The Big Idea: Canada is dangerously disengaged with the world: expert

WATCH ABOVE: The fifth instalment in The West Block’s series The Big Idea, in which we look beyond the daily political skirmishes. Here, we engage in a broader and more engaging discussion of our potential as a nation and a people.

Canada risks being left behind as the world’s economic future shifts into new regions and new dynamics.

That’s the warning delivered by Scott Gilmore, a former Canadian diplomat and founder and CEO of Building Markets. Speaking on The West Block with Tom Clark as part of the show’s Big Idea series, Gilmore says Canadians like to think they’re engaged globally but the reality is they’re not.

 “We operate under the illusion in Canada that we’re a global …multicultural society but really we’ve become very provincial, very parochial, and we’re not going overseas,” said Gilmore. The end result: “Canada is being left behind globally.”

Luckily, he said there’s a simple fix: send your children abroad.

“If we want to continue to be a country that’s engaged in the world, a prosperous country, we’ve got to embrace the world,” said Gilmore. “And so let’s start at the age of 18.”

The benefits for Canada, said Gilmore, would be far reaching.

As CEO of Building Markets Gilmore is uniquely positioned to analyze how Canada fits into the world economy and social marketplace.

Building Markets operates in some of the world’s poorest countries – Liberia, Myanmar, Afghanistan, and Haiti – harnessing the potential of foreign aid dollars to do more than just bring short term relief to a region. He does that by investing that money into local companies to ensure a longer lasting impact. The practice is known in the business community as impact investing.

Travelling the world over, Gilmore says there’s one thing he’s noticed about developing countries.

“You go into Burma, Mozambique, Nigeria, some of the fastest growing economies in the world, they all have one thing in common which is there is almost no Canadian presence on the ground,” he said.

“We’re staying at home because it’s a comfortable home.  We’ve got good neighbours.  We have all the resources we need. It’s very easy for us to stay on this collective national couch but we need to go outdoors.  There’s a lot going on.”

Gilmore says this isn’t solely a problem for politicians to solve. “You know the Canadian instinct is always to find a role for government in this but I think it’s much simpler… Canadian individuals aren’t active overseas.”

Nigeria is the perfect example of how Canada is missing out, said Gilmore. Within a generation Nigeria is projected to have a larger population than the US, and Canadian businesses aren’t active there.

“If Canada continues to want to be a prosperous nation that can afford the social services that we provide, we’re going to have to participate in that shifting global economy,” said Gilmore. “And right now we’re not. We’re waiting for them to come to us and that’s not good enough.”

The consequences of Canada not engaging with the world, will hit every sector, said Gilmore. From international relations to domestic politics to trade and business.

“A lot of international issues are being decided without us.  Canadians aren’t present.  International business, it’s moving on without us.  You’re not seeing the great innovative ideas that are coming out of Africa and Europe and Asia coming out of Canada anymore,” he said.

“Conversations are moving overseas.  They’re moving away from us and we’re not having the impact.  If we again, believe the world needs more Canada then we’ve got to connect to the world, and we can’t do it from our living room.”

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US President Barack Obama, South Korea President Lee Myung-bak, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper present an award to Scott Gilmore of Peace Dividend Trust at the SME (small and medium sized enterprises) Finance Challenge Award Winner Ceremony at the G-20 summit in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, Nov. 12, 2010. Charles Dharapak/AP Photo
Scott Gilmore with the Building Markets team in Liberia. Building Markets
Scott Gilmore with the Building Markets team in Liberia. Building Markets
Scott Gilmore in Liberia. Building Markets
Scott Gilmore accepts a 2010 Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship. Building Markets
Tom Clark interviews Scott Gilmore for the fifth instalment of The West Block's Big Idea series. Marieke Walsh/Global News

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