ARCHIVED – Speaking notes for Chris Alexander, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

At a News Conference to Announce a New Business Incubator Stream under the Start-Up Visa Program

At the Canadian Association of Business Incubation’s 22nd Annual Conference on Business Incubation
Toronto, Ontario
October 21, 2013

As delivered

Thanks very much, and good morning everyone. Thank you for including me these 22 years later, and for not taking that call last night. And also for reminding me that I do have to go back to my parliamentary duties. Just this afternoon, there will be Question Period and there will be a full week of hard work in the wake of our Speech from the Throne last week, and the great announcement of a comprehensive free trade agreement with Europe, which I’ll talk about shortly.

But it is a unique privilege to be able to be in my hometown with all of you from across the country on the shores of this lake, literally breathing in the air and the ideas that will shape our future. Because at Citizenship and Immigration, we in this portfolio like to think of ourselves as the department that shapes Canada’s future by bringing a quarter million people here every year from all parts of the world, but whose talent, whose experience, whose education truly does shape what this country is becoming.

So I am grateful to Michael and Carol for those introductory words. You are at the heart, as incubators and accelerators alongside your angel investor venture capital colleagues, of our comparative advantage in this country. You are literally the lifeblood of our economy. We know it, that small and medium size enterprise do this for us, around the world in every economy, but especially in Canada today, where we have a unique stability, where we have a unique institutional endowment that is seen as more powerful than ever because of the way it came through the meltdown of five years ago.

And having seen business incubators at work in many cities around the world, including some of those you mentioned on other continents, I’ve said I’m incredibly impressed by everything that they do but, above all, by everything that you do in this country, in Toronto, in Vancouver, in Montreal, in our other cities and in smaller cities and towns.

Look at today’s National Post, highlighting the importance of start-ups and entrepreneurship in our smaller cities and ranking, yes, the big cities, Toronto does very well, Montreal does very well, Vancouver does very well. But also reminding us that on the Prairies, there are dozens of these places that are really performing. That in Ontario, a smaller city like Leamington is a hotbed, literally a hotbed of business innovation because of its unique role in the agricultural sector.

And so, we are embracing a spirit of entrepreneurship together in Canada, in the 21st century that has stood us in good stead through this period of slow global recovery where Canada, yes, has outperformed but where we can’t take anything for granted. And our government does support business incubation. We know that it’s the only way to stay ahead of global competitors, that the businesses of the future do start as one person with a great idea and a few friends, coming out of university and that they are fundamental to the jobs, growth, and long-term prosperity agenda that we have as a city, as a province, as a country.

And the Prime Minister’s trip to Brussels, I think, underlined last week how far this commitment goes. As a young diplomat joining Foreign Affairs, external as it was then, in 1991, in the immediate aftermath of the signing of the free trade agreement with the United States, which became NAFTA, I can say personally how moved we all were, motivated we all were to work towards free trade with Europe, with this European Union that was not yet 28 members in the early 1990’s, that was still emerging from the Cold War, that was enlarging and integrating with new members in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall, but which is already on the way to becoming the largest economic common market, the largest economic player in the world by many measures, certainly by the number of consumers and their buying power under one roof, within one customs union.

There are 500 million people, in the European Union, ladies and gentlemen. Canada has 35 million people and our links with Europe go back a thousand years. This is the foundation stone of our international trading vocation, and it was for Europe that millions of Canadians fought for Canada’s values and freedoms as well, but in two world wars - we’re about to remember them again in Veterans Week very shortly - to see that history, to see that relationship being recognized and translated into economic opportunity for the Trans-Atlantic, North Atlantic community is truly, truly exciting.

And I think we all think, we’re all of the view that the studies so far, some of which came out a number of years ago now, are probably conservative when it comes to projecting what the benefits for Canada will ultimately be in terms of jobs, in terms of investment.

Also last week, we had the Governor General opening a new session of Parliament with a Throne Speech that was more substantive than usual. And I say that not because they are anything other than programmatic in our democracy, they always are, but because of minority governments, because of the commitments we had made in the last election, we were only able to go so far in recent years in these programmatic statements of what the government will do.

Last week’s Throne Speech was wide-ranging, ambitious in its economic strategy once again, historic in that it came alongside this conclusion of the trade agreement with Europe and whether it’s on reforming the federal public service or keeping taxes low, making sure our business environment remains absolutely competitive, or tackling this issue that Jason Kenney and I are now really working on 28 hours a day, which is jobs without people, people without jobs.

