Politics

Dominic Barton, top economic adviser, encourages bold response to Trump

The chair of Finance Minister Bill Morneau's council of economic advisers is calling on the federal government to redouble its efforts to reinforce and reform the Canadian economy in the wake of Donald Trump's election in the United States.

'We can't just rely on a global system that's going to naturally grow,' says adviser to finance minister

Finance Minister Bill Morneau, right, watches as Dominic Barton, chair of the advisory council, responds to a question last October. The advisers have urged trade deals with China, Japan and India. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The chair of Finance Minister Bill Morneau's council of economic advisers is calling on the federal government to redouble its efforts to reinforce and reform the Canadian economy in the wake of Donald Trump's election in the United States.

"We're a small trading nation. We've got to take more control of our own destiny," Dominic Barton told reporters on Monday when asked how his panel's recommendations should be viewed in the context of the Trump presidency.

Barton, a director with consulting firm McKinsey & Co., pointed to boosting innovation, improving infrastructure and ensuring workers get the skills training they need as important priorities.

"To me it says we've got to double down on all of these," he said. "Because we can't just rely on a global system that's going to naturally grow."

The council's latest set of reports covers a wide array of policy, from pursuing trade with Asia to making it easier for new Canadian companies to expand. Goals include increasing employment rates among groups including Indigenous Canadians and women with children.

The expert panel was established to advise the Liberal government on economic policy. Its first set of reports, issued last fall, included a goal of raising median household incomes by $15,000 — to $130,000 per household — above current projections by 2030.

This second round of proposals focuses on innovation, trade, skills training, workforce participation and developing specific sectors of the economy.

Age eligibility for Old Age Security?

The council also suggests the Liberal government reconsider its move to keep the age of eligibility for Old Age Security at 65 years old.

The council said the ages of eligibility for OAS and CPP be "should be recalibrated and increased to meet the Canadian reality of an aging society and a considerably longer life expectancy."

The previous Conservative government announced an intention to move the age of eligibility for OAS to 67 years old, but the Liberal government cancelled those plans after taking office.

In addition to reconsidering the age of eligibility, the panel also suggests allowing for voluntary deferrals of payments from Old Age Security and the Canada Pension Plan.

Responding to Barton's report on Monday, Morneau said the Liberal government reverted to 65 because some people are unable to work past that age. The finance minister said the government was still interested in making it possible for those wanting to work to continue doing so.

Trade deals and skills gaps

The council's report encourages the Liberals to pursue trade deals with China, Japan and India in the wake of the Trans-Pacific Partnership's demise and to establish Canada as a global trading hub.

In response to a "rapidly changing economy," Barton's panel proposes the establishment of a new, arm's-length organization — dubbed the FutureSkills Lab — that "would solicit, select, and co-finance innovative training pilots that address key skills gaps."

To boost the workforce participation of Indigenous Canadians, the council stresses access to quality education, financing for Indigenous businesses and digital access for rural communities.

Dominic Barton discusses the latest recommendations from the government's economic advisory council. 11:56

The panel also focuses on women with children and raises the issue of flexible work schedules to accommodate those whose life priorities "may conflict with the traditional nine-to-five work commitment." In New Zealand, it notes, legislation has been introduced to set out a procedure through which employees can request different schedules.

The Liberals are also advised to streamline immigration processes to allow companies to bring in "top talent" from abroad.

And the federal government, the panel suggests, should use its own procurement of goods and services to boost emerging Canadian companies and pursue wider goals of economic growth and workforce participation.

"In the years ahead, unprecedented technological change, which presents a large set of opportunities but also
the potential for significant workforce dislocation, combined with an uncertain global political, economic, and
trade environment," the council writes in summary, "will make the task of meeting the inclusive growth target that we have set out even more urgent and complex."