How Canada can lead — and uOttawa can support — the post-COVID economy

collage of portraits of Monique Leroux and Stéphane Brutus
As the world emerges from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, many are asking how Canada can use its recovery as a catalyst to build a more resilient, green, and equitable economy. 

This was the topic of discussion at the Chancellor’s Debate on December 1. The event was hosted by Chancellor Calin Rovinescu and featured Stéphane Brutus, dean of the Telfer School of Management, and Monique Leroux as the guest of honour. Leroux is a Canadian Business Hall of Famer, former CEO of Desjardins Group, and chair of the Industry Strategy Council, a group of business leaders tasked with gathering national perspectives about the impact of COVID-19 on key sectors of the Canadian economy. 

The conversation touched on a range of topics, from Canada’s rising inflation rates to how the private sector can bridge social inequalities to the opportunities brought by new technologies. Here are some of the key ideas shared. 

The conversation began by discussing the advice that Leroux and other members of Canada’s Industry Strategy Council gave to the federal government during the pandemic. What became apparent from the council’s nationwide conversations was that Canada needs a long-term, well-defined industry strategy, similar to other countries worldwide. 

Creating such a strategy requires collaboration between the private and public sectors and, as Rovinescu put it, a philosophy that we can create industrial champions who can take their rightful place on the world stage. In consulting with business leaders, academics, and communities across Canada, Leroux and the Industry Strategy Council identified three areas of strength where the country could lead.  

The first relates to Canada’s natural resources, and how to grow or transition using an environmental, social, and governance (ESG) lens. “ESG is very powerful. It’s about creating a roadmap for businesses and governments that is long- term and able to provide prosperity,” explained Leroux. “Prosperity is not just wealth creation., iIt considers the environment, the people, and the impact particular organizations have on the community and various stakeholders.” 

A second area of strength is the potential to pair Canada’s highly educated workforce with digital tools and training in a way that benefits the economy.  

The final area of strength Leroux highlighted is Canada’s capacity for cutting-edge manufacturing, particularly in the aerospace, automotive, life sciences and humanities sectors. “These are sectors where we have the ability to be front runners, but in some cases, they don’t have the critical mass to compete as global players. How can we promote the growth of those businesses so they take on an international scope, promote economic growth in Canada, and provide great jobs for our graduates?” she asked.  

Both Rovinescu and Leroux emphasized the role post-secondary institutions can play in Canada’s economic recovery.  

“The whole mindset and mentality of an entrepreneur is so important for our students, whether you work for a small business or a huge corporation,” said Rovinescu. “It’s about being courageous, not being risk averse, and being able to deal with failure.” 

Rovinescu’s comments prompted Brutus to mention the Telfer School of Management’s significant focus on entrepreneurship

This focus is consistent across uOttawa, where initiatives such as the Centre for Entrepreneurship and Engineering Design (CEED) and various accelerator programs spark innovation and creative problem solving.  

Leroux further discussed how uOttawa can foster multidisciplinary thinking and build supportive ecosystems for entrepreneurs and business leaders.: “Universities need to be careful about not putting students in silos. Collaboration between faculties will naturally bring students to understand the connection between computer science, marketing, finance, and other areas of study.”  

Gone are the days of being able to think of problems “vertically,” Leroux noted. Future leaders — be it in the private or public sector — must value different areas of expertise and work with people from various backgrounds. This spirit of integration can be further nurtured in universities through private sector partnerships that provide students with real-world perspectives. 

Overall, the discussion’s message was one of optimism and hope. “If I look at it from a political, geo-economic, and democratic point of view, Canada has a lot of advantages,” Leroux concluded. “From natural resources to education to social programs, we have everything we need to be ambitious, bold, and to provide prosperity to all.”