“Complacency is a state of mind that exists only in retrospective: it has to be shattered before being ascertained.”– Vladimir Nabokov
As countries across the world continue to cope with the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, necessary questions are being asked about how governments and the various multilateral and national institutions and organizations designed to prevent these kinds of outbreaks failed.
It will take time to untangle the myriad of geopolitical and governance failures behind the present condition, but it is hard not to see how complacency played a role in our collective pandemic prevention and preparedness.
The result of this complacency is that Canada is experiencing its worst economic downturn in decades that is wreaking havoc on Canadian companies, their employees and federal, provincial and municipal balance sheets. According to Statistics Canada’s Canadian Survey on Business Conditions in May, 61% of businesses in Canada reported laying off 50% or more of their workforce. Even the most optimistic economists are projecting that it will take years, not months, for Canada return to the levels of economic activity that was taking place before the pandemic.
The biggest recovery issue for governments around the world – including in Canada – is whether they can control and reduce the spread of COVID-19 without resorting back to economically devastating shutdown measures. Our short-term economic health and public health are inextricably linked.
As Canada tries to chart its medium- and long-term economic recovery plans, one of the most important issues is whether the country can overcome the economic complacency that had taken root long before the pandemic hit. Before COVID-19 disrupted nearly every aspect of our economy, Canadian policymakers were seemingly content with low-level business investment and economic and productivity growth.
Despite having an unnecessarily complex and inefficient tax system, successive Canadian governments over the last 60 years have avoided taking the necessary step of comprehensive tax reform. In the face of this inattention, the Canadian Chamber recently launched an independent tax review to help spur our recovery. Other countries including the U.K. and New Zealand have shown it can be done and overhauled their outdated tax systems. Now, as business demand and revenues are down, it is more important than ever for Canada to look at tax reform as an opportunity to lower business costs and free up more capital for them to invest in recovery, growth and job creation.
Despite having some of the highest environmental standards in the world, Canada has become complacent about allowing much needed infrastructure to be built so we can sell our energy resources to customers that are willing to pay just as much for energy products produced in jurisdictions with inferior environmental standards. In our present economic and fiscal situation, it would be economically negligent to concede that new energy driven jobs, growth and tax revenue to fund social and other spending programs should happen in those other countries and not ours.
Despite federal governments over the last two decades repeatedly acknowledging that red tape and regulatory inefficiency continues to be a drag on growth in this country, they have all continued to introduce measures that increase the overall burden on businesses. Serious economic recovery plans must include regulatory measures that create a less uncertain and less costly environment to operate a business.
Canadian businesses and their employees have paid an exceedingly high price for the global complacency that got us here. Many businesses did not survive the first half of 2020 and more will close their doors permanently in the coming months. The ongoing impacts of this pandemic have shattered governments out of the complacency that allowed a localized outbreak of a novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China to spread to every corner of the globe.
As it considers long-term recovery and growth ideas this fall, it is still unclear whether governments recognize that economic complacency has shaped Canadian policymaking in recent years. By watching what happens with tax, regulatory and energy policy over the next several months we will soon find out.
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