In 2017 Canada celebrates its 150th anniversary. For a century and a half, one simple promise has been at the heart of Canada’s success: that here, everyone has an opportunity to build a better, more prosperous life.
For generations parents have been able to promise their children that if they work hard, get a good education and apply themselves, they will get ahead. Today, too many Canadians are worried that this is no longer the case. Those who do most of the heavy lifting in Canada’s economy—the middle class—work longer hours for an ever-shrinking piece of the pie. Meanwhile, the rungs on the ladder of opportunity have grown further apart.
Over the past several years I have had the opportunity to meet and listen to Canadians from all walks of life, coast-to-coast-to-coast. I heard from women and girls who still face inequality in the workplace and violence at home, just because they are female. I met parents who wanted to put their kids through university, but worried they wouldn’t be able to afford it. I listened to young people who couldn’t get a job because they didn’t have work experience, but didn’t have work experience because they couldn’t get a job.
Concerns about losing out are not unique to Canada. We see it today in the Brexit vote, in widespread calls for nationalism over globalisation, and in those who promise to build walls instead of tearing them down. When prosperity isn’t shared, people increasingly feel left behind, and they start to look to deceptively easy solutions.
Much of this anxiety can be traced back to the current low-growth global economy. Emerging economies that had helped to drive global growth for so long have slowed down. As household debt rises, families feel tapped out. Real economic growth is hard to find, making it all the more difficult to boost incomes and create the good, well-paying jobs that are needed to strengthen and broaden the middle class.
Embracing the world
Leaders who understand this have a choice to make: do we exploit this anxiety for our own political gain? Or do we take concrete steps to implement policies that will strike at the very root of these anxieties? In Canada we made the choice to build an economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthiest 1%. And we’re doing it not by turning inwards or rejecting the opportunities that go hand-in-hand with a global economy; instead, we are embracing the world. We know that if we want to extend the ladder of opportunity to everyone, we must be an open society—one that welcomes new ideas, creative ways of thinking, and different cultures and people.
Embracing the world also means being open to trade. We know that export-based industries pay wages 50% higher than non-export industries. So reinvigorating our relationships with our top five trading partners—the United States, Mexico, China, Japan and the European Union—was not just smart foreign policy, it was smart economics for Canadians. Stronger trade relationships create more opportunities for Canadian workers to succeed and prosper.
In many ways, Canada’s developing relationship with China serves as a good example of the ways in which a more open and co-operative approach can benefit the middle class. This relationship needs to be stronger and more stable if we are to take full advantage of the economic opportunities available to Canadian businesses and their workers. To that end, we are looking at ways to expand our economic ties through a free-trade agreement, and have pledged to double bilateral trade by 2025. These initiatives will generate prosperity for all of our citizens, Chinese and Canadian alike.
At home, we are following through on our commitment to make historic investments in infrastructure—not only because this creates good, well-paying jobs, but because we know that when it is easier for people to get to work on time, ship their products to market or secure for their ageing parents the care they need, the whole economy benefits.
We are also investing in education so that the next generation of Canadians has the tools it needs to make an impact in the careers of today and tomorrow. We are making significant investments in clean technology so that Canadian companies, workers and communities can thrive in an emerging low-carbon economy. And to respond better to the needs of an ageing population, we are strengthening the Canada Pension Plan and making sure that those who have worked hard to keep the country’s economy going strong can afford a dignified retirement.
Perpetual progress and relentless ambition have shaped Canada’s identity—and its success—for the past 150 years. We know that strong, diverse and resilient countries like Canada don’t come about by accident, and won’t thrive in the future without a lot of hard work. That is why we will always choose hope over fear, and diversity over division.