Gurria gave a virtual talk Tuesday at the Empire Club of Canada, presenting the OECD's latest economic outlook and reflecting on his past 15 years leading the international consortium through the global financial crisis in 2008-09 and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gurria, a former minister of foreign affairs and minister of finance and public credit in Mexico, said that although things seem to be looking up for Canada and North America, with vaccines rolling in and predictions the economy will begin to rebound, we aren't out of the woods yet. The biggest challenges right now are vaccine supply and rollout, and the new virus variants, he said.
He noted that it is the poorest and most vulnerable citizens who have been hit hardest by the health and economic implications of COVID-19, much like the poorest and most vulnerable countries themselves.
As the economy begins a slow climb out of the crisis, consumer confidence will be key, said Gurria, adding that Canada's priorities should include fiscal support that takes citizens and businesses all the way through the recovery.
"Please, let's not withdraw this support too soon," he said. "In 2008-09, we withdrew the support that was provided to the economy too soon. And by doing that ...we weakened the recovery," Gurria said.
Gurria expects the economic impact of COVID-19 to be long-lasting in the hardest-hit sectors, such as hospitality, and said the small and medium businesses in these sectors will need extra support.
"This will be echoed in the job market," he added, among younger and low-paid workers who disproportionately work the jobs in these devastated sectors.
It's important that Canada continues benefits like the Canada Recovery Benefit, said Gurria, but that it begins to more specifically target those benefits. The workforce, too, will need help catching up to the digital acceleration, he said.
Businesses will also need support to tackle the burden of debt created by the pandemic, said Gurria, and business insolvency procedures should be re-examined so that viable businesses have the opportunity to recover.
This support needs to also facilitate structural changes spurred or accelerated by the pandemic, such as the digital shift, Gurria said.
Digital policies should include improving widespread connectivity, both urban and rural, he added.
"The recovery from the crisis provides a unique opportunity to shape a greener, healthier, more inclusive, more digital economy," he said.
Gurria said Canada should "green" its stimulus by investing in low-carbon tech, especially since the pandemic has made investments in young firms less likely.
"Recent federal government proposals for carbon price increases announced as part of a strengthened climate plan are an encouraging sign in this regard," he noted.
The pandemic has made it clear Canada needs to strengthen its health-care system, Gurria said, especially its long-term care. The virus has also made clear the obvious gaps in pharmaceutical coverage and paid sick leave, he added.
Overall, it will be crucial that Canada's policies have well-being top of mind, he said, noting that the country is at a pivotal moment.
"With the right policies, Canada can emerge from this crisis with a stronger, more sustainable, more inclusive economy."
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