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Matt Spoke: Canada should make a huge bet on Bitcoin as the next dominant currency


The Hub launched with a core mission of getting Canadians thinking about the future. We’ve been stuck in the doldrums, pessimistic and polarized, for too long. To lay out a roadmap for the next 30 years of Canadian life, we asked our contributors to pinpoint the most consequential issue, idea or technology for the country in 2050. This series of essays by leading thinkers will illuminate Canada’s next frontier.

Any noteworthy technologist or futurist would agree that by 2050 it’s extremely unlikely that the world will be operating on a U.S. dollar reserve system. The Chinese and the Russians won’t allow it, and frankly, the limitations of this old monetary system have been showing for decades already.

Since 2009, the world has watched as Bitcoin, Ether, and other notable cryptocurrencies have grown in relevance and technological sophistication. Putting aside the obvious cynical perspectives about this new frontier of money, it stands to reason that in an increasingly borderless and digital world, we will be operating on a borderless and digital monetary system.

I’m not suggesting that sovereign monetary policy will not exist in 2050, or that we’ll be buying our groceries in Bitcoin, but I do think we will incrementally see a shift between now and then towards a system of money that is backed by assets that are globally accessible, digitally transferable, and provably scarce. The likely candidate is Bitcoin, along with a small number of others.

It’s easy to roll your eyes at this idea. But bear in mind that 2050 is three decades from now. That’s 20 percent of the age of our country. In the past three decades, technologists have invented the personal computer, the internet, the mobile phone, online video and music streaming, social networks, and so much more. There are all concepts you definitely would have rolled your eyes at in 1990.  

Digital money is the next frontier. And its impact will be unevenly distributed across the world.

Countries who recognize this trend before their peers will be the first to stake their claim on these newly discovered gold deposits of the 21st century. 

In other words, the first country to acquire one percent of the total supply of Bitcoin will likely be the only country ever able to do so. As with discovering the world’s rarest mineral deposit in your soil, Bitcoin has the power to make poor countries rich and rich countries irrelevant.

This policy could be responsible for the single greatest lift in Canadian wealth in our history.

In today’s dollars, acquiring one percent of all Bitcoin would likely cost between $50 billion and $250 billion to accumulate (the range is broad because this type of purchasing power has never come to Bitcoin, so it can have an enormous impact on its value).

And although 2050 may seem far away, this race has already started. Within this decade, we will undoubtedly see which countries are leading the pack and staking their claim. Although I’m convinced this list should include Canada, I’m skeptical that it will.

But let’s be optimistic for a moment. Let’s imagine that we had the guts to venture down this path as a country. How would we even get started? How would we approach this responsibly?

Before exploring the feasibility of this idea, it’s worth noting that both Mark Carney, a well-known Liberal and former governor of the Bank of Canada and Bank of England, and Stephen Harper, Canada’s former Conservative Prime Minister, have hinted at this being a direction worth exploring for the global monetary system. 

Although they may not be as explicit in their vote of confidence for Bitcoin, I blame that more on their age and relative disconnect from the world of technology. Although I’ll give an honourable mention to Mark Carney for having recently joined the Board of Directors of Stripe — arguably one of the most important financial technology companies in the world today.

Meanwhile, U.S. President Joe Biden has asked the IRS to start cracking down on the American crypto industry, likely causing a significant slowdown in their national adoption. This could lead to a huge opportunity for Canada to differentiate itself and attract a growing industry to its shores.

United States President Joe Biden. Alex Brandon/AP Photo.

In terms of simple policy, there are likely many paths to consider, but two that seem like obvious low hanging fruit would be, one, the creation of a Canadian Bitcoin sovereign wealth fund and, two, a tax incentive for Canadian individuals and corporations to add Bitcoin to their balance sheets.

Part one could be accomplished with a nominal budgetary commitment of 0.5 percent of national expenditures each year going to accumulate Bitcoin into this sovereign wealth fund. 

Part two, for individuals, could be accomplished with a “little brother” to the TFSA program designed specifically for individuals to accumulate up to $5,000 in Bitcoin each year in a tax-free account. This would have the opposite effect of what is transpiring in the U.S. where citizens are being penalized for owning Bitcoin.

Similarly, for corporations, a capital gains exemption policy could be created, limited to a certain amount of Bitcoin value acquired each year. Say $50,000 for small businesses and up to $5 million for larger businesses.

Within one year of passing this policy, Canada and its citizens (both individual and corporate) would likely control more than 0.5 percent of the global Bitcoin market, which is roughly proportionate to our population as a percentage of the world. Within years two to five of this policy, Canada would have moved beyond one to two percent of Bitcoin ownership. 

What excites me most about these ideas is that they’re intentionally different from American policies in this area. If we want to start outperforming our southern neighbours, we need to be willing to make different bets.

By conservative estimates, after year five, this policy could be responsible for the single greatest lift in Canadian wealth and GDP per capita in our history. By the end of the decade, Canadians would, on average, be the wealthiest people in the world, unblocking us to accelerate our history of world-leading innovation, enable our entrepreneurs to take worthwhile ambitious risks, provide much needed capital to families and small businesses, and play an incredibly important role in improving wealth inequality.

By 2050, Canada would have cemented itself as the small but mighty country to be reckoned with in economic might.

The impact of cryptocurrencies on the world economy are still underappreciated, even though they now represent an economy the size of Canada’s — and growing. 