We have, thank God, an unemployment rate in Canada that is now under 7%, but we still have hundreds of thousands – far too many young people – who don’t have jobs. And then, here in the GTA and across the country, I was just in Calgary over part of the weekend, there are hundreds of thousands of jobs, high-paying jobs that are going unfilled. And we need to work through our skills development programs, across the country with all of you on skills development because small, medium-size enterprises, the new enterprises you are launching, are the ones that create far and away the most jobs.

But yes, we also have to work through our immigration programs, to make sure that we tackle that challenge. But just on my issues, the Throne Speech was daunting in its ambition. We recommitted ourselves to implement the Expression of Interest System, to help us recruit economic class immigrants who are truly the best and brightest, ensuring we then match those immigrant skills with jobs.

What does Expression of Interest mean? It basically means we’re trying to move like you, from being passive recipients of applications in a mechanical way, where they go into a line, into an inventory and we process them one by one, to becoming literally the recruiting agent for Canada. To saying to the whole world, “if you’re interested in Canada, maybe you won’t come, but if part of you wants to come, signal your interest to us. Fill in a short form, be part of a big pool of people that we know would come, if they had the opportunity.”

And once we have that pool, we will work as a department and as a government with provincial governments, territorial governments, employers and entrepreneurs to reach into that pool and to pull out the people that we know we need and that we know will do well here .And it’s a revolution, potentially, in immigration. New Zealand did it 10 years ago, Australia is trying to do it now. We will be doing it on a larger scale than anyone to date.

We also want to update the Citizenship Act for the first time in a generation, to strengthen and protect the value of Canadian citizenship. Think of how far we have come since just 1947, when we first created the legal concept of Canadian citizenship. The last full updating was 1977. Today, speak to a newcomer to Canada, and we’re in a different place in terms of the value that people attach to this unique credential, and we want to fully reflect that in legislation.

We also need to reform the Temporary Foreign Worker Program to ensure Canadians continue to get first crack at available jobs. It’s a Temporary Foreign Worker Program, we know we need them, but we know it needs to support good training programs in Canada and good immigration programs focused on our economic needs. We are also committed to preventing violence against women and forced marriages on our soil. Unfortunately, this is still an issue that creates controversy and tragedy in our immigration system from time to time – too often.

We also want to make Canada a top destination for students and tourists, a very competitive world in those two fields. We’ve doubled the number of international students coming to Canada in only seven years, but think of how much further we can go with the universities and colleges that we have.

And then, finally, the Throne Speech noted that we want to revamp the Immigrant Investor Program so that, in the future, newcomers arriving as entrepreneurs and investors contribute fully to Canada, in return for a clear path to citizenship.

And that last point is the one that I’m really here to discuss with you today, because since my appointment three months ago, I’ve come to appreciate what I knew intuitively before, and that is that immigration is indeed a key to encouraging innovation, driving economic growth and secure future prosperity.

Why do we do immigration? We have a country with an aging workforce, aging very gracefully, I might say, and very fortunately, because in the last country I spent a number of years – Afghanistan –people are happy that their life expectancy is moving now from 45, where it was under the Taliban, to just over 50.

So this is a sign of our success, but it’s also a demographic challenge, as is our low birth rate, and immigration is part of filling those gaps, as well as unleashing the potential that we know our economy has. We are an advanced economy, we are an affluent society, but we are also an emerging economy. There is no other G7 or other advanced economy that has the energy plans and projects, the mining sector and projects, the technology dynamism, the advanced manufacturing growth, in many areas that we have.

So walk the streets of most of Canada’s big cities, step out the door here, step into the lobby here, and you will see how many businesses were started or are owned by immigrants to Canada.

There was a study released in June by the Bank of Montreal that showed almost half of Canada’s millionaires – the proportion may be even higher among billionaires, I’m not sure – that millionaires are immigrants to Canada or first generation Canadians with at least one parent born abroad – almost half. These newcomers to Canada work their tails off. They have lost, often, some economic standing as they make the transition here. They’ve sacrificed, they’ve invested, and they want to get it back. They want to surpass it, if not for themselves, then for their children and for their grandchildren.

And we want to attract more of these successful immigrant entrepreneurs and innovators, individuals who have the potential to build innovative companies and allow us to compete on a global scale. Now, as you know, we are in direct competition with the rest of the industrialized world, with the whole world for this class of entrepreneurial immigrant. They have choices, by definition. And when they find out that one of our programs at Citizenship and Immigration has a waiting time of one year, let alone three years, they will go elsewhere.

