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FORUM (SEPTEMBER 2016): Inclusive prosperity

September 15th, 2016 · No Comments

Supporting an open society by embracing global trade and immigration

By Chrystia Freeland

When it comes to issues of trade, we are living in a complicated time. In many countries in the western industrialized world there is a tremendous popular backlash against international trade and immigration. We are not immune to these forces in Canada, but we do have a strong national cross-party consensus around what we call the open society: a diverse multicultural society that is open to immigration and plugged into the global economy.

So how did we get to that consensus and what can we do to maintain it?

For our government, this consensus actually starts with economic policy at home.

Our first priority is to support our middle class and the people who are striving to join it, because we believe that a strong and prosperous middle class is the key to supporting the open society.

What have we done about it?

We pay a lot of attention to embracing and integrating all those who settle here.

We introduced a new tax-free benefit paid to Canadian families with children, the Canada Child Benefit. The Canada Child Benefit is targeted to provide more tax-free help to families who need it, and it’s generous enough to provide a guaranteed annual income for Canada’s most in-need children.

We also cut taxes on middle class incomes, and we paid for that by increasing taxes on top earners; we know income inequality is real and we think it’s the job of government to lean against it. And we made changes to the Canada Pension Plan that will significantly increase the retirement incomes of middle class Canadians in the future.

For me this focus on supporting the middle class is directly connected to the two pillars of the open society: being open to the global economy and being open to immigrants and immigration. More than 50 per cent of people living in our city are foreign born, and our immigration policy enjoys a lot of public support.

Why is that?

In Canada, we pay a lot of attention to embracing and integrating all those who settle here. A central part of that process is a policy that was put in place by Pierre Elliot Trudeau: the policy of multiculturalism. We believe that our diversity is our strength. We’re not strong in spite of our diversity; we’re stronger because of it.

Being open to the global economy, the other pillar of an open society, means building a trade policy that is centred around supporting middle class jobs and incomes. It’s also vitally important for us to understand there are legitimate reasons why people might be concerned about trade agreements and to focus on addressing those concerns.

One way we’re doing that is by focusing a lot of our trade policy on small- and medium-sized businesses. The technology-driven globalized economy makes it possible for even very small companies to be part of the global economy from day one, and it’s important that we build agreements and trading relationships that communicate and embrace that reality.

We also need to address the very legitimate concerns that people have around the ability of democratically-elected governments to regulate areas like labour rights, the environment, and the public sector.

The Canadian and European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) is a new approach that targets those very areas by enshrining the rights of governments to regulate, and makes arbitration more transparent and independent. That’s a big part of what makes CETA a better, more progressive trade agreement.

In 1945 an Austrian immigrant to the United Kingdom named Karl Popper warned that: “If we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed and tolerance with them.”

I believe that while history doesn’t repeat itself, it does rhyme. Once again, the open society is under threat, and those of us who believe in it must work together in its defence.

We, as Canadians, with a really strong partnership between government, business, and civil society, can remain an open society at home and be a very powerful and welcome voice for it around the world.

Chrystia Freeland is the Minister of International Trade and the Member of Parliament for University-Rosedale.



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