From the editor: Land of Non-trepreneurs

Written by Ian Portsmouth

What does it mean to be Canadian? Most of the discussion about Canada’s new citizenship guide centres around whether the 62-page booklet is an accurate reflection of true Canadian values or simply those of the ruling Conservatives. But no matter whose vision of Canada the new guide presents, no one should fully subscribe to it.

The roots of that opinion are in a simple analysis conducted by the Globe and Mail, which counted the instances of some key words in Discover Canada: The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship. Among them: “Canadian” appears 208 times in the new document (versus 87 times in its predecessor), “Quebec” (66 versus 30) and “rights” (34 versus 53). This prompted my own analysis of the document, which not only serves as an educational tool for would-be Canadians, but also as our official self-portrait.

I went searching for “entrepreneur.”

It took a long while to find it. I started with the forward section, “Who We Are.” If the guide’s authors and the blue-ribbon panel of consultants who commented on it believe Canada is a nation of entrepreneurs, then surely the word would be there. It wasn’t. (Knowing the reviewers included such promoters of industry as John Ralston Saul and Adrienne Clarkson, I should have known I had no hope.) So, I moved to the section about Canada’s economy, which opens with the headline “A trading nation” and includes photos of a truck hauling lumber, oil pumpjacks, a hydroelectric dam and a few lobster on ice. Hewers of wood and drawers of water — that’s us, eh? The next page held more promise, given its inset photo of a BlackBerry. But still no sign of any entrepreneurs. At least I got a laugh from the photo of an automotive assembly line devoid of any actual cars or autoworkers.

So I scanned the book from front to back, and — voilà! — there it is, in the “Modern Canada” chapter, paragraph 17: “Science and research in Canada have won international recognition and attracted world-class students, academics and entrepreneurs engaged in medical research, telecommunications and other fields.” A single mention. At least that’s one more than the previous guide could muster.

Should we be surprised? With respect to entrepreneurship, the guide accurately reflects how Canadians think of themselves. As our story about Canada’s Entrepreneurs of the Decade on page 44 illustrates, we’re as good at using business to spark economic and social change as any foreign rivals. But in the normal discourse of everyday life, you won’t hear many Canadians marvelling about our achievements — unless it’s in reference to Canadian entrepreneurs succeeding abroad. Research in Motion’s Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis are the only living entrepreneurs mentioned in Discover Canada, although under the heading “Great Canadian Discoveries and Inventions.” It’s symptomatic of our need, as next-door neighbours of the world’s greatest economic, military and cultural force, to score ourselves not on the intrinsic value of our business accomplishments but on whether foreigners notice them.

“Canada: Land of Non-trepreneurs” is not the right message to send to people who are shopping the marketplace of nations for a new home. Demographic trends demand that Canada attract skilled immigrants; and if they can start their own successful businesses, even better. It’s well known that immigrants are the founders of a disproportionately large number of high-tech companies in the U.S.; so, why aren’t more of these entrepreneurial self-starters choosing to come to Canada instead? It’s not that they’re blind to the appreciation of ethnic diversity, which is an undeniable Canadian value. Rather, we’re not selling them hard enough on the entrepreneurial opportunity that Canada presents.

At least we can count on new Canadians to figure it out on their own. An analysis of the 2008 PROFIT 100 ranking of Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies found that immigrants were, on a per capita basis, three times more likely than non-immigrants to make it onto the list. (No matter where you come from, please see the PROFIT 100 ballot.)

After enough immigration over enough time, Canada will see an entrepreneurial nation in the mirror. Until then, let’s ask the immigrants to pen our next citizenship guide.


In November’s W100 rankings, we misstated the annual revenue or employee count of three entrepreneurs, which should have appeared as follows: Sherri Stevens, $17,694,633; Kelly Long, $17,035,707; Manishi Sagar, 345 employees. Also, Ellen Flanders, Marla Kott and Kristin MacMillan should have been listed as the principals of Imprint Plus.

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