IMF/WB Annual Meetings 2016: Washington, DC Co-joint Article

Isabelle Duchaine
Cerina Lee
Daniel Sorek
Nicholas Schiavo

World leaders agree: free trade is a good thing. Immigration is a good thing.  Innovation is a good thing. Infrastructure, economic growth, and investment are all good things.

But despite this consensus and the existing data, the global elite - Presidents and Prime Ministers, finance ministers, central bankers and policy experts -  are having an awfully hard time convincing the public. 

Held in Washington at the beginning of October, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank Annual Meetings are a yearly opportunity for world leaders to discuss the future of the global financial system, poverty levels and capital markets. Our team of five delegates attended on behalf of Young Diplomats of Canada (YDC) - a national, non-partisan, non-profit organization that promotes the leadership of young Canadians through international delegations, research projects, and advocacy initiatives.

With other participants ranging from the former Prime Minister of Australia to the Minister of Finance of Sierra Leone to the Governor of the Bank of England, our delegation of young Canadians – with diverse backgrounds in health policy, international space law, public policy and international finance – stood out from the crowd. The difference was not only due the decades separating us from the average attendee, but the sense of urgency we placed on tackling global challenges.

Throughout the conference, speakers characterized two major threats to global economic (and political) stability:

      The slowdown in global growth
      The rise of anti-globalization movements

On the first front, the IMF is struggling with how to manage a slow-growth economy when interest rates are at historic lows.  Anemic recovery from the 2009 global recession (Canada’s growth hovering around 1.4 per cent), has been driven largely by gains in China and other emerging economies: growth that is now slowing. Meanwhile, anti-globalization movements are rallying public sentiment against refugee resettlement, immigration, and free trade.

But while global leaders were big on talking points and detailed about the need for fiscal investment, they were close-lipped on how to improve the current anti-globalization climate. They paid little attention to the populist crowds outside the walls of Bretton Woods institutionalism.

With its message of citizen-level outreach and focus on consultation, Canada’s official delegation stood out from the crowd. In sessions on managing a low-growth economy and infrastructure, Finance Minister Bill Morneau gave a few spoilers about the upcoming federal budget, highlighting how infrastructure - especially productivity-enhancing infrastructure such as high-speed rail– can capitalize private investment and boost growth.

Most convincingly, he raised the importance of ensuring that “everyday” Canadians aren’t left behind by globalization, suggesting that governments balance longer-term projects with initiatives with shorter runways, such as community housing projects.

On the trade file, Minister of International Trade Chrystia Freeland emphasized how community-level consultations will help inform the government’s position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, although the level of impact that town hall-style meetings will have on overall trade policy has yet to be determined. 

As Canadian youth, we have a number of suggestions:

Ensure that vulnerable groups aren’t left behind – not only globally, but at home. Although Canada doesn’t face the same levels of income stratification as our peer countries, we need to offset the consequences of disruptive technologies and trade deals on Canadians in affected industries.

Rethink how we develop our workforce - Rapid technological transformation means that Canadians can’t rely on the skills learned in the classroom decades ago. Instead of frontloading our learning to the first 25 years of our lives, we should be developing new skills and adapting to technology throughout our careers.

Stop dismissing populist movements as ‘fringe’ groups – our own Canadian experience with separation movements shows that ignoring disenfranchised citizens jeopardizes national unity. You may not agree with why someone voted ‘Leave’, but understanding the root causes of the anger embroiling modern political sentiment is the first step to realizing change.

Show, don’t tell, success stories – Developing global public policy isn’t about coming up with the best ideas. It’s about ensuring an increasingly diverse group of stakeholders are engaged in the process, and committed to supporting implementation.

As Canadians, we are uniquely positioned to remind our colleagues and neighbours around the world of the progress they stand to achieve while demonstrating empathy and a desire to accommodate their genuine concerns. It’s time for us to share our stories with the world.