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‘Dorky’ Canada in the groove

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CALGARY — Most of us who have lived through the turbulent teen years know what it’s like. You want to be noticed... but noticed for the right reasons. You don’t want to be noticed and laughed at for wearing rubber boots to school in Grade 7 (true confessions of this economist), or for being picked last by the jock captains in high school gym basketball (sigh).

But you do want to be noticed for having the correct Jordache jeans, the highest mark in calculus, and the latest Texas Instrument calculator in its faux denim vinyl case (I did much better on these indicators).

Canada has had its share of being singled out and embarrassed on the global stage. We’ve been picked on by our international peers for our inaction on carbon reduction, for supply management programs in agriculture, and even for poor results in sports. In 2010, Canada was humiliated by being denied a seat on the United Nations Security Council. Most hurtful of all, we are too often not noticed at all by the other kids in the hall. Invisible. Irrelevant.

But 2012 might mark a turn-around for Canada — at least as far as grabbing some well-deserved positive attention. Consider three recent events that put us solidly at the cool kids table.

First, we are on China’s radar screen — and she’s been courting us hard! She’s asking us out on a date by attempting to purchase Nexen, one of Canada’s largest energy companies. While Prime Minister Stephen Harper is busy preparing a list of what we will and will not do on the first date, China is waiting patiently at the door with a bouquet of flowers in hand. And business travel from China to Canada has skyrocketed. Statistics Canada reported this week that Chinese business travel to our country increased 22 per cent in the second quarter of 2012 over the same period in 2011. They like us! They really like us!!

Secondly, the International Monetary Fund has recommended that central banks around the world start regarding the Canadian dollar as a global reserve currency. This is really a formality for the IMF, since many global central banks have already been holding loonies as part of their assets. But the IMF’s recommendation that the Canadian dollar (along with the Aussie dollar) be considered a global reserve currency puts the loonie in the elite league of five others: the U.S. dollar, the euro, the British pound, the Japanese yen, and the Swiss franc. The IMF announcement positions the Canadian dollar as a serious and respected global currency. We can finally lose the "Canadian peso" reputation of the 1990s!

Finally, and maybe most importantly, the Bank of England has poached one of our own to become its governor. This is huge. It is the first time that the UK’s central bank has appointed a foreigner to its highest position — and that foreigner is Canadian. Born in the Northwest Territories and having grown up in Edmonton, Mark Carney will take the reins at the Bank of England on July 1, 2013.

Through his leadership at the Bank of Canada since February 2008, Carney has elevated our country’s reputation and profile as a serious global player. He’s a rock star in the world of central bankers, and the fact that the Bank of England has scooped him up shouldn’t be a surprise. While it is a bit sad for Canada to lose him, his appointment works to our advantage. In his new role he will be making decisions not only for England but for the entire global financial system. And he will clearly understand the increasingly prominent role Canada plays in it.

We still have our share of dorky moments, and we’d better not get a big head about it, but Canada has its groove on. We’ve got a bit of swagger at the moment and the world is paying attention. That presents both challenge and opportunity. We’ve proven that we are a serious financial contender and that we can provide leadership in the much-needed global financial reforms. But the challenge is to use this profile and leadership for the betterment of the entire global economy.

Todd Hirsch is senior economist with ATB Financial.


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