Yuen Pau Woo on Canada’s connection to Asia: ‘We have to figure out our energy relationship’

posted on December 6, 2014

By Monica Pohlmann, Globe and Mail | Link to Article

By Monica Pohlmann, Globe and Mail | Link to Article

In a six-week series of interviews, Canadians with a variety of experiences discuss the major challenges our country is facing and how best to address them. This instalment deals with taking our place in the world.

Yuen Pau Woo, former president and chief executive officer of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, was interviewed Sept. 4 by Monica Pohlmann, a consultant with Reos Partners.

Pohlmann: What keeps you up at night about what’s going on in Canada?

Woo: Complacency. Canada has been blessed with numerous natural endowments and political and institutional assets. But we are slipping on many indices and our position in the world could deteriorate sharply. The usual story for why Canada didn’t fall into a more severe recession in 2008 is that we have strong banks and a good financial regulatory system – for example, that we didn’t have a subprime mortgage problem like the U.S. That’s all true. But we overlook the fact that China saved Canada from a more severe recession. If you look at what kept growth from falling even further between 2008 and 2011, the answer is Chinese demand. Exports from Canada to China doubled between 2008 and 2013. Exports from Canada to the rest of the world, including to the U.S., still have not caught up to the levels they were in 2007.

Pohlmann: If you could ask a clairvoyant about the future of Canada, what would you ask?

Woo: As the most Asian city outside of Asia, how will Vancouver evolve? About 45 per cent of the population of the census metropolitan area of Vancouver today is of Asian ethnic descent. Within 10 years, Vancouver will be a majority “Asian” city. Will that lead to a shift in terms of trade, business and popular culture? Will Vancouver plug into the dynamism (and challenges) of contemporary Asia and serve as a connector across the Pacific, or will Vancouver settle into a more typical North American trajectory – becoming a city with lots of Asian people, but one that does not have deep commercial and cultural ties with Asia? A lot of people say to me, “I’m okay with immigrants, as long as they become Canadian.” Indeed, immigrant integration is a very important issue and one that we have to constantly work on. But what is the definition of being Canadian? Is it fixed? Can newcomers over time shape what being a Canadian means? The answer surely is yes, but how will it happen, and what will be the trade-offs? To take a simple example, shouldn’t there be more teaching of Asian languages in Vancouver schools when so much of the population is of Asian descent?

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