A Better Way Forward? I Say We Need a Revolution!
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3 February, 2022 A Better Way Forward? I Say We Need a Revolution!
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3 Feb 2022
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February 2022
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February 3, 2022

The Empire Club of Canada Presents

A Better Way Forward? I Say We Need a Revolution! A conversation with BDC’s President & CEO, Isabelle Hudon; and Jan De Silva, President & CEO, Toronto Region Board of Trade

Chairman: Kelly Jackson, President, The Empire Club of Canada; Vice-President, External Affairs & Professional Learning, Humber College

Jan De Silva, President & CEO, Toronto Region Board of Trade

Distinguished Guest Speakers
Isabelle Hudon, President & CEO, Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC)
Saad Shaikh, Regional Leader of Technology Media and Telecommunications MNP
Éric Bédard, Managing Partner, Québec Region, Fasken
Martin Denyes, Managing Partner Ontario Region, Fasken

It is a great honour for me to be here at the Empire Club of Canada today, which is arguably the most famous and historically relevant speaker’s podium to have ever existed in Canada. It has offered its podium to such international luminaries as Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan, Audrey Hepburn, the Dalai Lama, Indira Gandhi, and closer to home, from Pierre Trudeau to Justin Trudeau. Literally generations of our great nation's leaders, alongside with those of the world's top international diplomats, heads of state, and business and thought leaders.

It is a real honour and distinct privilege to be invited to speak to the Empire Club of Canada, which has been welcoming international diplomats, leaders in business, and in science, and in politics. When they stand at that podium, they speak not only to the entire country, but they can speak to the entire world.

Welcome Address by Kelly Jackson, President, The Empire Club of Canada
Good afternoon fellow directors, past presidents, members, and guests. Welcome to the 118th season of the Empire Club of Canada. My name is Kelly Jackson. I am the President of the Board of Directors of the Empire Club of Canada, and Vice-President, External Affairs and Professional Learning at Humber College. I'm your host for today's event with BDC’s CEO Isabelle Hudon; she'll be speaking with Jan De Silva, CEO of the Toronto Region Board of Trade, on why this is the perfect time to reimagine the future of Canada's economy, and why we need to be focusing on entrepreneurship, inclusivity and sustainability as we chart our way forward.

I'd like to begin this afternoon with an acknowledgement that I'm hosting this event within the Traditional and Treaty Lands of the Mississaugas of the Credit, and the homelands of the Anishinaabe, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wyandot Peoples. In acknowledging Traditional Territories, I do so from a place of understanding the privilege my ancestors and I have had in this country, since they first arrived here in the 1830’s. As farmers in Southwestern Ontario, I imagine they felt a deep connection to the land, and yet likely did not recognize how that connection was built on the displacement of others. Delivering a land acknowledgement, for me, it's always an important opportunity to reflect on our human connection, and responsibility to care for the land; and to recognize that to do so, we must always respect each other, and acknowledge our histories. We encourage everyone tuning in today to learn more about the Traditional Territory on which you work and live.

The Empire Club of Canada is a non-profit organization. So, I now want to take a moment to recognize our sponsors, who make these events possible, and complimentary, for our supporters to attend. Thank you to our elite event sponsors Fasken, and MNP. Thank you to our supporting sponsors, Cassels, EXP, McCarthy Tétrault, Pelican Woodcliff, Inc., and Turner & Townsend. And a big thank you, as well, to our season sponsors, the Canadian Bankers Association, LiUNA, Waste Connections of Canada, and Bruce Power.

Before we get started today, just a few quick housekeeping notes. For everyone participating today, I just want to remind you that this is an interactive event. Those attending live are encouraged to engage, by taking advantage of the question box you will see below your on-screen video player. We have reserved some time for audience questions following Isabelle and Jan’s discussion. We also invite you to share your thoughts on social media, using the hashtags displayed on-screen throughout the event. If you require technical assistance, please start a conversation with our team, using the chat button on the right-hand side of your screen. To those watching on-demand later, and to those tuning in on the podcast, welcome.

It's now my pleasure to call this virtual meeting to order. I am delighted to welcome Isabelle Hudon and Jan De Silva to the Empire Club of Canada's virtual stage for the first time. You'll hear more about them shortly, and you can find their full bios on the page below the video player on your screen. I'd now like to invite Saad Shaikh, Regional Leader of Technology Media and Telecommunications, MNP, to deliver some opening remarks. Saad, welcome and over to you.

