Immediately, differences in opinion emerged.

For Melanie Aitken, whose years at the Competition Bureau were marked by a renewed intensity in enforcement of competition regulation, the link is very pronounced. And furthermore, it is her view that “true national champions, the companies born of vigour and entrepreneurialism, do not in fact want or need the government’s protection.” She went on to acknowledge that there may be some very valid reasons to insulate certain sectors from the full-force of competition but that we need to scrutinize these “sacred cows” carefully: are we willing to pay the price to protect all the many notional pillars of “Canadianism”?

Marcel Côté’s view is that because the sectors of the economy that are traditionally defined as a) protected, and b) in need of increased competition, account for only a small percentage of the Canadian economy, a lack of competition is not a primary reason behind Canada’s poor productivity performance.

Glenn Ives took a broad view – backed by excellent research from the Deloitte productivity team – noting that if necessity is the mother of invention, “competition creates that necessity.”

John Manley focused both on the importance and the difficulty of increasing productivity growth in Canada, noting that the entire business ecosystem benefits from having big firms that put a good international face on Canadian markets.

Concerns were at once macro – Canada’s woeful innovation performance and productivity growth has stagnating effects throughout the economy - and micro – consumers are being gouged in industries made “complacent” by the comfortable status quo.

Other areas of discussion included mapping out the innovation ecosystem, identifying the reasons behind firm size and growth in Canada (Ives: “57% of companies in Canada are small because the owners want them to stay small”), and debating the notion that Canada’s markets are freely contestable even within our own borders.

As is the case whenever Canada’s productivity performance and market structures are discussed, comparisons with the U.S. are always front-of-mind. The retail sector received the brunt of the criticism, with Marcel Côté showing a slide that presented the price differential for a basket of goods in a Canadian Wal-Mart versus a U.S. Wal-Mart.

Sticking to our mandate at Canada 2020, our panelists searched for a redefined role for the federal government. Manley, whose own time in office saw a relatively stable level of productivity, was first to admit that it is – and always has been – difficult for the federal government to move the needle on productivity growth in Canada, and that business leaders need to take the lead.

Glenn Ives believes that the federal government deserves higher grades on attempting to increase competition than businesses do themselves, which spoke directly to Melanie Aitken’s point that a tradition of comfort and complacency has led to a culture of risk-averse business leaders and policy-makers. What’s more a robust competition policy framework is often hidden beneath protectionist policies that are promoted and installed under the guise of Canadian values rather than market realities.

Photos of the event, and a rebroadcast of the discussion, are available here.

Canada’s next event is Equality of Opportunity – a Canadian Dream? which follows from last year’s panel on reducing income inequality and polarization.

The panel discussion will take place on Tuesday 26 February, 2013 st the Châtweau Laurier hotel. Panelists include:

  • Miles Corak and expert on economic mobility from the University of Ottawa;
  • Zanny Minton Beddoes, Economics editor of The Economist and author of a recent special supplement on inequality, cronyism and the need for a policy of “true progressivism”;
  • Ron Haskins from the Brookings Institute (a former adviser on welfare policy in the George W. Bush White House); and
  • Carolyn Acker, Founder of the Canadian pionerring non-profit Pathways to Education.

Registration is now open here.


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Our 2013 Speaker Series kicks off in front of a packed house

This year’s The Canada We Want in 2020 Speaker Series kicked off last night in Ottawa, with a spirited, insightful and provocative conversation about why competition matters to Canadian productivity and innovation.

Issues: Competition Matters – or does it?

It is our contention that if we are to have a more innovative, productive Canada by 2020, the business environment in this country needs to become more competitive. This is by no means the whole solution, and it may not even be the main solution, but it does appear to be part of the answer.

Opinion: Barriers to competition must fall if productivity is to gain

Canada’s lacklustre productivity growth has become a preoccupation of policy makers, and a prime suspect is the lack of competition faced by Canadian firms.

  1. My opinion is that instead of more of the same that keeps us in a one track mind dilemma as once written by Ignacio Ramonet in an article written in Monde Diplomatique La Pensée Unique ( . Contrary to what economic spindoctors and apologists claim, we have seen that more competition and more productivity has created more problems than it solved. Yet we continue to cycle in what has never worked for Canadian workers and middle class other than create more pauvrety. How about more corporate cooperation with their workers being paid a decent wage, benefits and retirement packages and not having their good paying jobs exported into the third world by irresponsible CEOs mentionned in many of Henry Mintzbergs/McGill writings ( ). Henry Mintzberg may be right, we seem to be led by false corporate premisses where irresponsible CEOs are pocketing profits and bonuses on the backs of workers, the middle class and society. This simple minded corporate thinking has nothing to do with the COMPLEXITY Theory they like to evoque rather than change their way of doing business. The complexity excuse is a paternalistic smoke screen to disempower workers, the middle class, th poor and particularly women and men in the work place by pitting them one against another to divide and conquer rather than instill more cooperation, equitable working conditions and well paying jobs and benefits in our country where irresponsible CEOs claim to be patriots. Well patriots put their country,citenzenry, community and society first instead of creating smoke screen babble while exporting their country’s well paying jobs into the third world and then claming the myth of monetary scarcity as the problem and the smoke screen need of more competition and productivity as a lame duck solution that it is.

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