We were once the envy of the world. Now, talented young people and entire businesses are leaving for better prospects elsewhere.
I think Canada is the best country in the world. I’ve always lived here but I’ve travelled extensively. Most people from other countries seem to share a positive opinion of Canada, though a few who live close the equator think of Canada as ‘instant popsicle.’
Climate aside, Canada is seen as a haven of freedom, safety, peace and prosperity in a crazy and unsettled world. In the Nazi concentration camps during Second World War, the storehouses that held all the stolen loot were called Canada, because that was where all the good things were.
Nevertheless, there are signs that not all Canadians find our country quite so wonderful. I realized recently that everyone I know who is old enough to have grown children – including me – has at least one of those children living outside the country.
People in my circles aren’t one-per-centers. Most are immigrants or have immigrants not too far back in their families. As with most newer Canadians, schooling was emphasized, so losing those kids means losing our better educated and professional young people – the very kind we’re trying to attract here as immigrants. Brain drain, indeed.
“Everyone I know who is old enough to have grown children – including me – has at least one of those children living outside the country.”
Deepening this loss of talent is the issue of credential recognition. We all know that professional immigrants face all kinds of hurdles in order to practise the very skills that they were recruited to Canada for.
More upsetting is when Canadian students go abroad, often because there weren’t enough spaces for them to study here. They then find that even credentials earned in world-class institutions in places like Britain and United States aren’t sufficient to enable them to return and continue their careers in Canada. Medical doctors are the best example of this kind of exclusion.
Entrepreneurs, too, often choose to leave Canada. I saw this when I was on the board of the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC).
BDC is a Crown corporation supported by taxpayers. It does a marvellous job of providing funding to promising Canadian firms that are in that precarious place where they’re too big for family, friends and angel investors to finance and not quite big enough to get the capital they need from standard financial institutions.
BDC helps these companies over this hump in the hope that they’ll become large, successful Canadian companies. This rarely happens. Too often, once a company is large and successful enough to be attractive, it’s bought out by a foreign firm and often moved out of Canada. Sometimes, such a sale is part of the long-term business plan of the founders.
Even when entrepreneurs want to remain in Canada, they often find that we don’t have enough capable, experienced people to take a firm to a global level. So they bring in Americans or other foreigners as senior executives and they then move the organization away.
It’s not just newer firms that leave. Encana, a large, well-established resource company based in Western Canada, is taking any references to Canada out of its name and moving its headquarters to the U.S.
There are many reasons why people and organizations choose to leave a country that so many in the world would love to come to.
It’s not just newer firms that leave.
One reason our bright young people leave is that we don’t have enough of the kind of organizations that can give them opportunities to make the most of their abilities. One reason organizations leave is that they can’t find the talent they need to thrive and prosper. It’s a vicious circle.
The recent federal election gives us a hint as to how we got to this sorry state. You might think the word ‘business’ was a swear word, so rarely was it mentioned during the campaign. There was no acknowledgement that to do all the good environmental and social things we were being promised, we need a prosperous economy with thriving firms paying taxes and providing the kinds of jobs that will keep our young people here.
Unless we start recognizing these realities in our policies and practices, Canada will become a good place to be from.
Troy Media columnist Roslyn Kunin is a consulting economist and speaker.
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