Does Canada face a high-tech ‘brain drain’? Poll says yes; experts not so sure

Many Canadians fear our nation is lagging behind when it comes to technology inventions and innovation, and perhaps worse, our best and brightest are going elsewhere in a case of “brain drain,” according to a new Ipsos poll conducted for Global News.

More than half (54 per cent) of respondents stated a belief the nation’s tech sector is falling behind. A paltry 44 per cent of respondents agreed that Canada is a hothouse of tech invention.

But that’s just not true, according to industry experts who say perception — not lack of innovation and brain drain — is the problem.

We’re too polite to boast

Nearly three-quarters (73 per cent) of poll respondents said they believe Canada fails to recognize or celebrate its tech inventions as much as it should.

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Bruce Lazenby, president of Invest Ottawa agrees; he says innovation is happening, we just don’t talk about it enough.

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“I think the folks that are in the exciting part of things aren’t sharing their excitement broadly enough,” said Lazenby.

While a majority of poll respondents (68 per cent) said that Canada has created an environment that fosters technological entrepreneurship, nearly three-quarters of respondents (72 per cent) believe that the country is suffering from brain drain.

“We don’t spend the time sort of banging the drum in Canada,” said Jason Flick, CEO of You.i TV.

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But just because you don’t hear about tech innovation in Canada doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

“I think it’s an incredibly vibrant community.”

“Obviously it’s different than it was before the tech bubble so you’re not hearing these huge announcements, not seeing these big funding rounds, but there are an incredible number of highly successful companies that are right at that point where they’re about to start peaking,” said Flick.

He said there’s an “enormous” number of Canadian tech companies that don’t necessarily do business here at home, so you don’t hear about them. Meanwhile, they are having huge success in the U.S. or overseas markets.

Raising Canada’s tech profile on the world stage

All the experts Global News spoke to agreed that raising Canada’s profile as a tech leader is key, at home and particularly abroad.

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“Our visibility abroad is going to be important; how do you showcase that we are one of the innovative nations around the world?” Said Namir Anani, president of the Information and Communications Technology Council.

“That leads into attracting foreign direct investments, attracting businesses, and jobs at the end of the day, to Canada.”

Lazenby said the talent is there, now Canada needs to put the framework in place to put those ideas into motion.

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“Innovation and creativity are two different things,” said Lazenby. “Innovation is where you create value out of creativity. So I think as a country we’re pretty creative, maybe what we’re doing is not taking enough risk to be able to actually implement some of that. And that’s an area we want to see, frankly, government step in and try and incent some of that innovation.”

The cost of initially doing business internationally is huge, said Flick, and startups need help growing first at home so they have the capital to branch out. He said the feds should lead by example.

“The government should be open to using more start ups or small companies as well,” said Flick. “So we need policy and we need openness to doing business with our own startups.”

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There may be good news on that front soon; prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau pledged large investments in the tech sector during the federal election campaign.

WATCH BELOW: Trudeau announces big investment in tech sector, training and jobs

Exclusive Global News Ipsos polls are protected by copyright. The information and/or data may only be rebroadcast or republished with full and proper credit and attribution to “Global News Ipsos Reid.” This poll was conducted between June 19 and June 23, with a sample of 1,006 Canadians from Ipsos’ online panel and is accurate to within 2.9 percentage points 19 times out of 20.

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