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Davos: The prime minister is headed to Davos, as the dollar and oil prices sink, to try to convince the world's financial barons that Canada is a good place to invest. But what real effect does the Davos gathering have? Should the PM be more focused on the things his own government can do here at home?  Richard Mahoney, John Capobianco and Marit Stiles are in The Salon.

 


John Capobianco:

The World Economic Forum (WEF) or more widely known as the 'Davos gathering' has been around for a long time and is the world's foremost policy think tank forum, located in the Swiss Alps. It brings together private and public sector as well as civil society leaders from around the world, to discuss and collaborate for a number of days focusing on shaping global issues with regional implications. So by virtue of this, and since it is an invite-only conference, most who get invited tend to want to be there to mix and mingle with the political and business elite - Prime Ministers included.

There is much noise about our current PM attending Davos and the concern has to do with our dire economic situation. The NDP and the Conservatives both feel that there is much work to do here and are not exactly sure what can be resolved locally by having the PM and most of his economic cabinet ministers at Davos.

It's a legitimate concern since most Canadians want to make sure their government is here taking care of business - or at the very least, attend the conference, say your peace and come back right away, as opposed to spending close to a week in Davos.

 

Marit Stiles:

Okay, I don't often agree with John, but I do agree with him that there many Canadians will likely be wondering what our PM can be doing in Davos that will deal with the state of the economy here in our country. And with good reason.

I have no idea how many Canadians know what "Davos" is, or that it's the World Economic Forum, or what the criteria are to attend/be invited. But if they know that it was a gathering of what amounts to the richest and most powerful people in the world, and that a lot of money is spent by those wealthy people to hob nob with political leaders, well, I expect some (maybe not all) would be concerned about what actually gets discussed there and who has influence.

From the PM's perspective, it's an opportunity to hob nob, too. Meet the wealthy and powerful, cozy up to a few billionaires, and of course talk about some weighty issues which I am sure are discussed at Davos...

Myself, I'm a bit of a cynic about these things. While on the one hand, I think it's fair to say that Canada will continue to gain some shiny headlines about our new, photogenic PM and his sunny ways, I just came from a meeting talking about some of the growing inequality issues in our province and country, and I can't help but wish these same conversations were actually happening with folks who don't fly in on private jets.

The problem with Davos, I think, is summarized by a comment made by Dennis McNally, the chairman of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) at Davos in 2014. This was at a time when no less than the Pope was begging Davos participants to address the growing global inequality issues. McNally summed things up as such: "Worries continue to loom large on CEO horizons, with CEOs sending a clear message to government with their levels of concerns about over-regulation, fiscal deficits, and tax burdens at their highest levels."

If that's what they were focused on, after a damning OXFAM report and the pleadings of the Pope, one has to wonder what's really changed and what Davos has accomplished - if anything.

 

Richard Mahoney:

I think it is fair for people to wonder whether a gathering of world leaders, business leaders and so-called big thinkers are really connected to the problems that everyday Canadians face. After all, our economy faces challenges – falling commodity prices, a lower dollar and global competition for the investment we need to create new jobs here. But that is also the reason why we need to showcase our country and its strengths at gatherings like Davos.

There is a lot of buzz around the new government, our new Prime Minister and some of the new ideas about the world that he brings to the table. The Prime Minister is receiving top billing at Davos, and will be talking about a new approach to governing this country, and how those ideas might work for other countries. He will be stressing the benefits of investment in growth - in infrastructure to create jobs and to create the conditions for prosperity and a better quality of life for Canadians. He will be talking about plans to invest in social and green infrastructure too, and how that can help grow our economy and help both Canada, and other countries, meet the challenge of climate change.

This is all in contrast to the message that the previous Conservative government focused on: austerity. That policy is certainly being followed by some other governments around the world, and the Prime Minister will be using his best arguments and his powers of persuasion to convince them to follow a similar path of investment, so that growth and those benefits extend to the world economy. Our prosperity depends in large measure on growth in the markets we sell to - so growth there means improved standards of living here.

The other big reason why we benefit from having our Prime Minister there is that there is a lot of global interest in him and his new government. He will be using that profile to convince business leaders from around the globe that Canada is the best place in the world to invest - a tolerant, pluralistic society with great social harmony and a well-educated work force.

