Is Canada Leveraging Its Strengths as a Nation?

by Kirsten Avison and Ashley Burgess

Sometimes Canada acts more like a series of provincial fiefdoms than a country.

Think barriers to interprovincial trade, disputes about pipeline routes and hurdles in the way of labour mobility—all examples of issues that make our provincial and territorial borders sometimes seem impermeable.

These obstacles are getting in the way of a national economic strategy that could benefit every one of us.

Imagine what it could be like if Canada were to run as an interconnected country that played to its regional strengths and used its profits to benefit our mutual social and environmental aspirations.

We understand that you can’t run a country like a business—governments are not (and should not be) designed to turn a profit. However, countries can (and should) embrace the top proven business strategy, i.e. leverage your strengths.

Stephen Shapiro says it best in his column for Harvard Business Review: “Every company has a limited amount of time, money and resources that it can invest in innovation. That’s why they should focus their energies on opportunities that will set them apart from their competition—that is, they should innovate where they differentiate.”

Applied to Canada, this means we could be identifying our unique national advantages and leveraging them for the greater good of the country—and we have some pretty obvious economic differentiators (notwithstanding its undisputed position as the world’s funniest country).

Top four strengths Canada could be leveraging

  1. Coastline. We are an ocean nation with the longest coastline in the world—perfectly positioned for exports.
  2. Natural resources. We control a vast supply and diversity of natural resources from forestry to mining, oil and gas, water and more that are in high demand by countries around the world.
  3. Growing things. We produce a healthy stable of outstanding agricultural products.
  4. Brain power. We have a robust knowledge economy.

If we can come together and perform better on these differentiators, the economic payout can be used to invest in predetermined priorities that will improve the social and environmental quality of life for all Canadians, not just residents of select provinces.

Can we set aside our regional differences and collaborate to build a country that is efficient and effective in pursuit of prosperity for all? It’s by no means a simple ask, but along with Trudeau and the new federal Liberal government, there is a renewed sense of nationhood and national pride.

Perhaps this is an opportunity we can leverage to get the nation working together.

You only have to look at the dismal number of First Ministers’ Meetings under the Harper government’s regime—two—to understand why the provinces couldn’t seem to get on the same page over the past nine years. In contrast, Jean Chretien held seven such meetings during his 10-year tenure, and Brian Mulroney held 14 over his seven years in power.

Like managers in a company, the provincial and territorial leaders know their regions’ strengths. The nation could be recognizing and using their collective expertise to get a national economic dialogue started.

Four potential keys to success for a national economic strategy

Buy-in. Create a shared vision and collaborative long-term strategies for an efficient, effective and prosperous Canada.

Situational analysis. Develop a deep understanding of provincial/territorial strengths and weaknesses.

Information sharing. Collaborate for transparency and trust across provinces and territories.

Framework. Research and identify policy, regulatory and technical implications of decisions.

This is really Strategic Planning 101. It works because it lets everybody know where they’re going and what’s in it for them—whether that’s a decrease in our carbon emissions, improved healthcare funding or more focus on the arts.

This is what it’s going to take to break down the cultural, geographic and psychological barriers between provinces in order to make this nation work together.

Kirsten Avison is a Senior Business Analyst at Wazuku Advisory Group and a key member of the strategic advisory team where she manages projects, conducts thorough strategic analyses and develops strong and lasting relationships with clients.

Ashley Burgess is a Senior Business Analyst at Wazuku Advisory Group. With an MBA from the Beedie School of Business at Simon Fraser University, she manages Wazuku’s business operations and business development. Ashley also provides analytical support and project management for clients.