A post-pandemic policy agenda for rural and smaller Canadian communities

Many of us know someone who, at the height of the pandemic, picked up and moved from an urban centre to a smaller, more rural Canadian community. Though small and rural communities face unique challenges across this country, we know one thing: inclusive and sustainable growth principles are becoming foundational to economic decision-making across the country. We need systems that create opportunities for all, regardless of the size of community each one of us chooses to call home.

With this in mind, Canada 2020 has undertaken a one-year project of research and convening to identify what we can learn from global and local efforts to build wealth and well-being in these small and rural communities. Led by Canada 2020 Senior Fellow Matthew Mendelsohn and with key support from TELUS, we’re thrilled to share the results of this project, intended to sketch out a practical policy agenda that can be implemented in the next three years.

“The twin transitions taking place across societies – towards net-zero and digital – will be at the heart of rural and community economic development in Canada over the next decade,” writes Mendelsohn. “Canada should expect and plan for growth, and policy-makers should design and deliver programs in ways that invest in the quality of life and unique assets of smaller communities.”

Canada has the opportunity to implement an ambitious new policy agenda for rural and smaller communities that plans for this transition, and for long-term growth. 

From this research, a four-pillared agenda can guide our path forward:

  1. Aggressively adopt legislative, regulatory and reporting frameworks to direct more capital into local communities, even when the short-term business case isn’t there.
  1. Build the connective tissue necessary for well-being, with a focus on policies that build digital infrastructure and subsidise transportation, and use new tools to build and repurpose social and economic infrastructure for community and entrepreneurial purposes.
  1. Embed reconciliation into rural development strategies, with a focus on capital, Indigenous ownership, and self-government.
  1. Invest in the capacity of local communities and devolve resources and power so that communities can invest in their own assets and make allocation decisions that they think align with their vision for the future of their communities.

There are innumerable reasons this policy agenda should be of highest priority. Not only are reconciliation, climate change, and economic growth amongst the most important issues to many Canadians, but as this report points out, uneven growth – often exploited by malicious and anti-democratic actors – is destabilising.

"This new report is an opportunity to learn from local stakeholders and experts on how to improve the quality of life in our smaller communities,” said Minister Gudie Hutchings. “I’m glad to see the need for digital infrastructure in rural areas was highlighted. We are well on our way to reach our goal to connect 98% of Canadians to affordable and reliable high speed Internet by 2026 and all Canadians by 2030. Investments in connectivity creates jobs, enhances safety, and keeps folks connected to their loved ones.“

The most important challenges we face manifest themselves differently in rural and urban communities, and so our policy responses must privilege place, community, and local assets. A high quality of life in communities of all sizes must remain our guiding principle as we look ahead to Canada’s future.

Summary: The Indigenous-led Economy (2022)

Take-aways from our 2022 Economic Reconciliation Summit

Action toward reconciliation is essential to the shared future of all inhabitants of this land. This can, and must, include closing the gap in investment, infrastructure, and ultimately, quality of life between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians. The project of reconciliation has to include a deeper understanding of the economic inequality faced by Indigenous communities across Canada, the people and projects that are working toward closing the gap, and the opportunities this shift can foster for the Canadian economy.

On May 17, 2022, Canada 2020 hosted a day of conversation spotlighting the Indigenous-led Economy. Our first in-person gathering in over two years, this event brought Indigenous leaders and innovators together from across the country to take a close look at economic development in their communities, what’s working, and where we can all do better. You can find the full event agenda here, and hear the keynote conversation between Minister of Crown Indigenous Relations Marc Miller, Director of Economic Policy at the First Nations Major Projects Coalition Mark Podlasly, and Partner and National Leader of Indigenous Law at BLG Cherie Brant.

Minister of Crown Indigenous Relations Marc Miller delivering a keynote at the Economic Reconciliation Summit in Ottawa, May 2022.

