Feds’ growth panel to push plans for future job skills, helping more women work

Growth council's report to explore 5 themes

OTTAWA — The Trudeau government’s economic advisers will unveil a new blueprint Monday highlighting several goals — from bringing more women and indigenous people into the labour force to helping workers adapt to the rapidly evolving needs of the job market.

The group’s latest suite of recommendations on how to revitalize long-term economic growth will influence the senior ranks of the government and could help shape the upcoming federal budget.

The Liberal government is widely expected to incorporate at least some — and perhaps many — of the council’s suggestions into a budget plan, which will be tabled in the coming weeks.

In all, the panel of advisers, handpicked last year by Finance Minister Bill Morneau, will deliver suggestions under five broad categories, The Canadian Press has learned.

The themes will include: lifting labour-force participation of underrepresented demographic groups, upgrading workers’ skills for the swiftly evolving job market, implementing growth strategies for key sectors, boosting innovation and broadening trade.

On trade, council members are expected to call on Ottawa to do more to turn the country into a hub by making improvements to crucial transportation infrastructure like ports. They will suggest that more effort be put into opening up trade with the huge Asian economies of Japan, India and China in order to help Canada become less dependent on deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The recommendations will also make proposals on how the government can promote innovation by ensuring there’s more growth capital, strategic procurement and tech hubs and clusters, the grouping of startups, talent, research and investors in a specific region.

The report will feature proposals on upgrading the skills of Canadian workers, so they can adjust to the rapid pace of change in the job landscape caused by factors like automation.

The proposals will also recommend steps Ottawa can take to help boost the labour-market participation of women, indigenous people and those from other demographic groups that are not participating in the workforce as much as they could be.

The prescriptions will come as the Canadian economy struggles to crawl out of a prolonged slow-growth rut.

Over the last two years, Canada has also absorbed significant economic blows from the steep decline in commodity prices and a global downturn.

The Trudeau government is now drawing up its second budget under added pressure of highly uncertain economic conditions that have followed the surprising election win by U.S. President Donald Trump.

The report Monday will be the group’s second tranche of recommendations for the government.

The growth council is chaired by Dominic Barton, managing director of global consulting giant McKinsey & Co., and has been working with the government and some cabinet ministers for about a year. In all, the group is made up of 14 business and academic leaders.

If history is any indication, Canadians can expect to see at least a flavour of Monday’s recommendations appear in the federal budget — and perhaps more.

Last fall, the council provided prescriptions for Ottawa on attracting more talent through immigration, increasing infrastructure investments and luring more foreign investment. 

Ottawa appeared to agree with many of the group’s suggestions. About two weeks later, Morneau tabled a fall economic statement that contained new policy directions featuring many elements of the council’s proposals.

The communications strategy linked to the council has also been a important consideration for the government, suggests an internal briefing note to Morneau.

The document, dated last June, proposed an outreach plan for the advisers, stating that “effective and co-ordinated messaging will build credibility in the council’s work.” 

The memo was obtained recently by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

The partially blacked out note also said it was important for engagement efforts surrounding the growth council to “reinforce evidenced-based policy analysis” and to “bolster resulting government actions.”

This would come in addition to demonstrating the group’s independence, while showing progress and transparency, the memo said.

“Delivering on these objectives for the council will help support the overall government objective of delivering a growth strategy,” said the note.

Follow @AndyBlatchford on Twitter

Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press

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