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Noah Zivitz

Managing Editor, BNN Bloomberg


In a week that's already revealed the Bank of Canada considered another rate cut, Finance Minister Bill Morneau's top economic advisor is poised to reveal his recommendations to lift the economy out of its lethargy.  At the top of the agenda is bringing in skilled workers to help offset Canada’s rapidly aging population.

Dominic Barton – the head of the finance minister's economic advisory council – spoke with BNN ahead of the official release of his group's report. He declined to confirm The Globe and Mail's report that the council will call for immigration levels to surge 50 per cent over the next half decade, but he made it clear Canada needs to address a skills gap in its labour market.

"One of the biggest worries we have is we are a very aging population in Canada," Barton told BNN.  "That's going to have a dramatically big effect on our growth rate."

Barton said the increased flow of skilled workers should be phased in over time, rather than surging overnight.

To underscore the importance of boosting Canada's labour market, he pointed out that for one of Canada's G7 peers, the opportunity has already been lost.

"If we don't get on it, we're going to have some big difficulty," he said. "My view would be, by the way, that I think for Japan, it's frankly too late." 


Morneau appointed the members of the advisory council in March, tasking them with responsibility to help guide the government in "finding ways to overcome the challenges posed by an aging population as Canada seeks to achieve sustainable, long-term growth." 

Barton leads the 14-member panel, which also includes the likes of Cenovus CEO Brian Ferguson, Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec CEO Michael Sabia and McGill University Principal Suzanne Fortier. 

Barton told BNN there are 12 buckets of focus for his group, with recommendations coming in waves "so it fits the digestive track of the government."  The first batch of recommendations will be released Thursday, focusing on infrastructure, innovation, labour markets and foreign direct investment. 

While foreign investment has been a point of contention in Canada during the last several years, Barton said his group is focused on promoting investment in companies, infrastructure and research and development -- not full takeovers of Canadian companies. 

The country’s biggest problem right now is that it's punching way below its weight, Barton said. He cited Singapore, Mexico, Ireland and the U.K. as competition that's been much more aggressive about rolling out the welcome mat for foreign investors. 

In a bid to counter that trend, Barton said BlackRock – a major investment firm – will host an event next month to introduce prospective investors to Canadian government officials and local businesses. 

"We've not done a very good job of marketing ourselves in Canada," he warned. "We've got to be on the map, and we're not."