There was lots to learn from this conversation. The headline? We are falling short on economic reconciliation if we’re only talking about money and profit. This is a conversation about being able to take pride in a quality of life. And in the words of Yukon MPP and Minister of Education Jeanie McLean: “Indigenous people are ready. We are ready. And Canada can only be stronger with Indigenous people taking their rightful place.”

So what does this mean for those looking to take action? Here’s what we heard:

  1. “Inclusion is not just the right thing, it’s the only thing,” Mark Podlasly reminds us. And as we heard time and time again, there’s more to inclusion than just having a seat at the table. Our goals shouldn’t just be limited to representing diversity, but building a culture of belonging, and a robust strategy of engagement. Projects involving Indigenous people, livelihoods, and land (that is, all land) need to involve Indigenous people from the very beginning. As Haisla Chief Crystal Smith puts it, “we just want a share and a say.”
  1. Beyond the engagement gap, there’s a serious finance gap. This includes a major disparity in wealth, in infrastructure, in investment, and in access to capital. Hillary Thatcher from the Canadian Infrastructure Bank knows just how to help address this: low-cost debt that is accessible and affordable, like the $1 billion in Indigenous investment that’s been committed by the federal government over the next two years. Often, this capital is inaccessible due to high premiums. “This is a barrier right now,” says Hillary. “The access to capital for Indigenous communities to own major projects in this country is significant. It’s difficult for communities to get affordable capital, to buy equity into projects. This demand is loud and clear.” Further to that, Indigenous-led projects and organisations should be prioritised when tax incentives, grants, and public funding are on the table.
  1. Whether you think of it as capacity building, or the Seventh Generation Principle: economic development is all about the long view. This means legacy planning in organisations, educating and training each new generation of workers (from executives to labourers, and everyone in between), and, like FHQ Development’s CEO Thomas Benjoe, knowing that sustainable projects take time to deliver dividends. But when they do, we all know that the projects have been set up for longevity, and the benefit of generations to come. This builds resilience and strength for the whole economy.
  1. All of these ideas feed into a simple, but revolutionary idea: we need to establish an Indigenous corporate culture. Margaret Kenequanash, Thomas Benjoe, and many others are leading by example in fostering a system that respects traditional protocols and customs – including ceremonies, blessings, and land use protocols – alongside government compliance requirements. They’re also building organisations that prioritise Indigenous ownership, governance, procurement policies, and more. There’s no reason this should not be the norm across all Canadian organisations, and we were reminded by all of our speakers: all non-Indigenous partners in projects should be doing their due diligence to this end.
  2. “Pay for success,” says Jeanie McLean. “We put a lot of money into systems that don’t work. But we struggle to pay for success. We struggle to pay for the initiatives that really change the lives of our people.” All of us need to be open to new solutions, complement one another’s strengths, and recognize the value everyone brings to the table: from culture, to communication, to guiding principles. In the words of Maragret Kenequanash, “People say it’s too hard to work nation-to-nation? I don’t buy it.” Instead, we can choose to invest in what works for everyone, not the old systems and structures that have left Indigenous communities behind.

Want more to explore more conversations on reconciliation? Check out the 2020 Network podcast Everyday Reconciliation, hosted by Elin Miller, as well as other events in our economic reconciliations series: Getting to Net Zero and The Workforce of the Future.

Tabatha Bull, Chief Crystal Smith, Hillary Thatcher, and Jeanie McLean at the Economic Reconciliation Summit in Ottawa, May 2022.

Mark Carney to Chair new Canada 2020 Advisory Board

OTTAWA – Canada 2020 has announced today that Mark Carney, United Nations Special Envoy for Climate Change and Finance, and former Governor of the Bank of Canada and the Bank of England, will serve as Chair of Canada 2020’s new Advisory Board – to be focused on ambitious progressive public policy solutions as Canada looks ahead from the pandemic.

