Canada and the OECD: 50 Years of Converging Interests


Remarks by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General, delivered at the Public Policy Forum Conference

Ottawa, Canada, 2nd June 2011

(As prepared for delivery)

Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is a great pleasure to be in Ottawa to open this International Conference on Canada and the OECD, featuring 50 years of converging interests. As our countries try to recover from the greatest crisis of our lifetimes, it is essential that we reflect on our partnerships and the value of international cooperation. I want to thank the Public Policy Forum for hosting this important event.

This Conference is part of our celebrations to commemorate the OECD’s 50th Anniversary, and it is quite meaningful that it takes place in Canada, as Canadian ideals helped shape the OECD and make it what it is today.

So let me share with you some of the main features of our long partnership, hoping that this preamble will open your appetite for a very promising series of discussions.

1. Let me start by praising Canada as a key international player.

Canada is one of the most “well-connected” countries in the world. Very few other nations participate in such a far-reaching network of international organisations with so much conviction and faith in multilateral cooperation. As Professor Tom Keating recently remarked, Canada’s commitment to multilateralism has earned it a reputation as an inveterate “joiner”, as a reliable and responsible global citizen.

This active participation in multilateral cooperation is based on wide public support, to such an extent that it has been considered by some as a symbol of Canadian identity. In the words of Stephen Lewis, another Canadian contributor to a better world: people in this country “have a lasting and visceral commitment to multilateralism which is ingrained and endemic to the Canadian character”.

Since the First World War, Canadian governments have looked upon multilateralism as a necessary instrument for supporting a global order that would provide for peace, security and prosperity.

2. This conviction turned Canada into one of the main supporters of the OECD

Canada is of course one of the 19 founding members of the Organisation. In fact, we could even say that it is the founding member of the OECD, as it was indeed the first country to “deposit its instrument” of ratification to the OECD, on 10 April 1961. The US did the same two days later. That means Canada was the only OECD country for about 48 hours!

From that day onwards, Canada has contributed to the evolution of the OECD with the goal of promoting economic growth as a path to stability. Its support for the work of the OECD has come in the form of high quality expertise and strong leadership.

Canada has provided knowledgeable delegates to most of the more than 200 Committees and bodies of the OECD; if not to all of them. Many outstanding Canadians have been chosen to fill many staff positions at our Organisation covering a wide range of areas. There are currently 115 Canadian experts working at the OECD, of whom 101 are officials. For 10 years, until May 2006, Don Johnston, a distinguished Canadian, led the OECD.

3. Canada has been a great promoter of key OECD initiatives

Through the past 50 years, Canada has also exercised strong leadership and fostered consensus-building in key areas of the OECD’s work.

In the late 1960’s, for example, Canada introduced the notion of partnership between recipient and donor countries, rather than the then prevalent patronizing approach to ODA. This notion continues to shape the discussions and debates among our member countries assembled within the DAC.

In the 1970’s, it provided leadership in the field of stratospheric ozone depletion. This led to the publication of a major international report on Fluorocarbons, which would pave the way to the Vienna Convention on Stratospheric Ozone Depletion (1985) and the implementation of the Montreal Protocol (1987).

In more recent times, Canada has contributed to OECD work in key areas like public-private partnerships to support eco-innovation, the role of provincial governments in promoting equitable education, development cooperation, energy research and technology, cooperation with emerging economies, the fight against tax havens, the development strategy, etc.

4. It has also been a “role-model”

Canada has been a benchmark for other OECD member countries with respect to the design and implementation of good policies and best practices promoted by the OECD. It performs exceptionally well in almost every measure of well-being; ranking among the top countries in a large number of topics in the OECD Better Life Index, which we just released last week at our 50th anniversary celebration.

Canada has strong macroeconomic fundamentals, a sound fiscal and monetary policy and a prudent financial framework. It has a transparent tax system and ranks high in economic freedoms, including freedom from corruption.

And it has a highly skilled and educated workforce, with the highest proportion of adult population with post-secondary education in the OECD. In the 2009 PISA assessment, Canada ranked among the top ten performers in reading, mathematics and science. Most importantly, all pupils - from the highest to the lowest scorers - contributed to the results. This highlights the level of equity of the Canadian educational system.

These are all remarkable contributions and examples of best practices. But, as they say, it takes two to tango and...

5. The OECD has also contributed to Canada’s development

The OECD has helped Canada design and implement public policies and reforms in key areas, like economic performance, youth labour market, territorial development, rural policy, agriculture, energy security, knowledge and skills; the list is long.

Implementing reforms to get better value for money in health care spending - a key issue for long-term public finances sustainability - is an area where we have worked intensely with Canada. In fact, this was the focus of the OECD’s 2010 Economic Survey of Canada. We also worked with Canada to gear tax reform towards efficiency and fairness and to modernise its agricultural policies.

Our work in helping Canada to design, implement and monitor structural policies has been particularly important. Tomorrow, I will be presenting the reports of our “Going for Growth” for Canada, bringing to the spot light key structural challenges that Canada has to address to increase its productivity, its competitiveness and its long term potential output.

The OECD has also been an excellent platform for Canada to promote its vision of a world shaped by multilateralism and a global economy organised as a level playing field. Canada has built on the role of the OECD as an international standard-setter to promote our standards worldwide in order to shape and organise a more harmonious, fair and inclusive globalisation. 

6. But we have to do more

In the coming years, the OECD will help Canada meet its productivity challenge. In spite of recent progress, Canada still lags behind in productivity performance, ranking in the bottom half of OECD countries. We will help design a forward looking and effective national innovation strategy. In fact, we are already providing input to the Independent Review of Canada’s Policies to Support Business Innovation.

The OECD will also help Canada in areas where its proposals have not yet found the necessary political support, like the case of green growth. The OECD Green Growth Strategy will provide Canada with an actionable framework - covering fiscal, innovation, trade, labour and social policies - to help its government achieve the most efficient shift to greener growth.

We will also strengthen our collaboration in promoting more inclusive global governance. Canada was one of the intellectual authors of the G20. I remember that, when I was Finance Minister of Mexico, I worked shoulder-to-shoulder with Paul Martin to introduce and promote the idea, back in the 1990s. Now that the G-20 is consolidating as the premier forum for global economic governance, we must support Canada as a proponent of innovative proposals, backing them with our 50 years of public policy experience.

We expect that Canada will also help the OECD to be more present in the work of the G20 and G8, both to help countries turn structural reforms into new sources of growth and to share policy knowledge with developing countries. This is becoming particularly important as we develop our new OECD Strategy for Development - one of the central mandates of our recent MCM - to help developing countries strengthen their policies, institutions, frameworks and public services.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Canada and the OECD have been working together for five decades to produce better policies for better lives. We must use this partnership to reshape the global economy according to new values of inclusiveness, environmental respect and creative interdependence.

We have achieved a lot, but, as I said to Prime Minster Harper in my congratulations letter at the beginning of May, we must expand our cooperation even further. Canada, the OECD and the whole world will greatly benefit from this effort. I hope that you enjoy this seminar, and that you find it useful.


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