Trump’s Anti-Immigrant Stance Could Give Canada’s Economy An Edge

February 15, 2017

By Jeff Wheeldon, Huffington Post |

While we don’t yet know the U.S. President Donald Trump administration’s strategy for renegotiating NAFTA, so far all indications point to him attempting to pull as many factories back to America as possible. Even aside from the potentially disastrous effects that that could have on supply chains that are integrated across North America, it misses a big prize: research, innovation and technology. It’s where experts say our economy is headed anyway, and Trump’s disruption of the status quo might help us get there faster.

Computers and iPhones may be manufactured in China, but the companies who design them and the apps they run are largely headquartered in the U.S. They are largely staffed by immigrants, many of whom came to the U.S. to further their education and were then recruited to the tech sector. President Trump’s vilification of immigrants, including a restriction on their movements in the form of a travel ban for people from seven Muslim-majority nations, leaves many genius researchers, engineers and entrepreneurs feeling unwelcome in the U.S. even if they are allowed in.

The tech sector is the largest part of the American stock market, and while Canada’s tech sector is not as large, it was still responsible for $117 billion in 2015, or 7.1 per cent of Canada’s economy. Any opportunity to draw some of Silicon Valley’s capital (and particularly, human capital) northward is positive.

Canada competes with the United States in the tech sector, and we’ve just gained a major advantage. The question is, how much will we capitalize on it? Tech companies themselves, as well as governments at all levels, are trying to figure that out — but they may be missing a big piece of the puzzle: education.

The post-secondary education sector amounted to 16 per cent of government expenditures in 2006, representing over $30 billion (not including tuition fees) to our economy. By investing in post-secondary education in order to further open it to international students, and target it to innovation in fields such as technology and environment, Canada stands to not only draw international talent to our education sector but also provide a more competitive environment for the tech industry.

There are three crucial steps to bring together these crucial factors of immigration, innovation and education. The first thing we need to do is keep doing what we’re doing. Canada’s immigration policy is among the best in the world, encouraging immigrants who will be of high value to our economy while still being generous to refugees. While we have our own long history of racism, we are far from the xenophobia exhibited south of the border, and for the most part newcomers feel safe and welcome here.

The next step is a major investment in post-secondary education. Canada already has a few world-class universities, but we have many excellent institutions that would join the top global ranks with an influx of funding. The Green Party has long proposed free post-secondary education, the NDP is vowing to eliminate tuition, and there are several nations in Europe that offer free tuition for all, including international students. Memorial University in Newfoundland has cut application fees for international students in the wake of Trump’s travel ban, and has had an enormous response; clearly, even modest action can have a big impact, and there is no shortage of international students looking to study in Canada.

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