Opening Remarks by Saad Shaikh, Regional Leader of Technology Media and Telecommunications, MNP
Thank you, Kelly. Hello, everyone, I'm Saad Shaikh, Regional Leader of MNP’s technology, media, and telecommunications practice, and on behalf of MNP, I'm very excited to welcome you to the Empire Club session today on economic recovery. We're thankful to the Empire Club and BDC, for the valuable insights they'll be sharing with us during today's fireside chat. Just to give a bit of background on MNP, we're one of the leading accounting, advisory, and tax firm in Canada, and we're proud supporters of entrepreneurs throughout Canada.

Over the past two years, we've been working closely with our clients, as well as our networks such as BDC, to speak to our clients, and help entrepreneurs navigate new challenges that they face during the pandemic, and also to build some resiliency. We can all say that, while this period has posed paramount challenges for businesses and entrepreneurs, it has also given us valuable insights, and also allowed some of our entrepreneurs to reimagine their strategies, to create a path going forward. With that being said, it's my pleasure to introduce Jan De Silva, President and CEO of the Toronto Region Board of Trade to kick off today's fireside chat. Just a bit of background on Jan, prior to joining the board, Jan served as the CEO of Sun Life Financials Hong Kong, and Mainland China Business, and co-founded, and later sold Retail China Ltd. Jan has also served as Dean of Ivey Asia, for Ivey Business School Investment University. Through Jan’s expertise in building high-growth organizations, I'm excited to have her here to moderate today's discussion and hear some of her insights into the future of Canada's economy. With that being said, I present Jan De Silva.

Jan De Silva, President & CEO, Toronto Region Board of Trade
Thank you, so I was just so excited to get started, I’m sorry for interrupting you. A big thank you to the Empire Club for inviting me to host today's conversation with the Business Development Bank of Canada's dynamic President and CEO, Isabelle Hudon. Isabelle and I spoke at a virtual event, way back in 2020, about the immediate pandemic response needed to support our economy. Neither of us expected, two years later, to have COVID as a continuing condition, with our businesses still struggling with lockdowns, restriction and workforce needs. But some good changes have happened since then, including Isabelle's entry into this role with BDC last fall. As our audience very well knows, before joining the BDC, Isabelle served as Canada's Ambassador to France and Monaco, and prior to that, she was a fellow alumnus, as President and CEO of Sun Life financial Québec. She's a Diamond Jubilee and National Assembly of Québec Medal recipient, a vocal champion for a more inclusive and sustainable economy, and simply an outstandingly inspirational leader. Today, she leads an organization with a mandate to develop strong Canadian businesses through financing, advisory services, and capital, Isabelle, bonjour. So, you say we need a revolution? That's a thought-provoking topic of discussion. So, I have some questions to kickstart our conversation on that, and look forward to audience questions as we proceed. So, let's start by talking about your priorities now, six months into the role. BDC, for many of us who may not be aware of it, it has been around for 75 years. So, how are you going to build on those 75 years, and the work done by the prior CEO Michael Denham’s term? Over to you Isabelle.

Isabelle Hudon, President & CEO, Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC)
Merci beaucoup, Jan, and thank you to the Empire Club for the invitation. And obviously, when we planned this event, it was back then in August and we said, “well, we're gonna pick a date, as far as we can, so we will ensure that it will be in-person event,” and here we are, still living in the virtual world—but very happy to be with all of you and especially having a conversation, a public conversation with you, Jan, ex-Sunlifer also. Revolution, I, you know, we all always need to remember to be careful what we wish for. But I said this, Jan, because I don't think that an evolution will be enough, as a as a wish and as a goal, after going through what we went through for the last two years. And it's true that, in 2020, and you said, like back then it feels like it's very far away, but we thought that we were getting out of the pandemic, and we’re leaving this behind, but we're still in it. So, I do think that I picked the right word, even if it feels highly aspirational. I do think that BDC needs to be part of rebuilding better, and in a more inclusive way, and doing it with entrepreneurs and SMEs, like, you cannot pick best, Jan, because entrepreneurs, by definition, they're dreamers and doers, and they like to think big, and they're highly comfortable thinking outside the box. So, six months into the job, it feels almost like a full year that I've been here at BDC—and only for good reasons. I still miss Europe, I need to say, but I'm very glad to be here, and back home.

