Attracting American Companies to Canada


A few days ago I received in the mail the latest issue of Area Development. I really enjoy this magazine with its rankings on the cities with the best business climate and articles on how to attract skilled workers. As an academic whose research deals with how to attract and retain top-quality workers, I cannot help but enjoy this magazine.

This time Area Development came with a 40-page glossy pamphlet called Location Canada. It was filled with colorful pictures of downtowns, industrial parks and happy workers. What a great idea, I thought. This is the perfect readership.

But I wonder how many readers or companies would be attracted by these happy scenes. First there’s the issue of politics. It is no secret that Canada is a center-left country. The only right-wing folks are mostly concentrated in the Province of Alberta--- which is also the fastest growing economy in the nation. True, Conservatives ran the country for about a decade in the 80s and have run a minority Government since last year. But most American conservatives would find ours a bit too liberal. Although the Conservatives may be against abortion, they will have to accept gay rights, strong gun regulations, universal health care and multiculturalism (as opposed to the melting pot). So this could be a major turn-off for most American conservatives willing to give it a try in Canada.

If you’re a member of the religious-right , you’d better forget Canada. Here religion and politics are totally separated. No God Bless Canada. And No God Saves the Queen ether. Most people, at least under 70, don’t care much about British Royalty either.

Needless to say that a young left-of-center Democrat would react differently - not that he or she would fall in love with our values and want to move right away. After all, we have our very own cultural identities, celebrate different holidays and have different heroes (one might argue we also have fewer and venerate them less).

If a tech worker and his family wanted to work in Montreal (in the Province of Quebec with its 80-percent French-speaking population with 50-percent of them dreaming of splitting from Canada), well, be ready for a real culture shock. No, this is not fake! People do speak French for real. And those outside of Montreal do not speak much English. I am saying this because I have heard many Americans saying out loud that Quebecers are just faking it. Believe me, they are not. Quebecers are also very proud of their culture and language, and expect immigrants to learn their language , support their values and culture (there was a very hot debate last year about what to do with immigrants who want to impose their religious beliefs at work and in schools).

So while many tourists or students might enjoy a sojourn in La Belle Province, staying on as a working adult is a different matter. True, some working environments are mostly English but occasionally they are fined for it.

But Canada’s mild socialism --- inside and outside Quebec --- also has its advantages. Government health care can be very attractive, not only for working families but for companies concerned with a large health care burden. This is one key reason why Toyota recently chose to build its plant in Woodstock, Ontario rather in the US (it already has one in Cambridge, Ontario).

Canada also has a generous parental-leave program for pregnant women and even for fathers. We are not talking weeks here but months of well-paid leave. You can also put your child in state-subsidized daycare.

Paternalism does not stop as you age. Once your child is almost an adult he or she will have to chance to attend a Quebec university for about $4000 a year, including elite schools like McGill University . Students from low-income families can very easily obtain student loans. Interest rates on those loans are low and will not negatively affect their credit record when the time comes to get a mortgage. Banks actually don’t even look at it even if you owe $50,000. Also, for families, municipalities run $20 a week summer camps . Generally those are safe and state-regulated. Of course, Canadians pay for those services through their income tax ; it’s really a question of whether the trade off is worth it. Generally speaking, the more affluent you are, or intend to become, the less the welfare state works for you.

And let’s talk the worst thing about Canada: winter! That, we cannot do anything about it. It is snowy and cold across the country from December until March. Things are worst in Quebec. However, Minneapolis and Boston pretty much have the same kind of winter as Toronto. Vancouver is just a few hours drive north of Seattle so it frequently as gloomy, rainy and cool.

So would this make talented Americans think twice about working in Canada? Would it be worth the try? Liberals would like it; many conservatives would become very antagonistic and frustrated. Basically, despite the similarities, you must become accustomed to big differences. As a country, Canada works very well, but for Canadians. For Americans with big ambitions, it’s really a matter of who you are --- and who you want to be.