By Jordan Press, The Canadian Press
SAN FRANCISCO – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrived Thursday in sunny California, armed with a Canadian sales pitch aimed at attracting Silicon Valley talent and investment capital.
Trudeau is shopping an expanding tech sector in places like Toronto and Kitchener-Waterloo, where companies need executive-level expertise to stay competitive. Canada has also invested millions to attract top talent and researchers away from other countries.
The goal isn’t to lure talent away from the region, but to ensure that Canada has a voice in what has become the epicentre of the new economy, said Rana Sarkar, Canada’s consul general in San Francisco.
“We are here not to steal jobs from Silicon Valley,” Sarkar said in an interview this week. “We are here to co-create with the tech sector here.”
During his lunch-hour meeting with a roundtable of tech executives from companies like AirBNB, Eventbrite, Google, PayPal, and Pinterest, Trudeau said companies and governments must consider how technological disruption affects traditional jobs.
“The conversations we’re having about how you do things right — how you think about the positive impact, long-term, of the choices that we make — is core to the kinds of conversations we have to be having whether we’re in government, or in business,” Trudeau said.
Two years ago when Trudeau took office, Canadian expats who were veterans of Silicon Valley talked to The Canadian Press about the difficult sell their home country faced. In California, salaries, sunshine and venture capital are all abundant, the professional culture more advanced, they said.
However, they also spoke longingly about bringing that culture back home to create the same kind of success in Canada that they experienced in California.
“The valley is great, but it’s actually not my number 1 place where I’m trying to bring talent from,” said Ben Zifkin, who runs a Toronto-based social network for businesses called Hubba.
“It’s hard to pull people out of that.”
Donald Trump’s presidency has made the pitch a little easier: all the tough talk about trade deals and immigration has changed the political climate in the United States.
“The political climate has obviously made Canada more attractive because we’re more diverse, we’re more welcoming and we’re more open,” said Lekan Olawoye, who leads the venture talent development division at the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto.
Companies like Microsoft and Amazon have invested in staff in Canada to get around the American visa quotas for overseas workers, said Chris Sands, Director of the Center for Canadian Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
“Canada has been a safety valve for these big companies that are able to bring people from Asia and elsewhere into Canada.”
In a paper published last month co-authored by Olawoye, MaRS researchers suggested Canada rethink its pitch to top tech talent. Instead of promoting itself as a place to settle, companies and governments needed to sell the virtues of regions and cities.
Trudeau is likely to do just that when he sits down face-to-face with Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s top executive, as his company decides whether to make Toronto home to a second headquarters.