We decided when I joined, that we would keep on delivering what we are good at delivering, but also, maybe pausing to think about what's coming ahead. And if we keep our eyes on the horizon, what should we do, not necessarily only better, but more? And how can we contribute to rebuild better and more inclusive way? Well, first of all, Jan, BDC, has been around for the last 75 years. We have 75,000 clients today, and under Michael, my predecessor, the number of clients doubled, so we were, back 6 years ago, at 36,000, we're at 72,000 clients. But still 70,000 to 75,000 clients, compared to what potential addressable market. I do think that we can, and we should, aim to serve way much more clients, and doing so, also, in partnership with other financial institutions. It became came clear over the last few months, Jan, that we need to do better with the sustainability factor, how can we assist SMEs with the climate transition, and bring them through the climate transition? Also, secondly, how can we keep a more narrow focus on underserved clienteles. It's, it's finding back a capital D, within BDC, D being development. We have a commercial mandate, but we also have a mission, to keep on developing this SMEs ecosystem, and supporting this SMEs ecosystem. There's too many clients and entrepreneurs that are left behind. We need to reach out, we probably need to reach out in a different way, we need to bring them on board, we need to help them grow, and we need them to succeed. So, sustainability, bringing more clients, especially from the underserved clientele, and that would include woman entrepreneur, that would include, of course, Indigenous entrepreneurs, Black communities, entrepreneurs, and also entrepreneurs from the LGBTQ to community.

So, those two priorities are quite ambitious, but we also have to become a better bank, Jan, and a better bank is one that offers an ultimate client experience, and that will also deliver more and more through digital. So, I could go on, but I know that you have many questions for me, and maybe the audience will also have questions here. I'll stop here, but I'm pretty sure you'll bring me into digging into some of what I just said.

Jan De Silva
Well, let's dig away. You ended with digital, and so, this I think is an incredibly important theme, and certainly, we saw is a kind of a prerequisite for continuing to operate through COVID. So, you know, if you think, many businesses right now think about BDC as a short-term relationship, if you have a loan for immediate problem, or a project; but how can we help you reintroduce BDC to businesses in a way that helps them see that BDC can help them be more resilient, and in particular programs around digital readiness? How do you speak to that need to reintroduce the organization?

Isabelle Hudon
So, it’s interesting when we hear that BDC is there for the short term, because—and other financial institutions would, I hope, agree with me, that our capital is often way much more patient, and that's our mandate, to be to be patient—I do believe that we have some flexibility, I do believe that we need to get better with flexibility, but still, I think that we're a flexible organization, and we see the long-term. So, I think that we will need to act on those attributes, so that the market would see more and more, BDC as a long-term partner, with a great load of flexibility and patience. Now, what can we do for our clients and future clients? I'll come very quickly to the digital piece, Jan, but we do financing, we offer advisory services, but we also invest through our BDC Capital, and our BDC team. I feel that, let me address financing and advisory, and quite important, and specifically now that clients and future clients think about BDC as a partner, not only to bring financial solutions to their growth and aspiration, but also, that they share with us and that we share with them trends, and how they will need to bring their businesses elsewhere, and give the evolution or the revolution that they need to give to their business. One number on digital Jan: the amount of transactions that were done digitally over the last 18 months, doubled. So, before, for a company that had no digital presence, would not have survived through the pandemic without giving a presence in the digital space. So, only that, we need to think and work with entrepreneurs to see how do we help them to enter, or to be way much more performant in the digital space, because we will not come back, Jan, to where we were in 2019. So, it's a huge piece, and I'm not yet sure that we found the perfect key to be the perfect partner for our clients, and future clients, on digital, but it's a top priority for us. And usually, we start with advisory services for entrepreneurs to realize where they are today. And also, to set the goal where they want to be in the future. So, and few numbers that I want to share with you, Jan, that my team shared with me. Digital, mature organization would show that, usually, 60% more likely to enjoy higher sales growth, 50% more likely to have more profit, and 70% more likely to export. Especially that last piece of data, I know that it's dear to your heart, Jan, so I wanted to mention like there's real data showing real value to go into the digital space, and to keep investing into digital. I remember from my past experience in Paris, comparing Canada to other OECD countries, we're not doing great as a country in investing in digital, so we have to ramp up. And you know what, Jan? I do believe that it's one of the positive key learning out of the pandemic. It's not a choice anymore. We have to speed up and we have to keep on investing in the digital space.

