Couchiching 2010: Watershed Moment or Wasted Opportunity

Written by  //  August 10, 2010  //  Economy, Margaret Lefebvre, Public Policy  //  No comments

Couchiching 79th Annual Summer Conference, August 5–8, 2010
The sessions
News coverage

Anne Golden: Canada’s innovation malaise: The cure’s in our culture
Anne Golden is president and CEO of the Conference Board of Canada. She spoke about innovation on Friday at the Couchiching Conference on public affairs.
Ideally, we’d combine our traditional sense of caution with a stronger dash of entrepreneurialism
This failure to cash in on our creativity has been analyzed by various think tanks, institutes and forums, which have all delineated and prioritized what needs to be done. We have improved the macroeconomic environment, notably through tax reform (including cuts in corporate income tax, ending the capital tax federally and in several provinces, accelerating capital cost allowances, and harmonizing sales tax in some provinces). By helping businesses invest in new equipment, these tax changes should support innovation within firms and create new markets for technology providers.
But tax reform is just one piece of the puzzle, and government can do much more to improve the business operating environment
7 August
Success of globalization rests with G20, Paul Martin says
Unless the G20 can adequately deal with climate change, development assistance to poor countries, food security and the financial crisis, globalization can’t be made to work, says the G20’s inventor, former prime minister Paul Martin.
The seminal task of the G20 – the 19 countries with the world’s largest economies plus the European Union – is to send the right signals, to demonstrate the right commitments, he told the annual Couchiching Conference on public affairs on Saturday.
Lauded economist slams census decision
Accepting award for public policy leadership, Sylvia Ostry says long-form census change is ‘shocking’ and ‘ridiculous’
Canada’s former chief statistician and one of its internationally renowned economists Saturday described as “shocking” and “ridiculous” the federal government’s decision to scrap the mandatory census long form.
6 August
Flaherty offers apology for income trust hurt
(National Post) Jim Flaherty may have faced down the financial crisis, but he was forced on the defensive by a feisty senior yesterday at a policy conference, where he issued a public apology for the hardship inflicted by his decision to tax income trusts nearly four years ago. Mr. Flaherty was at Couchiching to deliver the keynote address on the state of Canada’s economy.
We’re ‘punching above our weight’: Flaherty
(CTV) Finance Minister Jim Flaherty told an economic policy conference Friday that the world economy is “not out of the woods yet.” But he said Canadians have been “punching above our weight” and have fought through and survived the worst of the economic crisis
(Globe & Mail) ‘Ideological purity’ won’t blind Jim Flaherty to role of government
Economy goes into the wild at Couchiching
5 August
Michael Valpy: An eloquent reminder of how crisis spurs innovation
ORILLIA, ONT. – For 79 summers, Canadians have been coming to Geneva Park on Lake Couchiching to listen to the country’s wise people talk about national and international affairs. They lucked out Thursday with Margaret MacMillan.
The historian, warden of Oxford’s St. Antony’s College and former provost of University of Toronto’s Trinity College has a command of language, ideas and intelligence that has few equals in the Canadian academic world.
… This year’s conference 140 kilometres northeast of Toronto in cottage country is titled “Watershed Moment or Wasted Opportunity,” an exploration of the global financial crisis and its aftermath.
Prof. MacMillan presented a historical tapestry stretching back 400 years to illustrate how humans have used crises – wars, pandemics and financial catastrophes – to innovate, create new institutions, invent previously unachievable drugs, machines, domestic policies and international rules to better the world.
She continuously reminded her listeners of how close the planet had come to economic collapse following the summer of 2007 – a total meltdown that was weeks, days away, and is still far from being remedied.
The focus on the financial crisis has left three other crises untended – the growing gap between rich and poor that is eroding social cohesion and leaving too many people without hope, as U.S. polls increasingly indicate; the huge environmental threat that is not going away and leading people to throw up their hands and say, “What can I do?” and the international political stage that shows the United States clearly in decline with no one certain about how power is shifting but concerns growing about how the narrative will unfold.
She referred to a recent article in the Beijing People’s Daily that asked with a new and unfamiliar belligerence, “Is the U.S. ready for China’s rise?” and predicted a collision if the United States “doesn’t give way.” She spoke of fears among international scholars that Washington either will try to use power in circumstances where it shouldn’t or turn its back on the world and become isolationist.
She listed the issues the global community has failed to adequately address: failed states like Somalia, terrorism and cyber-terrorism, nuclear proliferation, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the bottoming out of European unity, the questioning of whether the world has the right leaders, the continuing conflict between India and Pakistan, both nuclear-weapons states.
“Do we try to deal with them all at once?” Prof. MacMillan asked. “Certainly they won’t go away if we’re focussed only on the financial crisis.”
She questioned whether there has been a financial recovery.
“Confidence has been shaken. Trust has been removed. We’ve paid the price of bailing out the financial institutions. There is now a moral hazard: if banks are too big to fail [and thus will have a public bail-out] does that take away prudence?’
Frayed social safety nets and persisting pools of unemployment have led to a loss of hope and unfocussed anger against the state and authority. “People without something to do will be unhappy.”
Increasingly, she said, academic and political discourse on the economy begins with commentary on technology and ends with questions of morality and an exploration of what is society for.
“The crisis is forcing us to ask fundamental questions” – the questions Prof. MacMillan asked.
4 August
Economy goes into the wild at Couchiching
[Former Prime Minister Paul] Martin is Friday afternoon’s keynote speaker and is expected to share his vision of the G20’s future. (Friday will be a true show of Couchiching’s non-partisan nature, as Finance Minister Jim Flaherty will take the stage in the morning.)

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