Rapidly though incoherently, President Trump is redefining America’s place in the world. Inevitably though accidentally, he is doing the same to Canada — a perilous situation, but one that presents certain opportunities.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not pleasant, the new order. After the terrorist attack on a Quebec City mosque, which killed six, Press Secretary Sean Spicer offered one of the more offensive statements ever uttered by a White House spokesman to the Canadian people.
“It’s a terrible reminder of why we must remain vigilant, and why the president is taking steps to be proactive, rather than reactive, when it comes to our nation’s safety and security.”
In the middle of our national catastrophe, carried out by a man very much inspired by the hateful rhetoric of the American president, Spicer’s logic was as savagely selfish as it was twisted. And there was nothing we could do about it. When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met Trump on Monday, he shook his hand and smiled, as required.
But there are definitive advantages, not the least of which is national clarity. The chaos of the Trump executive order on refugees provoked a startlingly consistent response from the political class in Canada.
Trudeau tweeted his opposition: “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada.” And it’s not just the liberals who have spoken up. Former Conservative Immigration Minister Jason Kenney — not a Trudeau supporter, to say the least — also tweeted his outrage. Brad Wall, the right-wing premier of Saskatchewan, added to the chorus: “Sask has welcomed approx 2000 refugees this past year. We stand ready to assist fed gov’t re: anyone stranded by the US ban.”
Trump’s policies could also lead to benefits far more tangible than clarity.
Although many Americans may not realize it, the tech industry is booming in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. Formerly seed communities for Silicon Valley, they are sites of excellence in their own right now, particularly in the field of artificial intelligence. However, even as tech companies and executives move north, workers haven’t followed, creating a massive shortage in skilled labor predicted to reach 200,000 jobs by 2020.
Perhaps Trump’s executive order will help fill the gap — a possibility I’d bet was on tech leaders’ minds when 150 of them, including the CEOs of Wattpad, Shopify and Wealthsimple, signed an open letter against the actions of the U.S. government: “Canadian tech companies understand the power of inclusion and diversity of thought, and that talent and skill know no borders.” While the letter was in one sense a statement of opposition to the Trump executive order, it was also a political argument in defense of Canada and its current government. “The Canadian tech community supports Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s message that Canada will and must remain inclusive to all nationalities.” And, finally, it was a not too subtle pitch to the denizens of Silicon Valley: Come north. “The 21st century will be driven by pluralistic economies powered by pluralistic societies.” The letter writers didn’t need to state the obvious: The United States may not fit into that category anymore.
Russian-born Google co-founder Sergey Brin showed up at San Francisco International Airport to protest, explaining, “because I’m a refugee.” Netflix, Facebook and Airbnb issued public statements against their government. Meanwhile, Canada’s tech leaders asked Ottawa to provide “immediate and targeted” assistance to people refused H1-B visas. The federal immigration minister — himself a Somali refugee once — offered temporary residence to anyone stranded in Canada because of the ban.
The war between Trump and Silicon Valley is set to escalate. Bloomberg reported that another executive order, still being drafted, will overhaul the entire work-visa program on which Silicon Valley relies. Here, too, is an opportunity for Canada. If the Americans don’t want the highly skilled mobile people of the world, we do.
Canada has always defined itself with and against America. In the age of Trump, we are defining ourselves by our openness in a world closing off. Trudeau has explicitly defined Canada as a post-national country — the ideal place for the globalized tech sector to flourish. So if you want to live in a stable, liberal economy, open to immigrants and unafraid of otherness, start packing. Bring a warm coat.
Stephen Marche is the author of the forthcoming book “The Unmade Bed: The Messy Truth About Men and Women.”