AIMS Chairman John Risley praises recent federal-provincial collaboration on pensions, immigration, and internal trade. “It is good to see political leadership … on these important files. Such leadership is often not rewarded by public opinion, so it is important to speak in favour of good public policy when it is evident.” Read this article on the Chronicle Herald website.

In the past two weeks there have been several seemingly unrelated federal-provincial policy pronouncements. One was a collaborative initiative by the feds and Atlantic premiers on immigration, another marked progress on internal free trade, and the third found a basis for agreement on important revisions to the Canada Pension Plan, removing the threat Ontario would implement its own plan.

Why are these related? Why might they be more important collectively than individually?

Each of these files has been on the boil for some time. Unresolved, each is an encumbrance on economic growth. That’s why we should be excited that progress appears real.

The immigration matter is widely misunderstood, particularly in Atlantic Canada, where unemployment has traditionally been at levels higher than the national average.

The perception generally is that immigrants fill jobs that would otherwise be available to unemployed Canadians, or worse, that immigrants end up dependent on social support programs. The facts do not support such conclusions.

We desperately need more working people. Much has been written about the demography of Atlantic Canada, but suffice to say that if the working population is shrinking and the total population is not growing, then the burden of supporting economic activity and programs such as health care for the elderly fall disproportionately on fewer people. That can’t work, unless we cut programs drastically. So we need to get more working people into our economy, more capital, more entrepreneurs, more idea-creators, risk-takers and innovators, from wherever we can attract them.

I vividly remember being asked to speak to the local Lebanese business community, supposedly with a view to inspiring them. It was I who was inspired. Listening to their stories, a common theme was of arriving here with little or no money and building businesses, some large and some small, but all employing local folk. How could one not be impressed at what an engine of growth this community had become?

I remember speaking to members of the previous federal government with suggestions that the cap on immigration be raised. I was told government polling suggested there was no political will for such an increase.

So, frankly, it was thrilling to finally see the feds and provinces working together to raise targets in a meaningful way and to collaborate with the private sector in targeting immigrants who have skills and credentials to help stimulate growth.

The internal free trade file has frustrated business, our external trading partners and consumers for years. Everything from food to trucking regulations have stood in the way of the free movement of goods and services across provincial boundaries. We extol benefits of free trade internationally, have executed agreements with the U.S. and Mexico that have played a huge role in GDP growth and we hope to sign similar deals with the EU and in Asia. How ironic that we can’t make such progress internally. So again, kudos to provincial leaders for finally getting serious in doing away with the last barriers to internal trade.

The pension file is a difficult one. Encouraging people to save for retirement is only part of the solution. Forced savings, by way of mandatory CPP employee and employer contributions, is another. In this prolonged period of low interest rates such savings must be enhanced. Ontario was proposing its own plan, despite protests of the business community and the Feds’ concern a confusing and costly landscape would result. Business needs relief from regulation and this seems to have percolated to the top in the CPP announcement.

It is good to see political leadership in the collaboration on these important files. Such leadership is often not rewarded by public opinion, so it is important to speak in favour of good public policy when it is evident. Well done, I say. Let’s have more such collaboration.

Read this article on the Chronicle Herald website.