I moved back to Canada a few years ago, having spent 17 years in China and 3 years in the United States. Toronto is one of the most multicultural cities in the world (I think it was ranked number one ahead of London a few years ago, with more people born outside of Canada than from within).
Ironically however, business in the city and throughout most of Canada is very much focused on the Canadian and US markets, perhaps with a dash of Mexico and Europe thrown in. I’m not sure if it comes from the success of our economy (especially in the last crisis), the fact that we are situated beside the 800 pound gorilla that drives the world economy, or simply because we tend to have a cautious attitude. Whatever it is, Canada is missing out on large opportunities throughout the rest of the world.
My experience as the Chairman of the Canada China business Council in Shanghai years ago supports this observation. Our membership was amongst the lowest of any chamber-like organization in Shanghai. There simply were not a lot of Canadian companies doing business in China. Some were kicking the tires, but not many were making the move. For this reason, most of my business was done with US companies and not Canadian companies, with the few exceptions of compatriots who went over because out of a sense of adventure or absolute necessity.
I recognize that in some ways, this conservative approach has helped insulate Canada from the recent global crises. I am increasingly concerned however that it is also decreasing our competitiveness throughout the world. It seems that our few truly, multinational companies (Blackberry and most recently Bombardier) are having a difficult time staying competitive and afloat. We are becoming increasingly irrelevant in international business.
Canada generally has a solid reputation throughout the world and we like to think of ourselves as global leaders, but I am concerned what the future holds for the country’s presence on the global stage if we are not active in the major business and investment arenas. We should be taking advantage of our reputation, skills and knowledge base to become true, international players. Otherwise, we are going to settle into a place of mediocrity.