This morning, I was proud to mark RBC’s 150th anniversary and address shareholders at our Annual General Meeting in Halifax.
The foundation of our bank’s success can be traced back to our origins in Nova Scotia’s capital. Since 1869, we’ve expanded from Halifax to nearly every community in the land – and many around the world.
And like Canada, we grew because we placed our faith in enterprises and entrepreneurs with big ambitions to reimagine industries, solve society’s biggest challenges, boldly launch new ventures, and fearlessly expand to new frontiers.
But it’s the strength of our home market that’s been fundamental to our success for generations.
Today, however, we’re reaching a critical moment in time for Canada.
Since 2005, the stock of foreign investment in Canada has grown by only 5% a year – well behind the 8% for all OECD nations. Our exports of non-energy goods have been stagnant for a decade. And our resources sector is coping with a growing crisis.
Our capacity to grow and advance our economy is stalling. It’s impacting our ability to compete globally.
And yet, we know what our country looks like when Canada is at its best. As the world around us is rapidly changing, this is the time to pull together and not pull apart.
In my remarks today, I shared four major steps our country can take together to improve our competitiveness and reinvigorate “Brand Canada” in the process:
1. Build new foundations for a global Canada
Just as Canada was able to expand by building canals, railways, and roads throughout our history, we have to do much more to connect ourselves to a changing world and enable a generation of Canadian entrepreneurs and exporters to sell their goods and services to the world.
Investment in energy infrastructure, including pipelines, is critical to ensuring Canada remains prosperous for now, and generations to come. We must balance the need to reduce our carbon footprint, with the need to produce more energy to supply growing demand globally.
If we don’t strike this balance, we’re putting our standard of living at risk, in addition to the opportunity to help combat the most daunting challenge of our time – climate change.
This balanced approach is what Canadians are demanding of governments – and the private sector too.
That’s why RBC announced a clear new business target today: $100 billion in sustainable financing by 2025.
This goal supports investments in sustainable companies and projects that today are widely recognized as representing the low carbon, sustainable economy of the future. And we’re balancing this strategy with additional investments to our natural resource and energy sector clients so they can continue to invest in innovation and technologies that help them remain leaders on the global stage.
2. Better scale our big ideas to the world
Brands and intellectual property drive the knowledge economy. Our ability to bring to market and scale Canadian products, services, and ideas will be critical to accelerating our economy in the future – even for our natural resources.
Canada needs more ambitious thinking that stretches beyond our borders – like the type found at Nova Scotia’s Acadian Seaplants, the largest independent marine plant processing company in North America.
The entrepreneurs at Acadian export their seaweed-based products to more than 80 countries, creating their own industry. The company has flourished through a focus on R&D, top talent, sustainability, and international expansion.
This type of thinking is in our source code. Canadian entrepreneurs have always had big ambitions. Now they need to turn them into growth – both at home and abroad.
3. Build a powerhouse of data innovation
We’re in the midst of a data-driven revolution. It’s the fuel of tomorrow’s smart economy. It will impact every key industry across Canada. And it’s unquestionably the most important element of the knowledge economy.
We need a national data policy that both encourages innovation and ensures privacy protection.
The supercluster policy, which you see in Halifax around the oceans economy, is one we have supported because of its focus on collaboration. When it comes to research and development, Canada ranked only 15th in the OECD for university-industry collaboration.
In the data economy, we need a Team Canada approach.
4. Create a future-focused skills development model
We can’t harness the power of data without people.
Canada has one of the highest education rates in the world, yet despite this supply, Canadian tech firms say they have an insufficient pool of talent.
To help ensure we’re educating young Canadians for the jobs of tomorrow, RBC has been promoting the concept of work-integrated learning alongside a coalition of business and academic leaders called the Business/Higher Education Roundtable (BHER). The group has set out to create 150,000 meaningful work placements per year to help give post-secondary students access to these experiences during their education journey.
We applaud the federal government’s recent budget for its commitment to work-integrated learning and skills retraining, which will help build strong bridges between classrooms and workplaces. Now we need more businesses to lead and harness young people’s talents and innovative thinking in the workplace.
These four suggestions are all interconnected.
They require Canada to stand up for the value of business and entrepreneurship – where it’s brought us and, most importantly, where it will take us.
We believe Canadian business can lead the way in partnership with governments and communities.
At RBC, we’ve lived through and led transformations during periods of great change by sticking to our principles. Although the next 150 years will look very different, I’m confident RBC’s Purpose and clear Values will enable us to stay relentlessly focused on helping our clients reach new markets and our communities reach new heights.
Now is the time for our nation to seize the opportunities ahead. Translate these opportunities into growth. And show the world what Canada can do when we’re at our best.
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