As the virtual ink was drying on Donald Trump’s surprise election victory, Conservative leadership hopeful Kellie Leitch dusted off a well-worn tactic in this country and played Follow The Leader.
Boosters of Canada’s unique identity may wince, but there’s no shortage of Canadian businesses — and even a few political careers — that have been built on the idea that Canada is merely the 51st state.
Leitch’s decision, which catapulted her leadership bid into the limelight, was politically savvy.
But one thing that has been sorely lacking from the shouting match over whether her “Canadian values” agenda is necessary or nauseating is mention of one very fundamental Canadian value: prosperity.
On a good day the economic impact of Leitch’s immigration policies would be troubling. Given the current environment they will be somewhere between disastrous and an epic squandering of a once in a generation opportunity.
For several years think tanks, economists and politicians of all stripes have lamented two very worrying features of Canada’s economy, namely its reliance on natural resources and manufacturing, and its moribund labour productivity growth.
While economic data don’t stir the passions of the average Canadian, the fact is much of this country’s wealth has been built on the ability to sell commodities globally and to make physical goods that are usually designed and branded elsewhere. Meanwhile, the hourly wage earned by Canadians doing the actual work has effectively stagnated.
Official unemployment numbers in manufacturing hubs such as Windsor and Oshawa are no longer as frightening as they were in 2009, but youth unemployment remains alarmingly high, and a whole new generation of Albertans is getting a firsthand lesson in what a commodities downturn feels like.
If you put Joe Clark, Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau in a room together, one of a few issues on which they would find unanimity is the need for Canada’s economy to become more innovative.
Unfortunately, by most measures, Canada remains a global laggard on the innovation front. This is not to say Canada has failed to produce world beating technologies — it’s simply that we are not producing enough to maintain our current standard of living in a rapidly changing world.
As the recent Programme for International Student Assessment tests have shown, Canadian students excel in sciences but have not fared as well in math. The national results obscure the more worrying fact that kids in vast swathes of the country are being left behind.
There’s a further problem, which is that many of Canada’s top math and science talents will eventually head to our southern neighbour, where startups have more access to like-minded entrepreneurs, engineering talent, customers and capital.
The list of Canadian technology entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley is staggering and includes Elon Musk, Jeff Skoll and Garrett Camp, and even Rogers Communications, whose highly regulated business was built in this country, houses its venture capital arm in Palo Alto.
While moving to the States may have been necessary to build Tesla, SpaceX, eBay and Uber, it would be absurd for policy-makers not to want to create an environment in which those companies could thrive.
One way to do that is by declaring to the world that Canada is open for business and actively encouraging the world’s best technology visionaries and investors to deploy their talents here.
Apparently, Leitch didn’t get the memo, but while she was penning her Ode to Donald Trump’s World View, Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s website was busy crashing.
In light of that obvious market signal, Canada’s dominant strategy right now is to drive up the demand for Canadian passports so this country can pick the best applicants from the widest possible pool. If in the process we stem our own brain drain, all the better.
Taking the lemming’s path toward xenophobia ensures Canada will continue to be an also-ran in the race to attract the very people our economy so desperately needs.
Given its many other advantages, the United States can afford Donald Trump’s rhetoric. Canada has no such luxury.
Leitch has tapped into a powerful discontent in this country, and her political opponents would be wise not to ignore it. However, if she earnestly wants to help the guys and gals on behalf of whom she purports to speak, she should tackle the very serious problems of how to create prosperity in this country and how to ensure all Canadians see a share of it.
Those used to be the kinds of issues to which Conservative politicians gave serious thought.