Jan De Silva
Well, and let's—we'll continue on the path of digital, but I did want to give a shout out to BDC. Isabelle, you mentioned how helping companies export is near and dear to our hearts at the board. It is, we've got a program we've been running for seven years now called the trade accelerator. BDC’s been a big content partner, and partner to the businesses that come through, and I just want to give a shout out and an example to the audience. We've had many companies come through that program that's equipping them to build their own export strategy, and then they quickly faced this hurdle: how do I scale up my business to be able to take advantage of these growth markets? And we've got example after example, where BDC, being part of that program, has been able to, through your advisory services, help them craft that financial plan, to look at the expansion of their business, and I can also say that, quite frankly, from a long-term perspective, the fact that BDC is in their providing that support, has been enabling those businesses to then get bank financing for additional elements of what they need to do to expand. So, it very is the potential for long-term relationships is what our SME should be thinking about, and your advisory services are just a core platform. But I said, we get back to digital, and I think you made reference to it, that this whole notion of post-pandemic, there's a new reality for business. And so, in addition to digital, what other long-term changes are you thinking are going to happen to the economy, as a result of this pandemic?

Isabelle Hudon
Well, we will want to keep on delivering on the GDP, and we will want to keep on contributing to a growing economy. With, considering that now, it's being considered non-negotiable to integrate climate, to integrate diversity, to integrate inclusiveness, and an equity. Over the last 20 years, there was like a lot of conversation around this, and before pre-pandemic, I've never felt that it was a common understanding that there was no other way than moving forward and onward on those priorities. I think that everyone recognized the importance of the priorities, but it was not necessarily on everyone's radar. Now, it is. And I do feel that SMEs that will not pick those priorities, will lose clients. And also, the pressure coming from employees, where employees are more and more non-negotiable with their employer, to see them moving forward and acting on those priorities. So, the big the big challenge here, Jan, is the equation of keeping on delivering growth within the economy, with considering environment and diversity—or let's call it ESG for now—and I think that it's feasible, Jan. And on the climate front, I do believe that we need to accelerate our investment in the cleantech sector. We’re one of the major investors in the cleantech, BDC Capital, we need to ramp up and keep on investing in that sector, so that we build a robust and leading cleantech sector in Canada. I remember in France, often we were mentioned, the Canadian cleantech sector, as one to be inspired with, so we need to keep on investing, and speeding up the investment in that sector, and that is up to BDC Capital. Now, how can we help SMEs to keep on acting, or continue to act on the climate front, so all SMEs can contribute to the big goal of 2030, and 2050. Jan, there's a data that we need to keep in mind: 40% of gas emission in Canada, are related to SMEs activities. So, how can be the BDC be a player, and why not a leader, to help SMEs decrease their footprint. I do think that we will need to play on two levels. First, we will need to keep on educating, and bring a knowledge-based SMEs ecosystem on what's the reality, what they can change, and I do think also, we will need to bring financial solutions and tools for those entrepreneurs to do what they need to do to, keep a top employer brand, to be a brand for clients that they're proud to buy from, and, at the same time, keep them highly performant so that they can continue growing, and why not exporting, Jan.

Jan De Silva
No, absolutely. I was going to just say, we just announced a new board chair at the Toronto Regional Board of Trade, it’s Yung Wu, who's also the CEO by day of MaRS Discovery District. And they've got an incredible program of climate champions where they've identified innovators that are scaling—these are not ideas, these are proven—and they're scaling, and working with businesses to help address the climate economy. So, it would be very interesting to think about, how does that program get extended out into SMEs? Because as you said, just like digital, it is kind of the price of admission for your workforce, and for many markets globally, as we move through recovery coming out of this.

Isabelle Hudon
While you just mentioned, the good thing also is that BDC Capital is a key investor in the cleantech sector. And so, we're capable of seeing what our dreamers and doers, entrepreneurs in that sphere, are capable of doing and bringing to the market, so other SMEs can use those technology to get there, to get them through the climate transition. So, there's a lot that we can do better, but on that front, Jan, I think that all my colleagues here at BDC will agree, that there's also way much more we need to do.

Jan De Silva
Yeah, and you spoke about the reflection in France about Canada. You know, what our audience today may not appreciate, Isabelle, is that Canada is a powerhouse in climate economy innovation. We—I hate the expression, it's so Canadian—we punch above our weight. We don’t. We've got incredible capabilities here, that are outperforming on a world scale. Out of the top 100 cleantech companies in the world, I think more than 20 are Canadian; so, very strong platform to work from. So, it'll be great, as more of us create this ecosystem, to push forward, and it's tremendous to have you, and an organization like BDC, that's going to be there to help the SMEs through this transition. So, that's terrific. I wanted to just continue on this. I mean, we saw last October, Canada's six largest banks joining the former Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney's Net-Zero Banking Alliance. So, how do these sustainability considerations you've been talking about, actually materialize through BDCs three primary tools, being financing advisory, services and capital. Can you share a bit more?

