The Pacific is Canada’s future
Too few Canadians consider this a Pacific nation, but it’s time we re-evaluate where we belong
By Jack Austin, Special to The Vancouver Sun July 18, 2011 6:13 PM
It’s time that our provinces got serious about Asia, and the premiers’ meeting in Vancouver, July 20-22, called the Council of the Federation, provides a great opportunity. At a recent speech in Toronto, Premier Christy Clark showed her strategic focus. Addressing the Economic Club of Toronto, she talked of trade and investment opportunity with Asia as a major economic growth and job-creating value for Canada and in particular for those provinces prepared to act on their special competitive advantage.
Clark set as a major priority to seize the “promise of opportunity” which Asia affords “not just for B.C., but for all of Canada.” She emphasized the need for Canadians in all provinces, territories and sectors to recognize the goodwill that is held in Asia for Canada along with enduring Asian relations and networks and to build on these advantages. Canada is a Pacific country and Canadians everywhere must join B.C. in looking across the Pacific to their future.
Why Asia? The short answer is that the Pacific Ocean is now a highway by sea and by air for people and commerce and is growing exponentially. Our global competitors are ahead of us in recognizing the growth of wealth and consumer demand in an area that holds 60 per cent of the world’s population. Starting from a low base 30 years ago, Asia has become the world’s greatest investor in new infrastructure — highways, rail, airports, cities — with some of the world’s most advanced architecture. Asia has become the world’s leading producer of mass consumer goods such as electronics, clothes, shoes and jewelry. This new economic capacity in Asia needs Canadian resources but also our technologies, our educational facilities and our experience in entrepreneurship and governance.
In the last few years, we have seen aggressive investment by Asian businesses in world resources and other businesses. With the cash reserves in hand, Asia has been a source of investment in the Canadian business sector and the funds are significant to the Canadian economy. Think of China Investment Corp.’s $1.7 billion invested in Teck Resources for its coal operations in B.C., or Essar Global of India investing $1.8 billion to acquire Algoma Steel of Ontario, or Sinopec of China investing $4.6 billion in the Syncrude oilsands operation in Alberta. Other examples easily exceed $5 billion.
Why have we let all other developed countries forge ahead of us in a better understanding of the people of Asia, their aspirations, their needs, their culture and their outreach? The Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada found in its latest 2011 national opinion poll that when asked whether Canada was a Pacific country, only 11 per cent of Canadians feel strongly that Canada is part of the Asia Pacific as compared to 65 per cent for the Americas and 49 per cent for the North Atlantic. Of concern is that only 26 per cent of Canadians, compared to 30 per cent in 2008, recognize Canada as a Pacific country.
Clark is right in asking her fellow provincial and territorial leaders to give heightened focus and leadership to Canada’s opportunities in Asia and with Asians in Canada. Some provinces are taking positive steps on their own. Alberta recently created an Asia Advisory Council to examine its relationship with Asia and develop its own strategies. Most provinces have marketing and promotional activities in Asia with a representative located in key business centres. But these are low-key responses compared to the opportunity and the competition from others that have to be met.
What is a plan the Council of the Federation should address at its July session? Here are some suggestions.
1. Create a Council of Ministers on Asia to: assess Asian business and investment strategies; share information; encourage public discussion; and develop school curricula in common to teach high school students Asian history, culture and economy;
2. Create a secretariat to the Council of Ministers on Asia to co-ordinate provincial ministerial and premiers’ visits, consolidate offices, plan sectoral business missions, invite leading Asians to visit Canada, inform Canadian businesses of opportunities in Asia and Asian interest in investment in Canada; and link to federal government policies and priorities.
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