Canada must sell its brand to attract smartest immigrants

December 18, 2016

By Kelly Pollack, The Province |

Together with the rest of the world, on Dec. 18 Canada will mark International Migrants Day.

For a nation whose story is inseparable from immigration and whose strength lies in its diversity, this is an occasion to celebrate. But it is also an opportunity to reflect on our “Canada brand” and on how best to build on its advantages.

In the face of growing international isolationism and short-termism, Canada is now looked upon more and more as a country of openness and global vision. We are considered “a citadel of decency, tolerance and good sense,” and our multiculturalism is cited as a beacon of hope in what The Economist magazine recently called “the depressing company of wall-builders, door-slammers and drawbridge raisers.”

This is a great brand to build on, and to use as a competitive advantage for our businesses and our economy, especially at a time when Canada is entering a major demographic transition and needs to replenish its aging, boomer workforce. In order to boost our innovation and increase our productivity, we need an injection of global talent. But we also need to recognize that we are in competition with the rest of the world for the best and the brightest, and we need to market Canada accordingly.

“Come home to Canada or make Canada your home,” said Kevin Lynch, vice-chairman of BMO Financial Group, at a recent B.C. Business Council Summit, noting that now is the right time to reach out both to our own expats and those looking for new opportunities abroad.

But for this “destination marketing campaign” to be successful, we need to have effective policies and synergies in place — among the federal and provincial governments, immigrant employment councils, communities and, last but not least, Canadian businesses.

And while immigration policy is largely the domain of the government, there are quite a few things companies can do — to build their business brand as well as our “Canada brand.” Companies need to pay attention to all aspects of human capital public policy and use their business and industry associations as spokespeople and advocates. They can push for faster pathways to permanence for all international workers, not just temporary foreign workers. And they can create meaningful partnerships with post-secondary institutions embracing the talent pool of Canada’s international students who are well-educated, well-integrated and can boost our innovation and productivity.

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