Toronto and Montreal: 21st Century Allies Not Rivals

In her first-ever address to the Toronto Board of Trade, Mrs. Monique F. Leroux, Chair of the Board, President and CEO of Desjardins Group, suggested that Toronto and Montreal have evolved from economic rivals to 21st century allies in the global competition for investment, knowledge industries and highly-skilled workers.

"In today's global economy, we're not so much competing with each other, we're competing with powerful nearby American cities like Boston, New York and Chicago. And we're competing with global giants like London, Paris, Singapore, Hong Kong and Mumbai."

Mrs. Leroux argued that Toronto, Montreal and Canada's other large cities can only benefit by cooperating to present a consistent message about Canada's many strengths and opportunities.

These include a quality of life ranked second in the world by the OECD, the world's soundest banking system, top-ranked education systems, the lowest debt-to GDP ratio in the G8, a diversified economy with a wealth of natural resources, and solid democratic traditions and institutions.

Mrs. Leroux said that while Canada's two largest cities came out of the financial crisis and resulting recession in good shape, they face serious challenges going forward: aging infrastructure; clogged transportation and public transit networks; lagging productivity and innovation; and increasing levels of poverty and inequality.

"Toronto and Montreal are both wealthy, modern cities with too many people who live in poverty," she said. "Both are becoming cities of rich people and poor people, with a shrinking middle class, pushed mostly to the suburbs. This is not healthy. This is not sustainable. This is not the Canada I know."

According to Mrs. Leroux, the rising gap between the rich and poor, combined with the near collapse of the world's financial system, is challenging economic experts to rethink the rules that govern the business world.

This includes influential Harvard Business Professor Michael Porter, who argues in a recent issue of the Harvard Business Review that companies are trapped in an outdated approach to value creation that is narrow, "focused only on short-term financial performance… while missing the most important customer needs and ignoring the broad influences that determine their longer-term success."

For Professor Porter, the solution lies in the principle of "shared value", which involves creating economic value in a way that also creates value for society by addressing its needs and challenges.

Mrs. Leroux told the Toronto business audience, that shared value is a good way to describe Desjardins and its cooperative business model.

"At Desjardins, we define our mission as helping to improve the economic and social-well being of people and communities. We don't work for wealthy shareholders. We work for our 5.8 million members, clients and communities. When they grow and succeed, we do the same in partnership with them. That, to me, is 'shared value'."

Mrs. Leroux also announced that Desjardins will host the International Summit of Cooperatives in Quebec next year to mark the International Year of Cooperatives. She pointed out that the combined revenues of the world's largest 300 cooperatives are roughly equal to Canada's total GDP.

"I think the size, range and diversity of these cooperative organizations will show Canadians that there are real alternatives to the traditional business model. It will also show that cooperation and collaboration can generate economic success and also serve the common good."

"That's a useful lesson for Canada's two largest cities - Toronto and Montreal - as they face the challenges of the 21st Century. Our two cities may have been bitter rivals in the past, but we are now allies in a fiercely competitive global economy," she added.

on June 2, 2011