February 28, 2010

Au revoir to Canada

In a few hours my family and I leave Canada to re-join the 2.8 million our our fellow citizens overseas. We do so with mixed feelings, the nature of which I would like to express in this blog post.

I couldn’t be prouder to be Canadian, especially right now with my country’s class-act performance as a host and as a contender in the Olympic Games. This video narrated by Tom Brokaw and broadcast by NBC heralds a lot of Canadian virtues that are famous here but unknown elsewhere. What brought a smile to my face was this article in The Wall Street Journal: Canada group makes medals its business. The idea that such a determined and dynamic group of Canadians should unite around a high-impact initiative centred on competing with the world and winning is a refreshing tonic to what can tend to be the lassitude of our national efforts against those of other countries in other fields of endeavour.

Look at the hollowing-out of multinational Canadian enterprise. How many famous Canadian companies are known and respected around the world? You can count them on one hand, and still have fingers left over. It is telling that a country so big and blessed with resources should punch so below its weight in global business. Contrast our experience to that of the South Koreans, who with a small territory and scant resources transformed one of the world’s poorest countries over 50 years into a global economic powerhouse with corporations such as Hyundai, Kia, LG, and Samsung proud international champions.

As a people, we travel well and there is a vast network of Canadians around the world in leading positions across diverse fields. But if Canadians are going overseas to work, it seems more often than not that it is for the companies of other countries. If we want to be complacent about the future and live an easy life off our natural bounty and leave the ownership of our economy to others, we seem to be on the right track.

People at home have a mixed reaction to the overseas Canadian. While there is a widespread  respect for Canadians who gain global experience, in some quarters there is a vague resentment for different reasons.

Yet if you ask people in my own public relations industry if they would want to gain international credentials, in my experience Canadians tend more than their American counterparts to answer in the affirmative. In general, we Canadians certainly don’t lack confidence in our global suitability, what with past tourism slogans such as “The world needs more Canada.”

One thing is for sure: Canada needs more of the world in terms of immigration to keep its population growing. If there’s an irony I’ve noticed, it’s how a country with such incredible multiculturalism and nearly one in five of its citizens foreign-born, overseas we don’t do nearly enough to leverage our human resources for Canadian interests (because, again, there are so few world-scale Canadian organizations).

In many ways, Canada is arguably the world’s first ‘post-modern’ nation and I am happy that the Olympics have helped to showcase our strengths. Perhaps with the boost to our national confidence of these games, more of the hard work, the valuing of education, the attitude of being the best we can be will infuse us with a greater ambition to succeed and the will to win.

Every day, I will miss the good humour, free spirit, considerable creativity and restless intelligence of the people of Canada. I will not miss the frequent failure to think big, the sense of entitlement to prosperity, the petty regional parochialism, and delusions about our place in the world which give us comfort but don’t help us secure our global interests (even though we have every ability to achieve them).

I love Canada more than ever having been abroad, maybe a bit like how the Apollo 8 astronauts came to appreciate the Earth’s fragility when they saw it from space for the first time.

I’m really going to miss my family and friends, but thank goodness for broadband penetration and the ubiquity of telecommunications networks. I just wish we could experience the fresh air and wide open spaces of Canada using Skype.

  1. Well said Bob. You’re perspective is appreciated and noted. It is easy to be a proud Canadian living abroad but our global presence is in its infancy. Safe travels.

  2. Fascinating post, Bob. (Though I want you to know we’re proud of the US hockey team for nearly wresting away what is considered an entitlement in Canada!)

    Perhaps in a future post you could elaborate on the reasons for Canada’s small number of multinational companies. No doubt there are reasons similar to the “hollowing out” of many US businesses, but perhaps cultural ones as well.

  3. You’ve truly captured the spirit that makes Canada the great place that it is. It’s that unique pride in our land minus any excess bravado which makes us that group of people who say “I love where I live and want to share it with the rest of the world” as oppose to “My country is better than yours.”

    Great article Bob, thanks for speaking in our class btw

    Humber PR Cert. 2010

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