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September 20, 2021

A Call for Ambition

By Matthew Fortier, Vice-President, Policy

One item that should top the agenda of any new government, regardless of its political philosophy, is how to enable Canada’s transition to a high-value economy. We need a strategy that leverages our natural resources, prioritizes research and development, retains intellectual property, and draws the federal government and the provinces into a framework of industrial co-operation and mutual benefit.

In the 1970s, this might have been called “industrial policy,” but today it should be thought of simply as smart policy. It’s what China does, and Germany, and it’s what Canada should consider. The major obstacles we face are not physical (there are no barbed-wire fences between Saskatchewan and Manitoba inhibiting internal trade) but, rather, psychological.

At some point, Canada seems to have stopped thinking big. Ask yourself whether we would attempt to build the world’s tallest free-standing structure today? Or a national railway? These projects required grand ambition, which is now a fading characteristic. Instead, we seem content to live off the dividends generated from the ambitions of previous generations.

As the market for our commodities changes, and our relationship with our neighbour and largest trading partner evolves, now is the time for Canada to rediscover its ambition and to develop a path that ensures a good quality of life for future Canadians.

Four leaders who could never be accused of lacking grand ambition are our 2021 ICD Fellows, who have each achieved great things for the organizations they have served as well as for our country. To capture and share their insights, we will launch a four-part digital series on our website ( entitled “In Camera.”

In the first of these, Jim Fleck, whose governance contributions to Canada’s culture sector are second to none, discusses the role of the arts as an economic engine for Canada and examines the oversight challenges directors are facing in the sector during the pandemic – and will likely continue to deal with afterward.

Few Canadians are more qualified to discuss how business can influence and contribute to societal outcomes than John Manley, chair of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, CEO of the Business Council of Canada, and the country’s former deputy prime minister. As part of his “In Camera” session, he will discuss the evolving role of the corporation in society at a time when boards are being challenged to meet a broader set of stakeholder expectations.

Isabelle Courville, chair of Canadian Pacific Railway and the former chair of Laurentian Bank, will talk about the critical role that purpose plays in defining an organization and guiding its strategy. Courville has immersive experience in defining a company’s purpose and is passionate in her articulation of both the need and the process.

Finally, Hal Kvisle, chair of ARC Resources and a director of Cenovus, will discuss the long-term trend of energy transition in Canada, including the challenges and opportunities it presents to our economy. He will examine the future of our energy industry and how to set Canada up for success in the midst of the upheaval.

A federal election, no matter the outcome, is an opportunity for renewal. For Canada, this should include rekindling the spirit of ambition and recommitting ourselves to thinking big. Canadians looking for inspiration, including members of our newly elected government, are invited to watch our “In Camera” series this fall.

This column has been adapted for the Director Lens Communiqué. It was originally published in Director Journal, September/October 2021. View the full issue.