Some countries will see this change as a threat to their sovereignty, others will see it as an opportunity to change their fortunes. I hope Canada can prove itself a frontier nation once again.

Ginny Roth: We may have to empathize with NIMBYs to solve the housing shortage


The good news is: We seem to be reaching a turning point on the housing issue – people know there is a problem and the chorus of voices calling for change is getting stronger.

The bad news is: We haven’t yet confronted the depth and nature of the political challenge. It’s so politically fraught that it sometimes feels intractable.

As the price of housing continues to rise not just in Canada’s big cities but in smaller cities and towns too, the urgency of the policy challenge is increasing. Fortunately, politicians, business leaders and policy thinkers are starting to take notice.

Even more optimistically, an increasing majority of these voices understand that tinkering on the demand side of the equation will not fix the problem. The cause of increasingly out-of-reach housing prices is not minor, therefore, the solutions will not be found by making minor policy tweaks.

Though some, including the federal government, still claim that taxing foreign buyers or investing in affordable housing here and there will solve the problem, consensus is building around the correct diagnosis of the problem. Canada does not have anywhere near enough housing supply for the number of interested buyers (and sometimes renters) and the single biggest reason for this is planning and land use restrictions that get in the way of development.

The reason these restrictions remain, both as a general matter of policy and in specific instances of application, is because existing homeowners do not want their streets, their neighbourhoods and their towns to change. They elect representatives who will uphold the status quo and punish politicians who threaten it. The common reaction to this challenge is for pro-growth voices to bemoan the selfishness of NIMBYism. We shake our heads and our fists and write snarky columns about their hypocrisy.

Some in Canada, to their credit, are making early forays into trying to counter NIMBYism with YIMBYism (Yes, please, in my backyard!). This pro-development enthusiasm at the policy level, though rare, is welcome and helps contribute to a public narrative which occasionally pushes back against the NIMBY majority. But it is not enough.

An approach that forces through unwanted new developments is politically dead on arrival.

Efforts to make housing more accessible and affordable must ultimately endeavour to bring Canadians onside at the grassroots level. A viable plan must not seek to slip through development approvals without the neighbourhood noticing, nor should it ram through major policy overhauls against the wishes of voters only to have them overturned when a new government gets elected on a promise to bring back local control.

An approach that forces through unwanted new developments (both big city towers and new suburban sprawl) is not only politically dead on arrival, it’s inconsistent with the values of a good society.

There are no doubt unethical manifestations of NIMBYism that we should dismiss. Arguments against new developments are often no more than thinly veiled racism, classism and selfishness. But we should not ignore other legitimate concerns. The desire of a community to preserve its heritage, culture and history is legitimate.

An attachment to parkland, greenspace, mature trees and sunlight is legitimate. And yes, a desire to keep one’s surroundings beautiful is legitimate. We need look no further than the recent outrage over plans to “modernize” the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa to understand that Canadians want to keep their traditional buildings attractive. It is not snobbish or immoral to want your neighbourhood to look and feel good.

More practically speaking, incumbent homeowners do not want to see the value of their homes erode. This challenge is harder to confront but confront it we must. The Liberal government has sought to indulge Canada’s baby boomer homeowners by denying the realities of the need for more housing supply. I can’t say I blame the government for worrying about messing with what is effectively the retirement savings of much of our population. But increasing housing supply must not necessarily erode home values across the board. While an increase in supply would certainly take some of the heat out of the market (after all, that’s the whole point), we know that at the local level, development can sometimes add value to incumbent properties, often many times over.

What is clear is that any approach that dismisses concerns about local neighbourhood character or eroding home values for current owners is both politically and morally unpalatable. So, is there a better way?

It is worth looking to the United Kingdom which, while different on the details for a number of reasons, is confronting a fundamentally similar housing supply and accessibility challenge. As part of an attempt to further solidify a new voting coalition of working-class Conservative voters, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his government have been re-thinking planning rules to encourage more development.

They issued a white paper to explore options and are in the midst of grappling with political opposition from their own party’s benches. Foreseeing the challenge of this political opposition, British think tank Policy Exchange put out a paper called Strong Suburbs earlier this year to try to promote politically viable policy change.

The paper explores a very specific idea: empowering incumbent homeowners at the local street level to opt into their own gentle densification. This means that a majority of homeowners on an individual street in a suburban community in England could decide to welcome multi-family, multi-floor terrace homes (think beautiful brownstone walk-ups more common on the streets in Paris and London) instead of single-family bungalows, adding value to their properties and multiplying housing availability in their community.

Streets would be empowered to opt in with some constraints placed on height (in consideration of neighbouring streets) and homeowners would be encouraged to apply design and beauty stipulations for developers, avoiding styles that would ruin the look and feel of the community. The paper uses economic modelling to make the case that incumbents would see the values of their property increase, encouraging more and more streets to opt in, thus significantly increasing the overall supply of housing in the country.

There are no doubt challenges with this model and the devil may well be in the details. But it is well past time that Canada start exploring options like the one outlined in this paper.

Our housing discussion still naively assumes we must either ignore the problem and tinker at the margins or grit our teeth and gear up for a big fight to ram through new planning and zoning rules which would be stopped or reversed when voters inevitably put up a fight.

Canada’s nascent YIMBY movement is encouraging and as others have pointed out, the number of voters who cannot afford homeownership is growing. Now we must confront the political challenge, painting a picture for Canadians who own homes and for Canadians who do not, of what a better future with more plentiful, beautiful housing could look like and how we might get there.