Those business leaders make investment decisions every day - we need them to invest here now, rather than some other country. And that is what all the world leaders there will be doing - trying to attract investment and jobs. So, yes, he should be there.  

 

John Capobianco:

As Marit alludes to in her comments, it is difficult to place a value on Davos for politicians, especially since it is hard to measure whether a trip to Davos has concretely meant anything back home that is tangible to Canadians. I can see why the business elite attend, since Davos is a huge opportunity for them to sell/share/spread their goods and services.

But for our PM to attend, especially during a time when most Canadians are getting worried that our dollar is hitting new lows and oil/commodities are continuing a rather sluggish pattern, is something else again. I do get Richard's points about showcasing our new PM and wanting to get him in front of the world elite, but I think there is a time and place for this kind of presence.

The PM will be around for another three more rounds of Davos before the next election campaign, and would it not have been such a powerful message to say that he is staying back this year to deal with the economy and prepare for what will be a significant budget in a few months? Talk about sending a positive message of strength to the Davos attendees and, more importantly to Canadians.

However, he and some very senior cabinet ministers are attending, including our Finance Minister, who must have cut short the budget consultation process. So lets make sure that significant issues are being discussed and that upon their return, Canadians can benefit from things learned and contacts that will no doubt be made.

 

Marit Stiles:

I can certainly appreciate Richard’s point about wanting to put a "different face" to Canada on the international stage. I think many Canadians shudder to think back on how our international reputation suffered under the previous Conservative government.

But there are other lessons to take from PM Harper’s Davos visits. I recall, for example his announcement of raising the age of qualification for seniors’ pensions when he was at Davos a few years ago. Nothing riles Canadians more than making announcements about us when you aren't even on Canadian soil. Yikes.

The problem Mr. Trudeau has that I think Mr. Harper didn’t, however, is that while Harper was criticized for not caring at all about our international reputation (outside of a very few exceptions) Mr. Trudeau may be seen to be caring too much.

Right now, it’s novel and I think most Canadians are accepting and indeed welcoming a different approach. But Mr. Trudeau’s Achilles heel is the perception he struggles with of being "out of touch" with Canadians, his own personal wealth and his "light" approach to policy. That’s not a criticism, but a statement of what some Canadians and his critics might find wanting.

Now, as Canadians face a very uncertain economic future - and ponder the fact that they have to pay (hold onto your seats folks, but I just went grocery shopping so I know this is true!) $6.99 for a head of cauliflower - we have a government that is seen to be missing in action when it comes to our plummeting dollar and our faltering manufacturing industry, and instead seems to only want to focus on infrastructure spending as the be all and end all.

Investing in infrastructure may be one step toward righting the economy, but it's a limited approach. We need a more comprehensive plan, one that involves plans for our manufacturing and other sectors. And we need it now.

I hope that Davos champagne goes down easy, and is accompanied by some solid decisions that will benefit all Canadians.

 

Richard Mahoney:

I think my friends are being a little unfair, and a lot partisan. Devoid of any party ideas on how to grow the economy, they resort to shots, calling this hobnobbing. The arguments don't hold up to scrutiny.

In politics and government, as in life, you need to seize the opportunities that are presented to you. It is precisely because our growth is slowing that we need our Prime Ministers and others there, telling them that Canada is back, and that we need to invest in our people and our growth and that business leaders should take a look at Canada when deciding where to put the next Google campus, the next advanced manufacturing facility, or the next lab.

The last government put all of its eggs in the resources sector for our growth, and now that that has slowed because of falling world prices, we need to attract jobs in other sectors. There is a focus on the Canada section, where Ministers Bains, Morneau, McKenna and Brison will join the PM in making the case for Canada.

Marit is right to say we need to focus on manufacturing - that needs investment from around the globe and the people who make those decisions are in Davos. The Prime Minister will meet privately with business leaders to pitch the case for investment here too. And his keynote is an opportunity that does not come along every day. It would be failure of leadership to ignore the opportunity. That is why we need him there.  

Posted date : January 20, 2016
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