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Nineteen smart ideas to create flourishing Canadian economy

Nineteen smart ideas to create flourishing Canadian economy

OSLO: The Globe and Mail is hosting a debate on the economy among the leaders of the three main political parties on Thursday at 8 pm (ET). Click here for more details.

Demand for resources, and not just oil, is swooning as China’s economy slows. Manufacturing, expected to bounce back in response, is instead going sideways. Pulling things out of the ground and hammering steel have been pillars of Canada’s economy for at least a generation. But those sectors are either increasingly vulnerable to swings in global demand or finding themselves in structural decline.

Ahead of The Globe’s leader’s debate on Sept. 17, we spoke to economists and public policy gurus to come up with 19 smart ideas – some weighty, some wishful – that wring as much as possible out of the old economy and help a new economy flourish.

London, Ont., is no Palo Alto. But in the seemingly unending worldwide quest to become the next Silicon Valley, the rustbelt city is looking surprisingly frisky.

Mike Moffatt – an assistant professor of business, economics, and public policy at the University of Western Ontario’s Ivey Business School spends a lot of time talking to people in London’s nascent tech sector. One of their gripes is a shortage of skilled workers: In March, there were reportedly about 1,000 job openings across London’s more than 300 tech companies.

Mr. Moffatt thinks government-sponsored tech apprenticeships could be part of the solution. Typically associated with the trades, apprenticeships would let brainy but inexperienced university students get hands-on experience making apps or solving coding glitches, while helping to plug the startups’ skills deficit.

The tech skills shortage can’t only be chalked up to lack of training at universities. Canadian schools are churning out plenty of brilliant engineers and developers – many of whom promptly decamp to California’s Bay Area.

Stopping the brain drain is no mean task: San Francisco has great weather, ocean views, and a rich cultural fabric, not to mention all the best tech companies. But some, like Mr. Moffatt, think Canadian cities can fight back by investing in urban infrastructure, particularly transit.

Toronto’s recently unveiled renovation of the Queens Quay waterfront strip was pitched in just these terms: our cities are constantly trying to woo the kinds of clever workers who could find a job anywhere. Better put our best foot forward. Reduce gridlock to make it easier for manufacturers like Cadbury in downtown Toronto to get their products to market.

To paraphrase Mark Twain: reports of Canadian manufacturing’s death have been greatly exaggerated. While it accounts for 1.7 million jobs and about 10 per cent of Canada’s GDP, the sector may be in chronic decline, but it’s still an important part of the economy.