Our Time to Shine — Divisive U.S. Election Helps Elevate Canada’s Global Brand

The pundits are having a field day with the results of the U.S. election. But for me, there are two critical takeaways for Canada: First, the level of uncertainty in our trade relations with the U.S. has gone up exponentially; and, second, "Brand America" in the eyes of many countries in Asia has taken an incredible beating. This has significant implications for Canada. Diversifying our trade and emboldening "Brand Canada" is more critical now than it has ever been. It will be crucial to put in place strategies and policies to build our positive brand and to set Canada apart as a place to live, work and invest.

In the wake of what has been widely described as the nastiest, most ruthlessly divisive election campaign in U.S. history, it could be years before America's international image recovers from the battering it took along the campaign trail. Not to mention the global impact of the deeply isolationist rhetoric that helped propel the 45th President of the United States into office.

Meanwhile, we remain tolerant, welcoming and open for business. While the U.S. was noisily closing in around itself in the final days of the campaign, Canada was quietly expanding its engagement globally through the negotiation of free trade agreements and a more open and progressive policy on refugees. But we are still not fully prepared and positioned for the economic pivot to the emerged and emerging markets in Asia.

The remarkable rise of Asia marks one of the defining shifts of the 21st century. Within five years, it will represent 44 per cent of the world's gross domestic product, 54 per cent of the global middle class, and will consume $4.8 trillion US annually — that's 42 per cent of the world's total consumption.

Even before the election, Asia was unsettled by the divisive and isolationist nature of American politics, and interest in Canada as a place to do business and send your kids to school was already on the rise. Now, after the election, Canada will really catch people's attention in Asia.

Recent recommendations to the federal government from the new Dominic Barton-led Advisory Council on Economic Growth will elevate the "Brand Canada" internationally — particularly in the Asia-Pacific, a region clearly more vital to our long-term prosperity than ever before. Several of these recommendations were adopted in Ottawa this month and will inform new national programs that include easing the immigration process for highly skilled foreigners and for international students, two groups that together will supplement Canada's existing workforce to help create an international talent hub that is more globally competitive and connected.

This is an initiative we strongly support at the Foundation. The Asia-Pacific as a region is now richer than Europe and catching up to North America. It is at the forefront of modern technology and innovation, with member economies scrambling to be the most innovative in the world. Asian businesses and governments are looking for opportunities to learn from countries like Canada, where openness, tolerance and good governance prevail. They want to establish healthy innovation ecosystems, learn how to catalyze entrepreneurship, and create collaborative opportunities with trusted partners.

As a bruised and battered United States nurses its existential hangover and patches the reputational damage sustained in a long and bitter election run capped with a worrisome and uncertain outcome, now is our time to shine. Already widely regarded throughout the Asia-Pacific as trustworthy and reliable, with products that are of high quality and businesses that are built on good governance, it is an opportune time to further elevate "Brand Canada".

Indeed, ours must be a brand purpose-shaped around innovation and technology, a brand of collaboration, connectivity and inclusion where Canadian talent is known to develop and grow and where companies and entrepreneurs are seen to have access to the best talent globally. Now is the time to cement the notion of trade diversity and build a strategic and policy framework to engage more fully with Asia. "Brand Canada" is our new calling card.

Stewart Beck is the president and CEO of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.

This piece was first published in the Vancouver Sun on November 18, 2016