Canada? We suck

A new book reveals why our brands lack cachet in global markets.

Canada sucks. Oh sure, we’re nice people, and we produce great hockey players, but let’s face it: our best companies just can’t compete with the world’s best ? or even second best. We’ve become fat on government-sponsored oligopolies and protectionism, and made rich by the world’s need for our abundant raw resources. Our success is really predicated on a fluke of geography. Move Canada next to, say, Romania, instead of the giant U.S. market, and we’d be an impoverished nation trying to scrape into the EU. What we lack is the nerve ? the chutzpah, if you will ? to get outside Canada’s cosy confines and build an international presence.

That’s the premise, at least, of Andrea Mandel-Campbell’s excellent first book, Why Mexicans Don’t Drink Molson (Douglas & McIntyre, $34.95). And, unfortunately for Cancon apologists, she’s right. Ever wonder why Molson Canadian isn’t readily available abroad, but Budweiser, Corona and Heineken are? It’s not because Canadian is worse. It’s because Molson was historically quite content to stay at home, where it’s protected by government policies. When Molson did venture to Brazil, as Mandel-Campbell points out, ruthless competitors in a cutthroat market crushed it. That little adventure forms the basis of one chapter in the book, and the title, but it’s a little unfair to single out Molson. After all, it was Labatt that expanded into Mexico during the 1990s,and the locals don’t drink Blue, either. Besides, the list of Canuck misadventures abroad is staggering and reads like a who’s who of Canadian business: Bell, Hydro-Québec, TransAlta, the list goes on and on and on.

Indeed, the lack of Canadian-based global brands is all rather sad and depressing. But there is hope, says Mandel-Campbell. “I hope this is a wake-up call for the future of Canada to really create a ball-breaking country,” says the former foreign Latin America correspondent. And that starts with losing our inferiority complex. “Unless you’re confident in who you are, you’ll never be able to project yourself internationally.”

That inferiority complex has its roots in Canadian industrial policies. We’ve been coddled by government for so long that it’s become our Achilles heel on the global stage. A good portion of the book is spent proving that Canada must force its companies to be competitive by setting up an even playing field for foreign firms. We have to allow the banks to merge, get rid of the Canadian Wheat Board and other national marketing agencies, and eliminate foreign ownership restrictions in all industries, especially telecommunications.

Canada ignores such advice at its own peril. To steal the last line from Mandel-Campbell’s book, Canada is “one of the best nations in the world…but we really could be the best.” It’s time to wake up.