Canada’s Stress Test 


RBC Economics predicts Saskatchewan and Alberta to be among the hottest provincial economies in 2024. They’re also likely to challenge a federal government suspected by some of advancing major economic reforms under the guise of a transition to a cleaner economy.

Three major factors are setting the stage for friction in 2024: a Supreme Court of Canada split decision that ruled the federal government’s Impact Assessment Act (known in Alberta as the “no new pipelines” bill) is largely unconstitutional; Alberta’s intent to use its Alberta Sovereignty Act to ignore federal legislation and regulation it deems as encroaching on its provincial jurisdiction.; and Saskatchewan’s refusal to collect the federal carbon tax on home heating beginning January 1, 2024.  

Despite these battles, provincial economies in the Prairies continue to fire on all cylinders. This is good news for federal coffers, where billions in contributed taxes and royalties help fund major federal spending on projects and services throughout Canada.  

We don’t expect these tensions to subside anytime soon, and 2024 should prove to be a significant stress test for Canadian federalism. The new year should prove yet again that it’s nearly impossible to separate politics from the economy in Canada.

The role of AI in delivering client value

NATIONAL recently brought together colleagues from across Canada to meet with the newest brand in the AVENIR GLOBAL family, Time & Space Media. It was fitting that we spent so much time discussing AI given Toronto’s importance as a global AI hub.

As Kevin McCann, Managing Partner of Atlantic Canada recently shared, when communicators and marketers talk about AI and what it means for our industry, there’s a sense of cognitive dissonance. Breathless excitement is offset by an inevitable reckoning—will our industry even need humans?

In the near term, AI will continue to change the way we approach the business, and in particular, the way we measure impact for our clients.

AI will allow us to measure and demonstrate the impact of our programs in more meaningful ways with exacting precision. Real-time understanding of how messages resonate at an extremely niche level holds the potential for massive shifts at scale, whether it’s consumer spending or political and social mobilization. For our clients, this level of insight will allow us to use data to pivot if we aren’t gaining traction and “double down” when a program is successful. This will deliver greater value for clients when their investment is tracked and measured in real time against results that demonstrate tangible movement against business objectives.

Cutting through: Deciphering authenticity through a public affairs lens


Merriam-Webster’s word of 2023—yes, there is such a designation—is “authentic”. This is perhaps wholly unsurprising and largely predictable given the rise of ChatGPT, global debates on AI, and the continuous “fake news” accusation.

Through a Canadian lens, however, this Webster-winning word exemplifies how part of the country views numerous sectors and institutions. Perhaps most notably: the world of politics. Authenticity is inextricably linked to trust. And for voters—regardless of the level of office or region of Canada—candidates simply have to pass this fundamental test when seeking public office. Simply put, is a candidate “real”? Do their actions match their words? And will they deliver on promises, versus simply announce their intentions to deliver?

Public polling picks up such sentiment on leaders and major public policy issues. We can also assess metrics around digital trends—and where opportunities lie for private, public, and NGO clients. But where precisely authenticity fits—as elections and policy agendas are shaped—has become a particular point of focus for NATIONAL. Why? It dictates strategy. It shapes how issues are managed under the glare of the media focus, and it drives how we support client mandates.

The calendar year has changed. Our approach won’t.

Distrust is society's default


Do you think that’s an exaggeration?

Our colleagues at Time & Space Media recently presented us with a report on trust and media fragmentation. The presentation confirmed the findings of a research report by professors Marc-François Bernier of the University of Ottawa and Marie-Eve Carignan of the University of Sherbrooke, which shows a significant decline in public confidence in the news media, their credibility and that of their journalists, when compared with the results of a similar survey conducted in 2013.

If trust were a currency, its scarcity would make it more valuable.

The average Canadian watches almost 20 hours of content on TikTok and 18 hours on YouTube every month! Do you trust these communication channels or can you afford not to? More than ever, it’s important to make clear decisions and communicate them just as clearly.

In the digital age, analytical thinking and communication skills are essential tools. Which channel will you use when the time comes to communicate an important decision that should have the effect of reinforcing the trust placed in you by the people who are most valuable to your organization?

Communication is a management function and should therefore be a priority for all organizational leaders.

Corporate activism: an effective way of promoting our values


Why would a company take a stand on difficult social issues? Wouldn’t it risk having a negative impact on its operating costs and competitiveness?

Is it worth the risk of antagonizing those who don’t share its views?

Having swept across Europe, “corporate activism” is certainly one trend to watch. While it may relegate our old practices to the ecocentre of outdated paradigms, influence conversations, and generate impact, above all it can create value.

Key reason: modern consumers are looking for brands that are aligned with their values. With most suppliers just a click away, demonstrating social responsibility appeals to customers who are concerned about social and environmental issues.

More than a commercial strategy, the positioning of companies is poking the elephant in the room: the scarcity of labour. To attract and retain talent, particularly from the younger generation, displaying your convictions creates an unsuspected competitive advantage.

You don’t need to have an opinion on everything. Never forget that sometimes silence speaks louder than words.

Clear, sincere, and committed corporate values have a positive impact on a company’s reputation.

Above all, they give a tangible, more contemporary meaning to the expression “work ethic”.

Atlantic Canada: Balancing economic boom and looming challenges


Atlantic Canada is experiencing a boom, with positive trends in population, immigration, education, employment, and life satisfaction. The recent  Atlantic Economic Forum highlighted these advancements alongside ambitious plans for the future.

However, projections for late 2023 indicated a slowdown due to global economic sluggishness, high interest rates, and rising living costs. The so-called boom is facing valid concerns about affordability, healthcare access, housing, the environment, and the future well-being of children.

Globally, economies are grappling with new challenges, including the impacts of artificial intelligence, geopolitical unrest, and the decline of the middle class. Nationally, Canada feels stretched, with core strengths becoming new weaknesses. Integral to the future of the Atlantic Canada, the Institute for Canadian Citizenship published “The Leaky Bucket” report, revealing alarming numbers of immigrants to Canada are deciding to leave rather than stay; this is a cutting rebuke of our national, welcoming, identity.

A valid question stands before us: Can Atlantic Canada sustain its positive momentum?

The Atlantic Momentum Index emphasizes the need for policy support to maintain growth, and collective action to foster inclusive economic conditions. This is the challenge for Atlantic Canada, and it’s up to governments, organizations, and all of us living here to meet it or fall back.

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Corporate and financial communications


Our selection of trends offers expert perspectives on successful corporate and financial communications, essential for forward-thinking organizations in 2024.