Investment Monitor’s conversation with Goldy Hyder, president and CEO of the Business Council of Canada (BCC), begins in a way that has become customary over the past 14 months – with a comparison of local lockdowns. Based on progress made as of early May 2021, Hyder laments that Canada’s vaccine roll-out still has “some way to go”.
“We will get there but it is still a road to go, but what an experience,” he says. “We just picked a bad time to be alive, I guess.”
Canada’s businesses have shown agility in the pandemic
The pandemic has dominated a lot of the BCC’s – and more widely Canada’s – strategic planning. For Hyder, he believes that the pandemic has provided a much-needed reminder of the value of the human spirit.
The truth of Canadian history is we have had it pretty easy. We have had the British take care of us for 75 years, we have had the Americans take care of us for the other 75 years.
“I think we just have to recognise society’s capacity to be resilient at a time of tremendous adversity,” he says. “While tragedy has occurred, we are still going to have to build back better. I think that says something about the human spirit, which to me is important at a time like this, that people feel that that hope is still out there.”
Hyder, encouraged by his wife, has been contemplating the question: ‘Are we the virus and is Covid-19 the vaccine?’
“Think about your family life,” Hyder responds. “Like many, I haven’t travelled in a year-and-a-half. [Before the pandemic] I travelled 100,000–200,000km a year. [The way in which we are rethinking] our habits in terms of ‘Do I really need to be at work all day long?’, ‘Do I have to drive everywhere?’, ‘Do I have to fly everywhere?’, ‘Can I do the meeting online?’ All of these things, I think are revelations.
“It is the great ctrl, alt, delete of humanity. It is rebooting us and reminding us of what does really matter. I think some of these lessons are personal in terms of being human, but I also think some of them are very much lessons for governments and our businesses as we go forward.”
Hyder praises Canadian businesses for their agility in responding to the Covid-19 pandemic. This, he says, was in part due to a Canadian ability to “watch where the puck is going”.
“The capacity of our businesses to pivot and accelerate in a way preserved a lot of jobs, because businesses were able to realise, ‘OK, we have got to shift now, we don’t have the luxury of planning five years out’,” he adds.
Covid, Canada and the K-shaped recovery
On 19 April 2021, Canadian Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland presented the country’s federal budget for the year. Hyder believes that although the Canadian government have in his eyes “overshot dramatically” with their crisis response – when it came to ensuring citizens were safe and did not go without basic essentials – he argues that this social stability is crucial for the BCC.
“From a budget perspective, we are very aggressive on the social issues, which surprised a lot of people,” he says. “But [the economic fabric and the social fabric] have to work together. We realised that the consequence of the pandemic – because of the K-shaped recovery [different parts of the economy recover at different rates], and because of the concerns of people about job security, etc – we placed a tremendous amount of importance on the reskilling and upskilling agenda, in which business has played a very important role. But businesses are not just looking to government to do everything, [the BCC is] saying let’s work together.”
Hyder goes on to say that he admires the approach of UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, due to him “creating the infrastructure and the policy framework, but ultimately [expecting] businesses and private sectors to create the jobs and create the wealth”. This is a strategy Hyder is keen to promote in Canada.
Canada kicked out?
In response to Canada’s recent budget, Hyder sent a letter to Freeland asking: “What does [Canada] want to be when it grows up?”
We say: ‘Well, it looks like the US is going to go big on these three, four sectors.’ What have we got to do to be a part of the supply chain to make sure that we get the ripple effect?
“The truth of Canadian history is we have had it pretty easy,” he says. “We have had the British take care of us for 75 years, we have had the Americans take care of us for the other 75 years. The analogy I use is mom and dad throwing us out of the house. Canada has got to figure out what it is going to do to attract that capital in an extremely competitive environment.”
Hyder highlights US spending under Biden’s administration as an opportunity that Canada should position itself to take advantage of.
“It is unbelievable how much spending is going to take place [in the US]; it is not something that Canada can afford,” he says. “How do you position yourself to take advantage of that? How do you develop the critical supply chain? We say: ‘Well, it looks like the US is going to go big on these three, four sectors.’ What have we got to do to be a part of the supply chain to make sure that we get the ripple effect?”
Hyder adds that even without focusing upon tapping into this spending frenzy that the US is embarking upon, Canada would still be set to gain between $50bn and $60bn from the stimulus because of “the stuff they have to get from us”.
Why is Canada always the nice guy?
Hyder believes that Canada’s global reputation as the “nice guy” will go a long way to helping solidify the country’s global partnerships.
We have got to make sure that we don’t have interprovincial trade barriers. We have got to make sure that we have a regulatory framework that is reliable and depoliticised. We have got to make sure we maintain support for immigration at the levels that we have.
“The reputation that you form is critically important,” he says. “I think people will look at that. How did we treat our people through this crisis? We maintained social harmony, nobody wondered where their next meal was coming from or whether there will be a roof over their head as they went through this pandemic.”
Hyder believes that Canada’s reputation as a place that cares is good for business. He explains: “[An investor would say:] ‘If I want to not just invest my capital, but if I want to live there, and I want to raise a family there, what kind of quality of life and standard of living will I have?’ That is why we are really pushing hard on our government to ensure that that we remain competitive. It is not just that you can sell a good story, the facts have to support that story. We need to continue the journey that Canada is on to become a magnet for talent and a magnet for capital. That means looking inward, as well as to some of the issues that we continue to struggle with.”
Of the key priorities here, Hyder says: “We have got to make sure that we don’t have interprovincial trade barriers. We have got to make sure that we have a regulatory framework that is reliable and depoliticised. We have got to make sure we maintain support for immigration at the levels that we have. I don’t think you can take any of those things for granted.”
Hyder is passionate about continued collaboration with the Canadian government to achieve this. “Ultimately the role of government is to create the policy framework and the policy infrastructure, as well as the hard infrastructure, to allow businesses to thrive,” he says. “[We need to] allow businesses to attract talent, to grow, to acquire, to scale and to trade around the world.”
Why FDI is crucial to Canada
For this vision to come to fruition, Hyder says that foreign direct investment (FDI) is key to the success of Canada and its businesses.
If you don’t have FDI in Canada, we are going to fall apart, we are just too small.
“It is the oxygen of an economy,” he adds. “If you don’t have FDI in Canada, we are going to fall apart, we are just too small. In Canada, we are focused on how to cultivate and develop Canadian champions. We have a tremendous natural resources economy here and also a tremendous human resources economy here, which includes technology.”
Hyder believes that as the global recovery from the pandemic continues, every country will have a part a play in each other’s recovery. He suggests the BCC, the Canadian government and global enterprises must align to prioritise FDI as a means to achieve that.
“We need to aspire to be more ambitious and to ensure that we scale and build large businesses that can have a footprint, not just in Canada, but around the world,” he says. “FDI is going to be key to that and global partnerships are going to be key to that.”