Isabelle Hudon
It's totally aligned; and that doesn't create the negative pressure on the organization. I do feel sometimes, that people are just a little bit uncomfortable when a bank will, when a financial institution will talk in favour of the climate transition. The good thing is, it doesn't pause anyone, or anything, within BDC. And also, it's our role of—back to the D of BDC—it is our role to see how we can support better, and more entrepreneurs, within that transition. And not on the climate front, but also, on the DEI element. So, um, but it needs to be our top priority.

First of all, Jan, as an organization, we need to set goals. We need to disclose those goals, we need to report on those goals, and we need to do always more and more as an organization, with all employees—as you know, we're across Canada. So, as an organization we need to do more, and we need to keep this as a top priority in everything we do, with and for clients, and future clients. And even if it means, Jan, to raise this in every business conversation we have, and maybe to reach different level of success with different clients. I think that there's different ways that we can reach success on that front, but one thing is sure, is that we need to keep the conversation going, so that real actions are being taken by us, BDC, but also by all entrepreneurs, at the level that they can do. Like, it's not to force anything on anyone, but back to my point, Jan, I think that it will be impossible for any brand in Canada to keep on being successful, if they don't show actions in favour of climate, and in favour of diversity.


Jan De Silva
Well, Isabelle, we've got some questions coming in for the audience, and I'm going to pull the one that's continuing along this theme. And Jeff Passmore is asking, Canada needs to pursue a low-carbon economy faster. For many, including the EU and the US, a sustainable, bio-based economy, is part of that future. Is there a role for BDC in this revolutionary space?

Isabelle Hudon
Well, my short answer is yes. My longer answer is, there's a role for us through advisory services, there's a role for us bringing to the market, maybe some financing solution that would be addressing this specific topic, and there's also a huge role for BDC Capital, to keep on investing in the cleantech sector. We've invested to this day, a little bit more than a billion in the cleantech sector. Honestly, we need to do more, and accelerate our investments into that space, because as you said, Jan, more and more, our cleantech sector will be a vibrant sector. And it's already a vibrant sector, but it does evolve rapidly. We need to keep on being a leader in that sector, and more and more that sector will grow. More and more we will be capable of bringing to the market for SMEs, some solutions helping those entrepreneurs to act in favour of climate.

Jan De Silva
Next question from the audience related to another question I was going to ask you—and this is something I know you're personally very, very passionate about, which is diversity inclusion. So, the pandemic has clearly had a negative impact here. We see, you know, the pressure for women having to cope with childcare and school closures, and that's forcing a lot of the workforce drop out. It's harder for international students and talent to come to Canada and contribute to the economy. So, the question I wanted to ask you is, what do you think BDC’s greatest contribution can be when it comes to creating an economy that's diverse, inclusive, and highly competitive? And after your answer, I'm going to flip to a question from the audience that would be a follow up. So, very easy, because this is what you live and breathe this area.

Isabelle Hudon
I think that I would have an answer that would last at least half an hour. But well, there's many actions and many fronts where we can act. First of all, we need to serve better and more female entrepreneur. We're already into that space, we have now invested billions in that sphere—but that ain't enough. So, we need to keep on investing in female entrepreneurs. We also need to keep the conversation going on the BDC Capital front, by asking questions to funds and companies where we do invest, on raising this topic as a top priority, and making sure that it's well understood by everyone, that everyone needs to act in favour of diversity and inclusion. Another comment—and I think that when we chat in 2020, we talked about this—as much as I was worried, in 2020, to see women excluding themselves from the economy, because the burden was too much during the first year, it was heavy on their shoulders, and way much more than it was and is still on men, I was pretty proud to see that many women raised their hands to be forefront, and visible, and heard through that crisis, like on Canadian TV. And it was the same in Europe, way much more leaders taking actions to manage the crisis were female. Because you know what, Jan? It was not about the top line, it was not a crisis about bottom line, it was not a crisis about the EBITDA, it was a crisis, irst and foremost, on people and for the human being. And it was a call for us—we're just a little bit more sensitive to this women than men—it doesn't make us better or worse, but it's a trigger that is way much more performant with us, women. And we were there, we were visible, and heard through the crisis. And still, again, when we look at specialists, doctors, researchers, they’re way much more, the percentage of leaders that we see on TV, is way much higher on the female side than on all other topics. I remember also, seeing a headline, reading a headline, that woman-led countries were doing better with the pandemic than the others, and I'm like, “oh, is that really true?” And I did then dig into, again, the OECD data, just to see, Jan, that it was not necessarily because the President or the Prime Minister was a she, that the country was doing better, but because when a woman leads, usually she has a way much more diverse team around her, that usually a diverse team will take better, and more sustainable decisions. So, it's one of my passions. I think that, if I was worried in 2020, to see woman excluding themselves from influence roles and from leadership roles, I don't, I'm not as worried as I wasn't 2020 Because there is no way out for organizations to reinvent themselves. They know now that they have to do differently than prior to 2019, and women are being called to the table with men, to think differently. And colleagues, men and female will reshape the economy, and reshape organizations in a different way.