“Few leaders have made such a positive and extensive contribution to the shaping of public policy in Canada and internationally as Mark Carney,” said Anna Gainey, Executive Chair of Canada 2020. “Building and working with a new world-class Canada 2020 Advisory Board, our team is looking forward to the many ways that Mark’s unique insights and experience will help ensure that Canada’s progressive community can continue to lead with real solutions to our most pressing shared challenges and opportunities.”

The new Canada 2020 Advisory Board will bring together a cross-section of leaders to help generate the ideas and infrastructure needed for Canada to confront the intersecting challenges facing today’s world, and start new conversations about Canadian progressive public policy priorities.

“With our world beset by a series of profound shocks, it’s time to come together and harness the power of markets to serve all Canadians – so that value serves our values,” said Carney. “Canada 2020 will play a central role in how we shape that better future for all, and I can’t wait to be part of the big conversations about the changes we need to grow together.”

Born in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, and raised in Edmonton, Alberta, Carney is a globally-recognized Canadian economist, public policy leader, sustainability advocate, and author. He serves as the United Nations Special Envoy for Climate Change and Finance, Vice Chair of Brookfield Asset Management and Head of Transition Investing, and previously served as Governor of the Bank of Canada and Governor of the Bank of England.

“Canada 2020 has long been a robust engine for bold policy solutions both within Canada and with progressives far beyond its borders,” said Matt Browne, founder of Global Progress and Canada 2020 Board member. “Mark Carney’s leadership and the international reach of his expertise will accelerate Canada 2020’s work to help generate real solutions to today’s most urgent challenges, and a hopeful new progressive vision for our future.”

Founded in 2006, Canada 2020 produces original research, hosts wide-ranging events, and starts meaningful conversations about Canada’s direction. An active member of the Global Progress network, Canada 2020’s goal is to build a community of progressive ideas and people that will move and shape governments.

“Mark Carney has been on the front lines of how Canada and the world have responded to several of the most defining challenges that this century has seen so far,” said Braeden Caley, Executive Director of Canada 2020. “Mark’s leadership and guidance as Chair of our new Advisory Board will form a strong foundation for the next chapter in Canada 2020’s work to shape a better, fairer, and greener future.”

Canada 2020 welcomes Braeden Caley as new Executive Director

As we start spring and look forward to hopefully seeing much more of each other in the months ahead, it’s also a time of important new beginnings at Canada 2020.

Canada 2020 has announced today that Braeden Caley has been appointed as Canada 2020’s new Executive Director, and will formally join our team in early May. 

“Braeden brings a wealth of experience in the making and shaping of progressive public policy, and a proven capacity for mobilizing innovative and inclusive teams to help build a better Canada,” said Anna Gainey, Executive Chair of Canada 2020. “We’re all looking forward to soon having his leadership at work to help ensure Canada 2020 can keep building Canada’s leading community of progressive ideas.”

For over sixteen years, Braeden has advised a variety of progressive political leaders in government and served in leading roles on their campaigns. Born and raised in Richmond, BC, that work has included serving as Director of Policy and Communications for former Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, as Senior Director, Communications for the Liberal Party of Canada and in key roles on Justin Trudeau’s federal election campaigns in 2015, 2019, and 2021, and advising a number of senior federal Parliamentarians. 

“With no shortage of challenges this year on priorities like climate action, strengthening democracy, and securing economic growth that leaves no one behind, Canada 2020 has a vital role to play in mobilizing essential and emerging public policy to help build a better future,” said Matt Browne, founder of Global Progress and Canada 2020 Board member. “Braeden’s leadership as Executive Director will help ensure Canada 2020 can continue to make a vital impact on shaping public policy both within Canada and with progressives worldwide.”

Founded in 2006, Canada 2020 produces original research, hosts wide-ranging events, and starts meaningful conversations about Canada’s future. An active member of the Global Progress network, Canada 2020’s goal is to build a community of progressive ideas and people that will move and shape governments.

