PM brings economic, job force messages to Ivey

Among the benefits of the new Canada-Europe Trade Agreement is an opportunity for Canadian universities to collaborate and compete with their European partners, said Amit Chakma, Western president, as he welcomed Prime Minister Stephen Harper to the Toronto campus the Ivey School of Business.

Harper participated in a moderated question-and-answer session with Ivey students today, prefacing the discussion with a conversation with the business school’s new dean, Robert Kennedy.

In his discussion with Kennedy, Harper praised the Canadian economy, noting its relative strength in comparison to other advanced economies following the recession.

As the Ivey event coincided with the release of October’s employment numbers across the country, Harper said he is pleased with the overall increase in employment. There has been a “steady trend of modest job growth” in Canada, he said.

“(Canada) has a performance record that rivals advanced countries. The Canadian economy has done quite well, compared to most developed economies,” Harper noted, referring to the country’s strong banking sector and balanced books among its strengths.

The fiscal position is good on a national level, he added, and the overall outlook is positive for Canada’s future.

Even so, challenges are on the horizon, and Canada needs, and has the capacity to, step up in bridging a coming gap in the skilled workforce, one to be left by retiring Baby Boomers, Harper continued.

“There are serious problems coming in terms of a skills mismatch,” he said, adding the Canadian government is looking to improve the situation by creating and strengthening partnerships between industry and the academic sector.

Harper referred to investment decisions in western Canada that have taken a backseat, being held back for fears of a frail skilled workforce.

The labour force just isn’t growing the way it used to, and a skill mismatch complicates the issue, he said.

Harper then ended the discussion with a message for the academic community.

“There are significant demographic challenges coming.  I say this, and it’s not meant as a criticism of the academic communities, I suggest if we just continue to do things the way we’re doing, our system will produce a shortage of trades people, scientists, engineers. This is the pattern, and we know the pattern; it’s there and it’s ominous,” Harper explained.

“We’ve got to find ways of trying to address some of these challenges. They are not catastrophic, but they are important.”

On tap for discussion with Ivey students at the event were topics such as the Canadian economy, the benefits of the Canada-Europe Trade Agreement and the Canadian government’s “commitment to creating a business environment that promotes competitiveness, risk-taking and innovation.”

“The Ivey Business School provides world-class education to the business leaders of tomorrow. I am pleased to have the opportunity to meet today with students from Ivey to discuss the measures that our government is taking to create jobs and improve Canada’s business environment and overall economy, including through the historic agreement in principle that was recently reached with the European Union on a Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement,” Harper said.