Throughout 2011, Canadians took comfort in the fact that as the world around them seemed to go to hell in a hand basket, life was pretty good here at home. Although the Canadian economy sagged a bit, it held up well by comparison with our major trading partners. Stock markets rebounded, employment did not plummet, and across western Canada there was real economic growth and widespread prosperity.
Unlike the political deadlock and acrimony that has become increasingly characteristic of political life south of the border, Canadian governments enjoyed reasonably strong electoral support and, for better or for worse, we have been freed from the paralysis of minority governments in Ottawa. All in all, 2011 goes down as a pretty good year for Canada admidst a general international environment of uncertainty and unease.
Nonetheless, it is difficult to look forward to 2012 with anything close to unbridled optimism. Economic and political conditions in the United States, still our major market for virtually anything we produce, are unlikely to improve as Americans lurch toward the November elections. Economic conditions in Europe remain grave. Closer to home, western Canadians face huge challenges in moving resource assets to new international markets while at the same time, American markets are soft and/or overflowing with conventional Canadian products such as natural gas.
So often western Canadians believe that we have the resources the world needs, and assume the world will beat a path to our doors. Quite understandably, resource wealth breeds complacency. Increasingly, however, we realize that we will have to do much of the beating, that our competitors are many and often better positioned geographically, and that the barriers to international market access are challenging in the extreme. Being resource rich in the absence of markets is not a recipe for sustainable prosperity.
In 2012, Canadians from across the country will also have to come to grips with growing regional imbalances within the national economy, and how these play out through the frameworks of fiscal federalism and in a period of growing financial constraints for all governments—federal, provincial and municipal. On balance, western Canadians are doing very well, but how do we reconcile regional prosperity here with more disadvantaged regions of the country? How do we ensure that regional economic strength is encouraged as a national asset, and not seen as a target?
None of this means that Canadians should be fearful when looking ahead to 2012. At the same time, we will face some truly intimidating policy and political challenges as we try to re-jig the Canadian federal system and national economy to meet unstable and rapidly changing global conditions. The upcoming year will not be a time for the faint of heart, or a time for complacency. But then, to quote the last words of Australian bushwhacker Ned Kelly as he stood on the scaffold, such is life. Or, in the more current vernacular, bring it on!
On behalf of the Foundation, I would like to wish you all the best for the holidays. Thank you for your engagement over the past year. As 2012 approaches, we look forward to continuing our work as the only think tank dedicated to being the objective, nonpartisan voice for issues of vital concern to western Canadians.