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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Saturday 19 May 2012

Dutch Disease, Canadian Cure: Mental Health and the Knowledge Economy

Andrew Coyne, National Post

Stephen Toope, National Post

Diagnosing the Illness

Canada’s manufacturing sector has taken a beating over the past several years.  The former mill town where I was born and raised (Cornwall, Ontario) is one of many communities across the nation that saw the majority of its jobs, tax base and community life blood pick up and move to greener pastures.

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair blames this manufactured migration on Dutch Disease – the focus of the Canadian government on supporting our natural resource exports (ie. Alberta Oil) over other sectors of the economy.  To me, that’s like placing the blame for not having a job solely on the back of an unemployed person.  It’s a simplified interpretation of a far more complex picture.

Canada’s manufacturing loss has been to emerging economies, places like India, China and Brazil.  In these countries, employers have less obligations to their employees around payment, vacation, health and safety.  A rise in Canada’s dollar might be a stick discouraging manufacturers from continuing here, but lower responsibility costs elsewhere is just as much a carrot. 

What Canadians – and these manufacturers themselves – seem to forget is that these responsibility costs in Canada have resulted in a healthier, better educated populace with better access to services, opportunities and each other.  By empowering individuals and creating a more level playing field, Canada has increased the quality-of-life of its citizens.  It isn’t by chance that so many leaders and innovators, people ranging from Don Tapscott to Mike Lazaridis and Jim Basillie are Canadian (not always by birth, but definitely by experience).

Meanwhile, in other countries, the rights that Canadians fought for generations ago are in increasing demand in these surging economies.  Governments are being pressured to support their citizens, a responsibility that will inevitably fall back on the shoulders of industry.  Far from escaping responsibility costs in the Western World, these tumbleweed businesses have actually served to foster labour movements elsewhere.  It’s elegant, really, when you think about it.

Finding the Cure

Despite the positioning of Canada’s Finance Minister, Canadians are past the point of being willing to move to wherever to find work and take any job to make a buck.  Amiable lot though we are, we won’t stand for a return to the labour migrations of the Dirty 30s.  To Canadians, home and dignity will forever have a higher value than our dollar. 

That’s fine, because there is a growing industry out there that is less reliant on location for success.  In the Knowledge Economy, it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, only that you have access to the tools and training that foster innovation.  Empowered Canadians – people, again, like the author of Wikinomics and Growing Up Digital or the founders of RIM – are at the forefront of new technologies, new processes and new approaches to success.

Yet, Canada is also undergoing a labour rights movement.  Like many other Western countries, there is a growing focus on mental illness and the social and economic losses incurred by a poor understanding of how mental health works and how mental fitness is accommodated.  This unheralded business crisis has spawned strategies and studies in jurisdictions around the world.  Responses include plans like Canada’s first, national mental health strategy.

At the same time, we are experiencing the rise of the social entrepreneurConscious Capitalists who see profit as a stepping stone towards meaning and legacy, rather than an end in and of itself.  These entrepreneurs, conscious of the impact of their actions on future generations (as they themselves are the first generation of Canadians being told to expect a lower quality-of-life than their parents) are largely focused on reducing our national carbon footprint, not through expensive schemes but as a matter of efficiency.

Mental health and innovation – these two things are inextricably linked.  As the Occupy movement helps spurn mental health protests and as governments and industry increasingly turn to young entrepreneurs to craft tomorrow’s action plans, these two things will merge.


Canada is on the right track and has an opportunity to be a world leader in connecting cognitive ability and creativity, consciously.  While it is highly unlikely our manufacturing sector will ever recover, it is increasingly apparent we don’t need it to.  Natural resources aren’t a long-term sustainable enterprise, nor are current practices in Canada as environmentally sound as they could be.

Natural resource dollars stimulating the Knowledge Economy and empowering social entrepreneurs, however, is a win-win.  These Conscious Capitalists, with greater access to venture capital and partnerships with natural resource extractors, can find new ways to reduce the footprint of resource extraction on the one hand and explore new opportunities in the creative industry.

To fully harness the capabilities of creativity, we need to understand how it works and how to foster it.  That means, understanding the impact of work, home and social environments on cognitive development as well as a less stigmatic view on the underlying genetics.  Occupational Mental Health and Safety, Mental Fitness and a focus on Conscious Capitalism – it’s the same confluence of history we saw during the industrial revolution, only we’ve moved from physical well-being to cognitive well-being.

Welcome to the 21st Century; welcome to the Conscious Society.

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