Inclusivity and prosperity are at the core of the Canadian ethos. Whether it’s true of your lived experience or not, as Canadians, we should expect a society that protects us and provides every person ample opportunities to live a healthy, safe, prosperous life.
That promise of prosperity has come under fire recently. Interest rates are the highest they’ve been in a generation. The cost of basic necessities like groceries and rent are pushing many Canadians to the brink of their savings (assuming they have some). And throwing existential fuel on the fire is the rapid advance of new technologies like generative AI, which have left many Canadians fearing not just for their job security but the very future of our economy.
On the topic of AI, let me be clear: I hear the concerns. The most recent Statistics Canada report on the issue suggested that up to 40 per cent of Canadian workers in 2016 were at high to moderate risk of job displacement due to automation. That data was published nearly three years before the release of ChatGPT became the talk of boardrooms across the country. I believe that the public and private sectors have an obligation to work together to create guardrails around the safe development and use of these technologies, to ensure that they are working for and with Canadians, not at the expense of them.
On this last point — harnessing AI to enable inclusivity and prosperity, rather than stifle it — is where I am optimistic about technology’s role in creating a better future for everyday Canadians.
Already, it’s easy to find examples of generative AI augmenting and optimizing work processes, freeing workers from relatively low-value tasks — scheduling meetings, directing phone calls, drafting contracts — to focus on higher-value activities. Along with reducing cognitive load by automating highly structured tasks, we see proof of generative AI boosting productivity by enhancing our critical thinking and creativity, while helping to train workers and providing feedback that makes us better at our jobs.
A July 2023 report by McKinsey estimates a 30 per cent increase in demand for healthcare professionals by 2030. In STEM, the labour demand is expected to rise by an estimated 23 per cent, while demand for builders will climb by approximately 12 per cent. McKinsey’s data focuses on the U.S. labour market, but let’s assume a similar trend in Canada. From hospitals to research labs to construction sites, imagine the benefits to society of investing in and equipping workers with new tools and technologies that help make them more skilled, efficient, and productive.
As easy as it is to imagine technology’s potential to create a more productive and prosperous society for all Canadians, it’s equally easy to see the consequences of not investing in new technologies — and it’s easy to see because it’s already happening.
Consider a November 2023 report by the C.D. Howe Institute, which shows Canada’s relative prosperity in decline over the past 30 years. In 1993, according to the Institute’s data, Canada’s real GDP was 106 per cent of the OECD average. In 2024, that average is expected to fall to just 89 per cent. As described in the report, Canada is falling behind other countries due to a lack of investment in its workers, leading to an inevitable and self-perpetuating drop in productivity.
“Productivity and investment are mutually reinforcing,” the report states. “Productivity growth creates opportunities and competitive threats that spur businesses to invest. Investment increases productivity by equipping workers with better tools. Investment per worker that is lower in Canada than abroad tells us that businesses see less opportunity in Canada, and prefigures weaker growth in Canadian earnings and living standards than elsewhere.”
In the Government of Canada’s fall economic statement, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland struck an optimistic tone, noting that over a million more Canadians are employed today compared to before the pandemic. However, while inflation is coming down and it appears we will avoid a recession, economic growth is still projected to slow to a crawl.
To prevent further decline and avoid creating a society where Canadians see less opportunity, slower growth, and lower living standards than other OECD countries, we must act now to invest in Canadian workers — and that means investing in new technologies.
At Interac, we understand the key role we play in empowering businesses and Canadians through accessible and efficient financial solutions. That’s why we’re continually investing in development of new products and solutions to streamline payment, authentication, and verification processes. We believe that a more prosperous Canada begins by making life easier for the small and mid-sized businesses who serve as the backbone of our economy.
As a uniquely Canadian company that works closely with the public sector to ensure financial safety for all Canadians, we’re also in a rare position to influence and mould the trajectory of our digital economy. Today, that means collaborating with the Canadian public sector to not only provide safe and secure financial solutions, but contributing to policy discussions and offering perspective on legislation regulating the safe use and advancement of technology.
At the centre of all of these conversations is a question of trust. As Canadians, we trust our institutions to protect our best interests, and to create a level playing field where anyone can prosper. As such, it’s only reasonable that Canadians shouldn’t be expected to use or invest in new technologies unless we can be sure we trust them first.
In a digital age, I believe that trustworthiness is best determined with a framework that revolves around three core pillars: authenticity, inclusivity, and relevancy. When looking at a piece of technology, ask yourself: Is it what it claims to be? Is it available to everyone? Does it provide genuine value when applied to a specific use case? If the answer is yes to all three, you’re more than likely looking at a solution capable of boosting productivity and creating a web of prosperity that benefits everyone. Who wouldn’t trust that?
The story of technology and its potential to shape Canada’s future is deeply personal to me. For the past 30-plus years, my work has revolved around two core beliefs: the right of everyone to participate in and benefit from the digital economy, and the potential of technology to enhance the quality of life for everyday Canadians.
I’m proud of the work we’re doing at Interac, both to harness the potential of technology to shape and transform the way we do business in this country, and to make sure the solutions we’re creating are readily available and working in service of all Canadians.
As new solutions continue to develop and emerge, I hope more companies embrace the potential of technology to empower workers and enhance productivity. It’s clear to me that Canada’s fundamental promise of inclusivity and prosperity aligns with the potential offered by advancements like generative AI, and that investing in these technologies now will lead to better, more prosperous lives for all Canadians.