As the Liberal cabinet positions itself at Queen’s Park following a June 2014 election, one factor should be paramount – the province requires a new economic strategy and approach to business if we have any remote thoughts of returning to the era of John Robarts, Bill Davis and the rest of Canada disliking Ontario because collectively we were successful.
It is now three years since the release of the highly anticipated Report of the Commission on the Reform of Ontario’s Public Service, or Drummond Report named after the Commission Chair. At that time in February of 2012 there was a belief that, if implemented, the recommendations contained in this document would lead to more efficient government, faster economic growth and Ontario regaining its position as Canada’s economic engine. By the aforementioned 2014 election all political parties, stakeholders and voters essentially forgot the Commission ever existed in large part because one opposition leader announced his own highly unpopular plan for reforming the delivery of Ontario’s public services.
However, Drummond’s recommendation 11-1 proposed that the province publish an “economic vision” for Ontario. As we are aware, the Region of Waterloo has commenced the most thorough and comprehensive economic development strategy process since Waterloo County was created in 1853. At the end of this exercise, it is expected the collective expertise, experience and existing employment base within the seven area municipalities will create a plan for attracting new investment and jobs that, like the Drummond Report envisioned, generate the taxation levels for essential public services.
Ontario needs our own economic strategy and we need it yesterday.
Elmira native Roger Martin has chaired the provincial Task Force on Competitiveness, Productivity and Economic Progress for over a decade. In their 2014 Annual Report released last November (which will be their final as the Task Force is winding down), Martin concludes the province needs new policies and “bold” action from both Queen’s Park and provincial business leaders to improve productivity and find new economic strength.
The Task Force proposes a fundamental shift in public policy where Ontario should move away from programs in other competing jurisdictions and consider new ventures for our own large and diverse economic base. Copying the American Midwest or Canadian Prairies will not be enough to revitalize the Ontario economy and the only route for moving ahead is doing business differently.
Three areas were identified where the province should focus their efforts. Firstly, the education system needs to be re-examined to ensure future generations have the skills for jobs in demand. The province needs a public policy regime that centres on business expansion as we are not developing large globally competitive enterprises. Finally, in a long-standing recommendation from the Task Force, public support for innovation needs to be increased to elevate productivity and end years of relatively substandard levels of R&D expenditures.
Another emerging issue for Queen’s Park – and there are manywas highlighted in the 2014 regional economic outlook compiled by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and Credit Unions of Ontario. The report concluded that in general rural economies underperform their urbanized counterparts. A new economic strategy for the province requires options for growth in all geographic areas and not exclusively the Greater Toronto Area.
The success of the Waterloo Region business sector is largely the result of innovation and entrepreneurs making difficult decisions with inherent risk. A similar culture of innovation in public policy is necessary to bring Ontario back to its position of prominence in Canada.
We should be leaders and not followers.