Day 6 – Regions, Resources & Populism

This is the last list of potential disruptive factors that could influence the Canadian Public Service over the next decade or so.  See the previous blogs for the previous set of disruptions and Seven Days of Disruption blog for the entire set.  These are in support of November 22, 2017 FMI Conference – Disruptive Writers.

  • Quebec and Regional Tensions (editor)
  • Resource and Commodity Supply, Demand and Price (adapted from 2015)
  • Rising storm of populism; Canada and Cultural War in the Age of Trump and the Progressives (adapted from 2016 and editor)

Quebec and Regional Tensions (editor)

A full generation has grown up without ever hearing about Quebec separation, referendums or regional tensions.  Can it last?  The first challenge is geography, Canada is big – very big.  Many Canadians will never visit all of the provinces and territories, how can you sustain a country in which geography conspires against a sense of affiliation.  The next challenge is economics.  Canada has been sustained in the past half century by a wealth transfer from the Western Provinces to the vote rich eastern regions.  Despite multi-billion dollar provincial deficits, Alberta is still a ‘have’ province and will contribute to the ‘have-not’ areas.  Finally there is tribalism or regional identity.  Quebec has been the center of this with two referendums and the 1999 Clarity Act being central activities in the twenty years from 1980 to 2000.  Northern Canada, with the creation of Nunavut, seeks its own path to prosperity.  Atlantic Canada continues to struggle economic although recent mineral discoveries have brightened these prospects. So, will Canada continue to exist and prosper as it moves toward its bicentennial or will it be tore asunder by its size, politics and economics?

Resource and Commodity Supply, Demand and Price

Adapted from A.T. Kearney 2015: The resource “super-cycle” of the early 2000s saw global prices for energy, minerals and agriculture prices hit 30-50 year highs.  A new global resource “slump cycle” began in 2014, characterized by a dramatic oil price drop.  These underlying dynamics mean that the resource slump cycle will continue into the foreseeable future. Past resource cycles have continued on average for 13 to 15 years, because it takes time for supply infrastructure to realign with demand dynamics. Therefore, the current mismatch in demand and supply is likely to persist until 2027–2029. Renewable energy is a wild card as it is expected to continue to attract steady investment despite lower prices—likely as a result of less costly technologies, government regulations, and consumer preferences for cleaner power.  As a major exporter of minerals and an energy super power, this slump will particularly hurt the Canadian economy and the ability to maintain government tax revenue.

Canada and Cultural War in the Age of Trump

Adapted from A.T. Kearney 2016: A populist, worldwide backlash to globalization and neoliberal economic policies continues to spread in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis due to a broad range of underlying structural issues, from digital information proliferation to wealth inequality. This backlash is creating policy instability and raises the risk of a potentially hostile environment for globalized business models.  A.T. Kearney defines populism as a mass political movement that harnesses “the power of the people” to reject the elite and the status quo. Populism is usually concentrated around a charismatic leader, and often includes advocating for more redistributive economic policies—or even illiberal tendencies to concentrate power in a single individual.  The impact for governments is navigating protectionist trade partners; volatility in civil, constitutional, policy and regulatory endeavours, and the risk of knee-jerk reactions resulting in the break down of civil society.  Compounding this challenge is the ‘dumbing-down’ effect of social media converting civil discussion and complex thought into 144 character sound bits and simple likes and memes.

Editors Note: There is a description that a cultural war is underway in the United States between ‘progressives’ or left and ‘populists’ or right.  Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and the Democratic Party are progressives with Sarah Palin and being populists.  Generally the left accuse the right as being fascists (for more on how this may be topsy turvy, see: ‘The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left‘) and the right accuses the left of destroying liberal democracy through masked thugs and censorship of institutions such as universities.  In Canada we have less of this possibly because our political system allows for a more nuanced reflection of opinions (e.g. we have left of center NDP, right of center Conservatives and the center-left Liberal Parties. Nevertheless, what is the impact of this cultural war coming to Canada and can our democratic institutions survive the battles?