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‘Canada first’ policy will help country build back better

‘Canada first’ policy will help build back better

By Elio Luongo Contributor

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Elio Luongo

Chief Executive Officer and Senior Partner

KPMG in Canada

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Toronto Star

In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic has made each of our worlds much smaller.

Travel restrictions, stay-at-home orders and physical distancing have shrunk the size of our personal worlds. Closed borders, limited goods and a rise in trade nationalism have made many supply chains smaller, reducing the size of our economic world as well.

The restrictions have also made us focus much more closely on our immediate worlds, on our immediate communities. It has given us time to assess who we are, and who we want to be as a nation. What and who we value.

KPMG recently surveyed Canadians to gauge how priorities and perspectives had shifted a year into the pandemic. What the poll revealed is that 83 per cent feel their local community is more important to them than ever. Ninety per cent say it has given them a greater appreciation for small businesses in their communities, with 87 per cent saying small- and medium-sized businesses in Canada have been economic victims of the pandemic.

This growing recognition of the positive role local business has on our communities and the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on the sector has Canadians thinking about a "Canada-first" economic recovery strategy for the first time in decades.

The pandemic has also opened our eyes to the challenges of a global supply chain and the need to produce critical supplies close to home. At the start of the pandemic, we saw shortages of everything from wipes and hand sanitizer to PPE for essential workers. During the second wave, vaccine nationalism has become yet another challenge to the world's pandemic response.

As a result, Canadians are calling upon governments, business and themselves to drive our recovery and ensure we are not dependent upon others for critical resources. Our survey found:

  • 92 per cent want government to create incentives to "buy Canadian" to restart our economy and ensure we build necessary domestic capacity to supply our critical needs;
  • 86 per cent want corporate Canada to allocate a share of all its contracts to small- and medium-sized Canadian businesses;
  • 89 per cent plan to focus their personal spending on domestic opportunities to help Canada's economy get moving again.

Not since the heady days of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics have we seen the country rally so strongly around the flag.

But too often when people or a nation turn inward, they do so out of fear — fear that they can't compete, fear of a threat. But I don't see this rising nationalistic sentiment as being driven by negative forces. Rather I think the focus comes from a recognition of the value of local enterprises and the interconnectedness of our society.

It is an understanding that to be strong as a nation, we need to support each other and be self-sufficient in areas critical to our health and safety.

Over the past year, many Canadians have supported vulnerable local businesses, and the millions of people who rely on them for jobs. They have been there for us through this most difficult period, in many cases risking their health and the health of their families.

They have demonstrated their flexibility and creativity by pivoting to produce much-needed PPE, to make and deliver us food, keep critical supplies on shelves, service our homes and our vehicles.

As we emerge from the pandemic and our economy strengthens, individuals and organizations will see their worlds open up again, bringing about more choice and some tough decisions.

We need to decide if we will continue to shop local and support made-in-Canada products. When it is safe to travel again, will we choose to see more of our great county and support our battered tourism sector, or choose to see other parts of the world?

Businesses will need to find the right balance between sourcing the lowest price globally and building micro supply chains that are local and environmentally sustainable.

While we are unlikely to follow the United States in setting minimum levels of local production for some critical supply chains, our governments may well introduce the incentives Canadians are looking for to ensure we produce more locally.

But businesses don't need to wait for governments on this matter.

There is an opportunity for Canadian companies to rebuild and grow critical supply chains within the country, which would help protect citizens against future shortages, strengthen supply certainty and give a boost to our recovery.

The pandemic has seen Canadians pull together like in no other modern time; keeping our focus sharp will help us collectively grow bigger and stronger than ever before.

Elio Luongo is CEO and senior partner, KPMG in Canada.

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