“Canada 2020 has long been at the heart of our country’s progressive conversation and policy outlook,” said Braeden Caley, incoming Executive Director. “With impactful events, research, and dialogue, it has been a focal point for forward-looking perspectives to help build a better, fairer, cleaner, and more prosperous future for Canadians and the world – and I’m looking forward to joining its team to help build the next steps in that important work.”

Canada 2020 is also looking forward to hosting our first in-person event in two years on May 17th in Ottawa, focused on The Indigenous-led Economy. We’re excited to feature Indigenous leaders reflecting on the importance of economic reconciliation to their communities, and showcasing specific projects that demonstrate the unquestionable value of Indigenous leadership, stewardship, and innovation.  Joining us will be the Hon. Marc Miller, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, Mark Podlasly, Director of Economic Policy at the First Nations Major Projects Coalition, and many more.

Canada 2020 Post-COP26 Discussion Series

In November 2021, world leaders came together in Glasgow for the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties. With the existential threat that climate change poses to communities across the globe, it’s never been more urgent to work toward goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. 

In the wake of COP26, the team at Canada 2020 convened a four-part discussion series, bringing together leaders from across sectors who are looking at our next steps on climate. You can read about each event, or listen to all four discussions, below.

Here are our top 5 take-aways:

  1. To create the change necessary in fighting climate change, each of us has to start small – with conversations. Katharine Hayhoe warns us that solution aversion is the primary barrier to climate advocacy. The next time you have dinner with your climate change-denying uncle, try starting the conversation from a place of commonality: what’s happening in your shared community, pointing to visible, real-world impact, and talking about why it matters in the here and now. Loading up on scary facts and then dumping them on people in conversation just doesn’t work. 
  1. Starting small works! Beginning with small changes makes each of us more attuned to the potential for larger, more systemic changes, like voting for climate advocates and supporting more sustainable companies. We can’t forget that systems are made of people, so we all have a role in catalysing systemic change.
  1. Even when we’re starting small, we need to remember that climate change has big impacts. In the coming century, over a billion people will need to be re-settled around the globe because of environmental damage caused by the climate crisis. Parag Khanna has some good news: a lot of the world is already made up of mass-migration societies, including – you guessed it – North America. Canada has the opportunity to lead the world on re-settling climate migrants (for which there is no current legal definition, but the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers is trying to change that). Canada has geography on our side, migration is in our economic best interest, and we have a moral obligation to step up.
  1. Migration policy is not all that Canada has the chance to become a world leader in: the shift to net zero is a whole-country transition that will take concerted policy support, and as Mark Carney reminds us, there’s still a gap between ambition and policy when it comes to keeping global warming to 1.5°C. We can close these gaps with progressive regulation, and mobilize the capital necessary to build the resilient, sustainable infrastructure we need. Leading the green transition will create jobs in Canada, make our industries (like auto, tech, and manufacturing) competitive, and give people the skills they need for the new economy.
  1. All of our speakers agree: we cannot underestimate the value of our planet’s natural systems in managing the climate crisis. According to our friends at WWF-Canada, we’ve got yet another huge advantage here in Canada: a massive carbon reserve in the form of natural ecosystems from coast to coast to coast, totalling an estimated 384 billion tonnes. With 30% of atmospheric carbon coming from ecosystem destruction, this vast carbon sink must remain intact if we’re going to manage warming on this planet, let alone preserve landscape and essential biodiversity across the country.

Revisit the conversations of Canada 2020’s post-COP26 discussion series:

Reflecting on COP26: What’s next? 

Date: November 16, 2021

In the wake of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties, what does the fight for climate justice look like? In the first of our four-part post-COP26 series, former Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna, and climate scientist and author Katharine Hayhoe talk about the outcomes of COP26, the future of climate advocacy, and Hayhoe’s new book, Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World.

