No Silicon Valley North: It is time for Canada to lead

Go North Canada

The United States is reeling today from the end of its dramatic, historic, virulent presidential election.

It is time to stop asking how a new American president will affect Canadians and start asking how Canada can lead.

The nation finds itself in the precarious position of electing a candidate described by The New Yorker as “manifestly unqualified and unfit for office.” A candidate who, at various stages throughout his campaign, has been a climate change denier, science denier, economic protectionist, political isolationist, technological illiterate, and – in the most charitable terms – derogatory in the role, value, and equality of Muslims, immigrants, women, the disabled, and all people of colour.

Canada is a country oft-defined in relation to its southern neighbour. Recently, that relationship has been drawn in sharp contrast, with our nation labelled the last bastion of liberalism as the United States – like Britain before it – has moved starkly towards populist conservatism.

However, at this time, Canada stands in contrast not only in the tone and tenor of our political movements (to say nothing of the length of our elections), but through government action, particularly in the tech sector. The fast-track work permit program designed to bring in the global talent required to help Canadian companies succeed, and $50 million in new spending to promote the development of women-led businesses are just two of most recent examples of the gap between the Canadian government and a future American administration.

With the global markets and Silicon Valley reacting unfavorably to the election results, notable Canadians have already begun the recruitment push to US-based talent. While the billboards and offers to aid Canada’s overwhelmed immigration website might smack of entrepreneurial opportunism, if the president-elect’s past statements are to be believed (and at this moment in time, who can really say?), such advocacy might seriously be considered an act of asylum.

BetaKit has profiled many entrepreneurs who are Canadian by choice. This choice cannot be taken for granted.

In my tenure at BetaKit, we have profiled many Canadians who made the decision to return to their home country. In these profiles, two themes readily emerge: that the Canadian tech ecosystem has sufficiently evolved to make it a favourable destination to build a company, and that Canada itself is the preferred place to live and work. These entrepreneurs are Canadian by choice. This week’s events are a reminder that this choice cannot be taken for granted.

Canadian tech has long struggled to find the rallying cry to propel it compete on the global stage, and while Silicon Valley North is a term that has been much-maligned, I would argue that it is now harmful. As the world looks on today in collective disbelief, it is time for Canada to forego old habits and stop defining itself in relation to the United States. The beliefs, values, choices, and opportunities particular to this nation are vastly different than our southern neighbours, with the potential to move farther apart. This country is no longer (and perhaps never was) ‘like America, but more polite’.

Canada is not without faults, but our politeness is a virtue, as is our diversity and emphasis on “peace, order, and good government.” Canada’s tech ecosystem is vibrant, and its companies hunger for international talent and markets to fuel innovation. Canada can win on the global stage by being Canadian, and this message can resonate not only with ex-pats, but with people around the world suddenly fearful and desperate for new alternatives. It is time to stop asking how a new American president will affect Canadians and start asking how Canada can lead.

With a federal government willing to listen to and advocate for the tech community like never before, now is the time to speak up and ensure that every trade mission, pitch competition, program, and funding initiative carries the same clear message: you may Go North, but you will not find any Silicon Valleys. Only Canada.

Douglas Soltys

Douglas Soltys

Douglas Soltys is the Editor-in-Chief of BetaKit and founder of BetaKit Incorporated. He has worked for a few failed companies and written about many more. He spends too much time on the Internet.