Like everyone on the planet, I have spent the last couple of months processing the enormous changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the middle of the first wave in April, I moved back to Canada with my family from a diplomatic posting in New York. A few months later, I started a new role as the Investor Services Advisor for the U.S. at Invest in Canada.
Just as I was managing a lot of change on a personal and professional level, every country, region and household faced much greater upheaval. As I settled into my new role, I wondered how I would be able to help my clients with their plans to invest and expand in Canada if we didn’t even know what the next week or month would hold.
Adapting to new challenges, together
My clients include U.S. companies from dozens of different sectors—from Fortune 500 firms to fast-growing and sizable tech enterprises. As I got to know them, I observed first-hand the incredible challenges they faced in adapting their workforce and business models to respond to the pandemic. This was not a drill; this was a real social, health and economic emergency.
In this crisis, executives needed to show leadership and courage, to make decisions and focus on business continuity. And perhaps because we were all adapting to the “new normal”, I found myself having remarkably frank conversations about these challenges with my clients. As we connected online from our home offices and kitchen tables, we didn’t just talk about tax rates, government programs, and talent acquisition strategies. We also talked about values—care for people and planet, the importance of governance and institutions, and the desire to make business decisions that would help both the company and its people be more resilient through and beyond the pandemic.
The Canada-U.S. relationship
The Canada-U.S. relationship is unique in the world. For geographic, cultural, historical, and political reasons, our economies are deeply interconnected. In this difficult period, all those connection points can become stressed. The prolonged travel restrictions and economic uncertainty have been hard on the investors and citizens of both countries. Yet I am struck by how much we are still achieving together. While flows of investment from the US into Canada were lower than usual in the past quarter, the overall decrease was not as steep as the predicted global decline in FDI of 40% in 2020. Approximately half of all foreign investment into Canada originates from the U.S., a statistic that has remained steady in the past six months.
All the things that made Canada an attractive investment destination before the pandemic—ease of doing business, mobility of talent, a commitment to innovation, and stable and predictable governance—are even more essential to business continuity. U.S. and Canadian firms alike are focusing on decreasing supply chain risk and keeping their workforce safe.
Every great relationship requires work. I admit that after several diplomatic postings in missions much further from home, with greater language and cultural differences, I thought an assignment in New York would be a relative breeze. And in many ways, it was—dynamic, diverse, creative—all those wonderful aspects of American culture were on full display every day on the streets of NYC. But I also discovered that for every familiar sight and sound, there were just as many things that I needed to learn or adapt to in my new city. The process was more challenging because it was so subtle, and it became clear just how much Canadians take for granted about our big neighbour to the south.
Partnership creates opportunities
Even now that I am back in Canada—in rural Nova Scotia, to be exact—I continue to be fascinated by these similarities and differences. After a long career serving Canada abroad, I know the power of the Canadian story, but I had not appreciated how important it is to keep sharing it with our American neighbours. In economic development, we tend to be more comfortable sticking to the numbers, but business decisions are ultimately made by people. Invest in Canada works as a team with our colleagues around the world, in Ottawa, and across the country; when we talk to U.S. investors about Canada, we are offering this vision of shared values and partnership that goes beyond economic incentives.
As Canadians and Americans, let’s acknowledge and celebrate this unique relationship, and recognize how much we rely on our reservoir of goodwill, mutual understanding, and shared values. Let’s keep working and building on this remarkable partnership. And if you belong to a U.S. firm that sees the growth potential of investing in Canada, let’s talk!