Why Populist Agendas Present a Unique Opportunity for the Canadian Tech Sector

In misguided attempts to fulfill a populist agenda, big decisions were made in both the UK and US that have had a huge impact on the globe socially. These decisions were driven by people who felt like they had drawn the short straw in the globalization game and wanted to see change.

Change has indeed taken place, completely transforming global migration and trade, but the closing off of these borders has deeply affected the movement of goods, people, and knowledge between nations. These changes present a unique opportunity for our country.

With our borders open, and our tech community primed to become a hub for innovation and thriving talent, we must commit to keeping and attracting both the country and world’s brightest minds in Canada. Nurturing our most vital industries and transformative technologies must climb to the top of the nation’s agenda, as these pave the way to a future where Canadians are leaders of the global innovation ecosystem.

The Canadian Dream

Silicon Valley is renowned the world over as the most powerful hub of innovation and technological advancement, and we’ve spent an entire generation listening to stories of the American Dream, but today, Canada has a dream to offer people from across the globe; one that includes opportunity, multiculturalism, community, and ambition. The so-called dream that once lived south of the border has packed its bags and moved north to its unassuming neighbor.

Canadians win in terms of higher education, employment rate, home ownership rate, vacation days and life expectancy and are ranked as the sixth-happiest people in the world. Bringing your dream to Canada means contributing in a meaningful way to society and being safe to reach your full potential and find your purpose.

The Time is Now

Canada’s current state is especially favorable for fostering this dream. In March, the Federal government announced its Global Skills Strategy, a new global talent stream that aims to set Canadian businesses up to support the creation of jobs. The plan, which is to be set in motion as of June this year, should allow fast access to the world’s top talent for companies doing business here and who share the government’s vision of bringing new skills to Canada. These measures should help high-growth Canadian companies attract candidates with highly specialized, in-demand skills to help continue to push the boundaries of innovation and growth.

While this type of reform is exactly what proponents of innovation hope to see, long-term it will require a major influx of immigrants to Canada. The Century Initiative strives to do just this, with a goal of growing Canada’s population to 100 million by 2100. The group of prominent Canadians believes that it will take a bigger population to drive the employment, innovation, and investment we need to impact our economic strength both at home and abroad. It aims to attract international students and job prospects, as well as grow Canada’s robust markets to generate the strong economic climate we need to compete globally.

Economic Case

Canada’s current economic state is impacted by a great many demographic issues. First, Canadians aren’t reproducing at the rate we need. Currently the fertility rate is at 1.6%, which is technically half a child short of the 2.1 newborns needed to maintain a stable population. In addition to this decreased reproduction rate, our population is aging rapidly, with more people over the age of 65 than under 15.

This means that once the Baby Boomers begin to retire, the pensions that were promised in the past and were considered reasonable then may now hurt the current population and lead to weak economic growth. These circumstances bring Japan’s current demographic and economic crisis to mind. With a quarter of Japan’s population over the age of 65, as well as a reluctance to have children due to economic uncertainty, the nation’s demographics are in a dire state.

The loss of one million people over the last five years due to a cocktail of an aging population, resistance to immigration and low birthrate has led to the economy dramatically decreasing by two trillion dollars in GDP. Without a younger generation of innovators to support the system built by older generations, the economy could shrink considerably. While Canada is still 10 to 20 years behind what Japan is currently facing, it gives reason to take pause and plan for the future.

The Middle Class and Settlement Success

It is in times of low economic growth that nations must invest in further developing the talent and skills of its people and opportunities available, particularly in the middle class. Through initiatives like the Global Skills Strategy and the Innovation Agenda the country can create good middle class jobs, and assist firms in filling gaps in the labour market. With the workforce shrinking, economic growth is slowing down. The number of retirees in Canada went from 170,000 annually five years ago to roughly 250,000 now.

Immigration offers part of a solution to the labor force issue, however early settlement and support is key to immigrant success in their new home. Many of these new Canadians are highly skilled, with 49% holding PhD’s and 40% master’s recipients, but with unstable settlement, many of these individuals end up working jobs that don’t make full use of their skills and experience.

Research has shown that the most successful groups of immigrants and refugees are those that are settled quickly into employment, education, and housing systems. While robust immigration certainly will contribute to the nation’s economic growth, it alone can’t solve the problems and gaps we currently face. The answer lies in strengthening the country’s innovation and productivity.

With the populist discourse currently dominating global agendas, Canada has an unprecedented opportunity to make a major contrarian play and bring the world’s best talent to Canada. Global migration is on the move due to conflict and climate change, making this our time to act. It’s imperative that we move quickly to seize this uniquely Canadian opportunity. By investing in the country’s knowledge-based sector and making innovation and immigration a national strategic priority, we will position ourselves as global leaders of this bright and revolutionary future.

Bilal Khan is the founding managing director of OneEleven, an innovation hub.