Jan De Silva
Now, Isabelle, let's stay on that, because Carol, from the audience, you know, clearly you've identified some ways that BDC can play that role, and asking the questions of your investment companies, and ecosystem partners you deal with, what Carol's asking is, what advice do you have for organizations on how they best deploy this, how they best start to make this real?

Isabelle Hudon
So, first of all, it needs to start from the top. It needs to owned by senior leadership, and I'll say the number one, the CEO, president, or the leader of the organization. It needs to be discussed on a daily basis. We need to become way much more comfortable at setting goals, because in my book, what gets measured, gets done. So, we need to become as comfortable as disclosing goals, as we are at saying, “next year, we will deliver three billion in sales.” You know, Jan, in our reality, we are very proud to set high goals, high financial goals for our organization. Well, we need to get to that level with setting goals around diversity, inclusion, and equity—and I'll come back to why I use those three key letters—and then we need to report on those on those goals. And if we don't meet all those goals, then we need to dig into what do we need to change. Because obviously, we have some ways of doing things that are backdated from 15, 20, 30, 50 years ago, that we just replicate year after year, and it doesn't deliver what we need to deliver on bringing more diversity around the table. So, by, one, leadership, it needs to be owned by the top. It needs to be an ongoing conversation. We need to set visible goals and report on those goals. And we need also, to make a difference between diversity, inclusion, and equity. Equity is about giving half of the population, being women, the same rights, the same opportunities, this same challenges, then the other half have the right to have, being men. Diversity is about giving a louder voice, a louder share of voice, and visibility, than the minority they do represent. We need to be way much more open to this, and again, from an employer perspective, and from a brand perspective, not acting on that front, will make our organizations less performant.

Jan De Silva
And I, you know, what we speak about quite often, in our part of Canada, and particularly Toronto, which is has such high diversity is it's a huge strength for us. I mean, you know, we describe our city as the world in a city, and the ability for businesses from all over the world to be able to tap into that access, that culture, that know-how, huge benefits to us. So, you know, I could not agree more with everything you’ve just said.

Isabelle Hudon
I think, Jan, the key here, is to find the right tone, and the right manner, to bring the conversation to the table, and to keep the conversation going. No one owns the truth here. And it's better to try and to get the half success, than not to try, and be afraid, or avoiding trying new way of doing things. I think that as soon as you try, and you bring diversity around the table, everyone will—it will be challenging, but it does create opportunities, and it does bring some additional perspectives to a conversation that is often very interesting, and brings new ideas.

Jan De Silva
Well, and you know, I have to give a shout out. One of the other pieces of good news that has happened through the pandemic is, here, the Province of Ontario is putting in place legislation to try to break down barriers for our newcomers, talented newcomers who come from other jurisdictions with degrees, with experiences, that just haven't been recognized, and so they're finding themselves in jobs that are just not connected to the skills that they're bringing into the country. And more recently, through the latest variants that we've been dealing with, there's been a fast track of recognizing nurses with credentials from other jurisdictions. How do we avoid having to go through multiple years of school here in Canada to recertify? How do we find a way of fast-tracking the men, when we desperately need the talent. So, that I think will also go a long way, but then it's up to the employers to make sure those opportunities are available.

Isabelle Hudon
While you're touching on the point, and I'm pretty sure that we have one question coming on this topic, so why don't I pre-empt and talk about this, but, labour shortages? It's one, when we do survey our clients—and we don't need to survey our clients to know about this, because we read in the media every day about this—our client will confirm every time we go to them, that labour shortages is probably their top priority or not necessarily priority, but probably their top challenge. There's different elements here to better understand why we are where we are talent-wise in Canada. First of all, we're huge country, but our population is quite small, like 40 million of a population is half of what France is, and so—not that I want to compare every time Canada and France, but I came to realize this living in France for the past four years—we're getting older, Jan, not only you and I....