Reflecting on COP26: The climate migration crisis

Date: November 23, 2021

In part two of Canada 2020’s post-COP26 series, Parag Khanna (Founder & Managing Partner of FutureMap, and international bestselling author of the new book MOVE: The Forces Uprooting Us), Warda Shazadi Meighen (Partner at Landings LLP and co-chair of the climate migration working group at the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers) speak with Kate Hammer (Director of Government Relations at Vancity) about the global climate migration crisis, Canada’s responsibility as a member of the international community, the demographic changes we should expect in the face of the climate emergency, and why the time to act is now.

Listen here.

Reflecting on COP26: Understanding the Net-Zero Economy

Date: December 15, 2021

In part three of our post- COP26 series, economist and UN Special Envoy on Climate Action and Finance Mark Carney, and Vancity CEO Christine Bergeron talk about reframing the political and economic narrative of climate advocacy, and the challenges of moving towards a net-zero economy. What opportunities exist in the aftermath of COP26? What role must the private sector play in this transition? And what can individuals, organizations, and governments do to champion progress towards essential climate action?

Listen here.

Reflecting on COP26: Understanding Canada’s Carbon Stores

Date: December 16, 2021

In this final installment of Canada 2020’s post-COP26 conversation series, WWF-Canada’s President and CEO, Megan Leslie, and Vice-President of Science, Knowledge and Innovation, James Snider talk about Canada’s first-ever national carbon ecosystem map, the enormous amounts of carbon stored in terrestrial ecosystems throughout our country, and the essential part carbon storage can play in fighting climate change.

Listen here.

No Second Chances: New Zealand

This week on No Second Chances, we’re taking a look at a country led by one of the most well-known, and respected, female leaders out there. Welcome to New Zealand. Host Kate Graham explores lush landscapes and progressive politics with American-born New Zealand politician Julie Anne Genter, and High Commissioner to Australia, Dame Annette King, in the hopes of understanding how the country has managed to elect not one, not two, but three female prime ministers.

No Second Chances: Chile

To see modern democracy in action, look no further than Chile. This week on No Second Chances, we’ve landed in South America. Host Kate Graham talks to Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Western University, Dr. Verónica Schild, as well as former President, and current United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet about Chilean politics, the country’s progressive new government, and its roots in a strong feminist movement.

We’re hiring: Communications Lead

Are you passionate about progressive policy in Canada? Eager to flex your creative communications skills as part of an exciting national organization? Savvy with digital marketing, media relations, and data-informed decision-making? Apply to be Canada 2020’s Communications Lead! This part-time position is perfect for a communications freelancer anywhere in Canada who thrives as part of a nimble team working on high-profile events and initiatives.

About the role

  • 5-10 hours/week (flexible hours, includes 2 short weekly check-ins with the rest of the team at a mutually convenient time)
  • Minimum 6 month commitment
  • Responsibilities include: Promoting Canada 2020 activities online (social media, digital advertising, email marketing), ensuring content is up-to-date across Canada 2020 social channels and website, writing and editing content, creating and executing communications plans, designing promotional graphics, supporting virtual live events, and more, depending on the unique needs of the organization on a week-to-week basis.

About you

  • Interested in current events and progressive policy issues in Canada 
  • A collaborative self-starter who takes initiative and isn’t afraid to innovate and propose new ideas
  • Accountable and communicative


  • Undergraduate degree (in communications, public relations, marketing, journalism, or a related field preferred but not required)
  • Skilled digital marketer with 2-4 years of experience
  • 2-4 years of experience creating and executing communications plans
  • Excellent partner relationship management
  • Basic design skills (Canva)
  • CMS skills (WordPress)
  • Email marketing experience (Mailchimp)

Nice to haves

  • Digital advertising experience
  • Video editing skills
  • Established media list

Apply now

Apply with a cover letter and resume to [email protected]. Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis.

Canada 2020 is Canada’s leading, independent, progressive think-tank. Founded in 2006, Canada 2020 has spent more than a decade hosting events, producing original research and starting conversations about Canada’s future. Our goal is to build a community of progressive ideas and people that will move and shape governments. https://canada2020.ca/