Features | From Pivot Magazine

Why CPAs must go beyond the bottom line

CPA Canada’s president and CEO, Charles-Antoine St-Jean, on bridging business and society to usher in a healthy, thriving economy

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Businesswoman brainstorming with colleague, using adhesive notes for planning and strategyCompanies, organizations and business leaders need to find ways to ensure that underrepresented communities have as much opportunity to succeed as anyone else (Getty Images/10’000 Hours)

Bonjour à tous.

It is striking to see how uneven the pain from the pandemic’s fallout has been across the Canadian population—and the prospect of an uneven economic recovery for Canada is a real threat to this country’s long-term prosperity. As a former Comptroller General of Canada, I can appreciate the hurdles the government of Canada has faced in the past year from an economic perspective. Yet the federal budget tabled in April made clear that the human cost has been staggering.

We as Canadians have a major challenge ahead of us and we must leverage our strengths to help those hit hardest and ensure a better future for all Canadians, while keeping a keen eye on fiscal balance. 

The pandemic exposed our society’s fault lines and the ways in which people working in lower-paying essential jobs—and their families—are among those who have borne the greatest burdens of illness and loss. This is perhaps most painfully obvious in the fact that women have been disproportionately affected by this global upheaval. The fact that the proportion of women in the workplace is at its lowest point since 1986 is startling. The federal budget has sought to confront this situation with proposals such as the $10/day childcare program and other investments. This is something CPA Canada publicly supported when it was cited in last fall’s Throne Speech. It will ensure more women can fully participate in the labour force—a shift that will spur economic growth and entrepreneurial activity while creating a more equitable and inclusive society.

Charles-Antoine St-Jean, president and CEO of CPA CanadaCharles-Antoine St-Jean, president and CEO of CPA Canada (Photograph by Lindsey Gibeau, Westboro Studio)

To build back better, however, requires more than just government investment: companies, organizations and business leaders need to take a close look at the composition of their workforces and find ways to ensure that underrepresented communities have as much opportunity to succeed as anyone else. We must remove hiring biases to ensure members of marginalized groups have equal access to a prosperous future.   

Beyond the boardroom, other issues the pandemic made clear is precarious housing and precarious employment. The pandemic has upended countless families in various hard-hit industries across Canada and, while the lack of affordable housing in cities is a hot topic of discussion, the issue is perhaps more pressing and visible in remote communities and on First Nations reserves that have experienced decades of neglect. Change is long overdue. 


Rather alarmingly, Edelman’s recent 2021 Trust Barometer survey found widespread mistrust in corporate and government leaders. Post-pandemic, a more equitable Canada is necessary, and perhaps the first step on this path involves rebuilding trust. As the Edelman survey shows, there is a lot of work to do in this space: “This is a wake-up call for leaders, who need to take action to build trust amongst their stakeholders or risk falling behind,” the survey concludes. 

We’re experiencing a sea change in Canadians’ expectations, and if any organization wants to lead, it must first earn the trust of the people. To do that, it needs to listen to the voices of all Canadians and ensure no group is left behind.

Here in Canada, there is a distinct approach to cultivating a healthy and thriving economy. What makes Canada such a good place to work, live and raise a family, is a deep understanding that economic and social progress just don’t go hand-in-hand; they are fundamental to achieving success. 

The profession has been beating this drum for a long time with our concept of the Canadian Ideal of Good Business, which integrates the needs of economic growth with the needs of society and the environment, and balances those needs with fairness and compassion. That ideal is something we need now more than ever and it showcases how building back better goes beyond the bottom line. 

We must ensure a recovery in which social development and economic development thrive and benefit each other; a recovery that adds value, delivers profit and succeeds in the long term; a recovery that champions compassionate prosperity and growth without greed.

What Canada needs right now are leaders who look beyond just what they should do and instead endeavour to do everything they can. There is a new era dawning and, with it, new expectations. 

Relevons le défi ensemble!


For a snapshot into how CPA Canada and economists perceive Canada’s economic recovery out of COVID-19, tune into the webinar, Rebuilding the economy: What does Canada need for a better future?, and read the Rebuilding the economy: What we heard report, which includes views from fellow CPAs.