Jan De Silva
Oh, we’re not getting older—it’s the other folks out there.

Isabelle Hudon
Okay, we're gaining wisdom. But we're getting older as a population, because we don't make enough babies in Canada. It's a reality. But one—and Baby Boomers through the pandemic has decided to probably be for retirement sooner than later. But also, one of the key factors is immigration, Jan. It's part of our social and business model to welcome, on a yearly basis, more than 400,000 immigrants, and mainly for economic reason, while over the last two years, we did not welcome those immigrants. So, there's a lack in our population of between 600,000 to 800,000 newcomers that have not came to Canada, because of the reasons we know. And we're so popular as a destination, and not only as a tourism destination, but as a place where it's not only fun, but easy to live in Canada. So, there are some data showing that we're back on track with welcoming immigrants across Canada, but we're not yet there at the level of where we were pre-2019. And the 800,000 immigrants and newcomers that we have not welcomed over the last two years, we will not gain back those newcomers overnight. It's huge numbers. So, labour shortages, will stay a huge challenge for all of us. And 20 years ago, I was President and CEO of the Montreal Board of Trade, and I would remember that I would not have been permitted to say what I will say right now. But it's really time to think about how technology can take over, not people, but tasks in organizations. Twenty years ago, like unemployment rate was very high. so we were not allowed to say that without losing our job as a president of a board of trade, but now we can, and we need to keep on having the conversation with entrepreneurs, that digital and technology should be included into business processes to take over tasks, not people but tasks.

Jan De Silva
No, exactly, to augment eldercare, and things like that, technologies that can support the people that are continuing to. I've got two more questions for you as well—and I hate this, because I would love to keep going here—here's a good one, and anon may not know that, you know, this is a this is a passion point for us at the board. The question here is, how do we get more Canadians to buy Canadian? We often have to export, but don't support our own. And I'm going to ask you to talk about this from a couple of perspectives. Number one, neither you or I are politicians, so, interprovincial trade barriers, and the other piece of this is sustainability. How much do we really need to be importing, versus reflecting should we be producing domestically now, because of the climate impact of shipping? So, the whole question that has innocently be asked you about how do we get more Canadians to buy Canadian?

Isabelle Hudon
Well, while the universe sent us a huge challenge, and that challenge being COVID-19, I think that we were faced with some realities that we needed to accept, and maybe realities that we did not want to see, that we did not want to understand, and that were not part of our daily reality. But COVID-19 brought, around the globe, the fact that buying local should be the way going forward. Only because we want to support—and not only, but in 2020, like the buying locals started to say, well, we will buy local to help our entrepreneurs, because it's tough for them. And then it became more and more than only that, to realize that rebuilding better the economy, is also bringing more autonomy to our economy, so that we are capable of producing what we need. Not necessarily 100%, like I would not fall into the camp of thinking that Canada can produce 100% of everything we need as a country, I think that we need to recognize the value of international trade, and we need to stay in on that path, but we need to rebuild some sectors, so that we gain back some autonomy, and the buying local should also stay a top priority for communities. First of all, because it will keep on helping our local entrepreneurs. It will strengthen, also, the local economies that we have across the country, and at the end of the day, it will make Canada a stronger country. And it's part of rebuilding better, in a more inclusive way.

Jan De Silva
Absolutely. So, our last question—and I do apologize to those in the audience, we had a couple more that we weren't able to get to—but I think this is a perfect question to end on. This is about BDC’s role in creating an export market for Canadian entrepreneurs. Can you talk about that role, and how much success you're having?

Isabelle Hudon
Did you pick that question, Jan?

Jan De Silva
I didn't send it in, somebody else did—truly, Isabelle.

