Ontario Emerges Stronger at the 10th Annual Economic Summit

Julia Salzmann

Broaden your horizons by pursuing a career in the public policy sector, invest in yourself by pursuing meaningful education and do a job that you love…but try to get someone to pay you for it. That was the gist of the advice that Canada’s Minister of Finance, the Honourable Jim Flaherty, had for the attendees of the 10th annual Ontario Economic Summit (OES).

The OES aims to bring together influential leaders from all segments of the economy to bring competitiveness, increased prosperity, and economic expansion to the province of Ontario. Through collaborative, cross-sectorial measures, the OES recognizes that Ontario can become the dominant force of prosperity in Canada.

The three day conference, held in Niagara-on-the-Lake, was centered on the operationalization of the objectives of Emerging Stronger: A Transformative Agenda for Ontario. The report provides an economic roadmap on how to strategically leverage the competitive advantages and sustainable levels of prosperity Ontario can achieve. The development of this economic vision was a joint initiative between the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, the Ontario Economic Summit, the Mowat Centre, and Leger Marketing.

This year’s summit played host to an impressive line-up of speakers including the Minister of Economic Development, Trade, and Employment Dr. Eric Hoskins, the President & CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce Allan O’Dette, the President & CEO of MaRS Innovation Raphael Hofstein, and Premier Kathleen Wynne. These leaders, along with other industry visionaries, initiated insightful discussions on this year’s OES theme of Convening for Success.

The focus of the Summit’s grand opening was Ontario’s position in the global competitive landscape. Discussion around the extraction and processing of natural resources as a primary economic driver for the future of both Ontario and Canada was a hot topic issue. Specifically, Minister Flaherty mentioned that Ontario needs to take advantage of the resources at our disposal and be open-minded about methods of their extraction and conversion. Conversation became tense when numerous audience members voiced concerns over ethical and environmental obligations that governments and firms should consider, and questioned the weight they are to be given in contrast with the need to further propel Ontario’s relevancy on the global market.

While Minister Flaherty did address the government’s continued investment in exploring innovative environmental sustainability measures, little was mentioned about the important role Canadian Indigenous peoples have in natural resource development, such as the ongoing negotiations occurring surrounding the Ring of Fire in Northwestern Ontario. This massive ore-rich part of the province has the potential to result in one of the largest financial booms Ontario has seen. However, the Ring of Fire’s remote location and its position on Matawa First Nation territory has made development difficult. Flaherty acknowledged the importance of consulting with Indigenous groups and entrusted the appropriate course of action to the next generation of policy makers.

I found it uplifting that an underlying theme of this year’s summit was the commitment to support the next generation of policy makers who will leave their mark on the Canadian policy scene. In multiple addresses, speakers encouraged the public and private sectors to invest in the young talent they have at their disposal.

In a one-on-one discussion with  Josh Hjartarson, Vice-President of Policy & Government Relations at The Ontario Chamber of Commerce and Professor of the University of Toronto’s School of Public Policy and Governance, he articulated the importance that an understanding of economics has for the next generation of policy actors. “Literacy in economics is now an essential tool in a public policy practitioner’s toolkit,” he said. “It used to be that one could sidestep economics and do quite well without. Now, whereby government is focused on economic cost-benefit analysis of regulation, results-based-planning, data mining, and measurement on downstream impacts, it is nearly impossible to be a competent policy practitioner without [that knowledge].”

In line with the themes and discussions of this year’s summit, it is evident that as we shift towards a more innovative and smart economy we must capitalize on the intelligence and excellence of a future generation of policy makers.

Julia Salzmann is a 2015 Master of Public Policy Candidate at the University of Toronto. She holds a BHS (Specialized Honours) in Health Policy from York University. Her policy interests include health, education, environmental, economic and Canadian Indigenous policy.

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