This year represented the twentieth edition of the Conference of Montreal, organized by the International Economic Forum of the Americas. Much like the Davos World Economic Conference held in Switzerland, the Conference of Montreal has become a “go-to” conference. The brain child of founder Gil Rémillard, it provides an opportunity for economic and political actors to discuss, debate and initiate policies and ideas designed to meet the economic challenges of tomorrow. It also sets economic trends and provides a forum for forward thinking.
This year, among numerous speakers and over 3,000 attendees, the conference hosted several featured guests, including International Monetary Fund director general Christine Lagarde, former Obama and Clinton economic advisor Lawrence Summers, and the secretary general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Ángel Gurría.
The conference’s theme this year focused on dealing with what organizers call the “next era of growth.” With the Great Recession behind us, there remain concerns about whether the right conditions exist for sustained global growth. It is clear that the financial crisis of 2008-2009 left its scars, and growth patterns remain inconsistent in both developed and emerging economies.
A mix of optimism and caution surrounded the main subsets of the conference—free trade, energy diversification, environmental concerns, regulation, international mobility, natural resource development, productivity, and innovation. Included in the discussion was the OECD’s annual report, presented by Secretary General Gurría, which spoke positively about Canada’s growth and its management of the Great Recession. The Canadian financial system responded well to the Great Recession: jobs levels are superior to pre-Great Recession levels and resource development remains a mainstay for future growth. Economic growth in Canada is projected to be 2.5 percent in 2014 and 2.7 percent in 2015.
However, there was a veiled criticism of the Canadian government and its environmental policies. Both Gurría and Lagarde cautioned the Canadian government to remain vigilant about its environmental responsibilities, such as carbon emissions. The OECD Secretary General made news with his support of Keystone XL, an oil pipeline between Canada and the U.S., arguing in favor of integrating resources and markets. Still, he emphasized that this support cannot be made at the detriment of the environment.
Another highlight was the thrust for greater efforts for a more integrated Atlantic trading system in light of the European Union-Canada Trade Agreement. This is seen to be a starting point towards a more comprehensive approach that would include the U.S. and Mexico. Here again, the environment was a central part of the discussion.
The Montreal Conference was well-attended by Canadian policymakers and leading politicians, which augurs well for its importance and impact in the years ahead. It is obvious that the next era of growth will require greater dialogue and sustainable efforts at developing new approaches and new markets. Diversity, mobility and innovation will be the prerequisites for success. The consensus was that concern for the environment will be the dominant issue in future conferences, and in this regard, the Montreal Conference achieved its goals and showed that the “Davos” spirit is now very much a part of the Americas.