Isabelle Hudon
Well, first of all, to all of you watching and listening, and Jan heard me before saying this, I'm a true believer that every entrepreneur needs to think about export as a means to grow and to develop. Maybe to conclude that it's not the right timing, maybe to conclude that one market but not the other market, but we need to keep on pushing on entrepreneurs to integrate export into their growth plan. We do good and better. And EDC is also part of the mix here, whereby EDC will help medium- and larger-sized companies to export, and support them through their export plan. We do good with advisory services, to make sure that we push that thinking into small- and medium-sized company. First of all, it can be scary when you don't know what it means, it can be scary when you don't know a market, while our specialists bring to the table, many answers to tough questions. And when they have a plan in hand, it's much easier for entrepreneurs to say, “well, why don't I start? Why don't I try one market with few of my products, and see how it goes?” But one thing is sure, that's another positive collateral effect of the pandemic: we're all now buying online, local or not. So, I think that it should be on everyone's desk to think about, well, digital and exploitation will go way much more close one to the other one. So, while you're bringing digital into your organization, keep in mind that you're also opening many doors for export.

Jan De Silva
Oh, absolutely. C’est dommage, unfortunately, that's all the time we have with Isabelle today. Isabelle, look, let me say I fully embrace your theme of revolution over evolution. Evolution is far too passive, and you've got too much great ambition for our SMEs, so I love the idea that, let's really shake things up and be purposeful, in terms of pushing forward as strongly as we can, best foot forward, biggest foot forward on behalf of SMEs. So, thank you, to you and your team at BDC for everything you're doing, and for your incredibly inspiring leadership, always. Thank you so much to the Empire Club for inviting both Isabelle and me to have this conversation. Kelly, I think I'm at time. So, with that I'll turn things back to you. Merci. Thank you.

Kelly Jackson
Thanks, Jan. And thanks to Isabelle as well. That was a great conversation, and I imagine there were many questions coming in that we couldn't get to today, but just shows sort of the importance of the topic, and how much interest there is in talking really about the role that SMEs play, and how we can position our SME sector to continue to grow and thrive, and at the same time, to really move forward and push forward in the realms of equity, diversity, inclusion and sustainability. I'd like to take the opportunity now to welcome Martin Denyes, and Éric Bédard from Fasken. To deliver some appreciation remarks, Martin is the Managing Partner of the Ontario Region, and Éric is the Managing Partner of the Québec Region. Éric and Martin, welcome.

Note of Appreciation by Éric Bédard, Managing Partner, Québec Region, Fasken
Thank you, Kelly. Merci beaucoup Isabelle pour tes mots très inspirants et révolutionnaires. To paraphrase a famous author, it inspired us not only to say what I saw at the revolution, but I was part of the revolution actually. So, over to you, Martin.

Note of Appreciation by Martin Denyes, Managing Partner, Ontario Region, Fasken
Thank you Éric, and, thank you, Isabelle, and thank you, Jan, for such a great, and wide-ranging conversation. I think, like most of us in the audience, we at Fasken spent a lot of time at the beginning of the pandemic, trying to figure it out trying to identify how the world would change, and what it meant for Canadian business. And right at the top of our list, was a realization that government actors, government funding was going to come a much larger factor, a backstop to more economic activity, for far more parties than any of us, any of our clients, had ever experienced in our lives. We said it very early, government is going to be a party to so many more transactions in the months and years to come. How would that happen? How would it unfold? It would, in fact happen in a lot of ways. It has been incredibly interesting to watch the complexity of it, from tax policy, to interest rates, to wage subsidies, to the likes of BDC providing the patient capital that it takes to support Canadian business. You can see it happening in real-time over the last two years, but the details of it, the implementation, has been a massive endeavour, and ever to this point, and BDC at the forefront for many businesses across the country, and a position of incredible influence for years to come. Ms. Hudon, your comments today are inspiring and comforting. It's good to know that we have people like you, with your experience, with your passion, with your eyes on the horizon. You've taken on a big responsibility, at a time when more businesses than ever are impacted by and rely on public institutions like BDC. It's an opportunity, a time like no other, really, to influence and drive an agenda. It's an opportunity to help build a more virtuous, and a more equitable, and a more inclusive economy. Thank you, on behalf of everyone who's joined us today. We at Fasken, and no doubt many others, are watching your progress, and doing our best to anticipate what comes next. And looking forward to your continuing success. And with that, I will hand things back to Kelly.

Concluding Remarks by Kelly Jackson
Thank you. And a big thank you to Fasken, and all of our sponsors for their support. Thanks, as well to our guests, and everyone joining us today, or watching later on-demand. Our next virtual event is Tuesday, February 8th, at 5pm Eastern Time. Please join us for a “Psychedelics 101,” discussion, with industry leaders who are at the forefront of the exploration. More details, and complimentary registration are available at empireclubofcanada.com. This meeting is now adjourned. I wish you a great afternoon. Stay safe and take care.

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