And that’s why we’re committed to eliminating these backlogs, shrinking processing times, and it’s also why we created the Start-Up Visa Program, which is the first of its kind in the world. What makes this program unique– and it was only created this spring –is that, unlike similar programs in other countries, we are offering permanent residence upfront to successful applicants.

This means that eligible foreign entrepreneurs with viable business proposals can become permanent residents immediately once their proposal is accepted. We truly believe that the Start-Up Visa’s distinctive design will attract the world’s best and brightest, innovators who have the creativity and the passion that ultimately drives every successful start-up.

And even before we have brought the first people into Canada under this program, we have, all of us, derived enormous benefit from it, simply because of the publicity it has generated in the United States, in Latin America, in Asia, in Europe. We are saying to the whole world that our doors are open to you entrepreneurs, innovators, and the creators of the companies of the future.

While they may not succeed on their first attempt, entrepreneurs need to dream big and they can’t be afraid to take risks in order to make their ideas a reality. You know how hard the path that they walk is. At the same time, the involvement of Canada’s private sector will ensure that there are checks and balances. That’s because we know Canada’s private sector will only invest in ideas they think will succeed. After all, an investor’s success depends on choosing winners and the private sector, the market is the best at doing just that.

By linking immigrant entrepreneurs with investors and business incubators who have expertise working with start-ups, we believe the program will address many of the challenges immigrant entrepreneurs typically faced in the past. Granted, many have found success on their own. They’ve come through other existing programs: the Federal Skilled Worker Program, the new Canada Experience Class, the Entrepreneur Program that began back in the 1970’s.

But many immigrants to Canada are unfamiliar with Canada’s business environment when they first arrive. A lack of credit history in Canada or access to Canadian social and professional networks can also pose a barrier to a foreign entrepreneur in a highly competitive environment. That means that entrepreneurs with viable, high-growth propositions can’t afford those types of setbacks. They need to know that they will be supported, oriented and incubated, from the moment that they arrive. Canadian expertise can help fund entrepreneurs, navigate our business landscape and give these newcomers a leg up upon their arrival.

So the first applications under the Start-Up Visa came on April 1st. In order to apply, entrepreneurs need a significant investment commitment from a designated Canadian angel investor group or venture capital fund. When the program was launched, my department announced its partnership with Canada’s Venture Capital and Private Equity Association and the National Angel Capital Organization. They were key in helping us to identify and designate the venture capital funds and angel investor groups currently participating in the program.

But we also recognize that there is an important contribution that needs to be made, needs to be added to this equation from, on the part of business incubators. The absolutely dynamic fora for forming, creating, mentoring the businesses of the future in our 21st century economy and we need you to help us remain competitive in the global economy.

For that reason, I’m pleased to announce that we will now also partner with the good folks at CABI, the Canadian Association for Business Incubation, to launch a dedicated new stream under our Start-Up Visa Program for business incubators and accelerators.

The Canadian Association for Business Incubation will work with CIC to identify organizations we can designate as business incubators to help start-ups grow. With this new stream, Canada’s Start-Up Visa Program will offer a pathway to Canada for promising entrepreneurs and enterprises at any stage of development. Those in need of incubation, those in need of acceleration, those in need of an angel, those in need of venture capital or private equity investment.

Unlike the angel investor and venture capital streams, the business incubator stream will not require a financial investment. Instead, applicants will need to secure entry into a designated business, Canadian business incubator program.

And it’s very important to highlight that aspect. What we are saying is that, for those among you who are identified as having promising business and entrepreneurial prospects, an investment will not be required. Your say and your professional opinion will be the only requirement in order to access and begin the process.

A designated business incubator’s commitment to a foreign entrepreneur will be an indication that it believes a proposed business is viable. The business incubator will help us determine whether the entrepreneur has the skills and potential to build new and innovative enterprises that can succeed in Canada and ultimately increase our competitiveness on a global scale.

But as in the previous two streams, designated business incubators can help prospective immigrant entrepreneurs overcome the obstacles that foreign entrepreneurs may encounter in Canada’s business environment. You’re providing advice, sharing knowledge, helping foreign entrepreneurs make vital connections to the business community, and thereby providing newcomers with the support they need to make their ideas a reality.

This is something that every immigrant to this country must go through: orientation, adaptation. We’re proud to be a government that has tripled its spending on settlement services over our time in office because we know those investments work. We know that, when we link people who don’t know this country to the services, to the networks that they need, they succeed faster, they are happier, they are satisfied with their experience and they don’t go down the wrong paths nearly as often.

So this new stream will be open for applications as of this Saturday, October 26th. So please put the word out. By expanding the Start-Up Visa Program, this is really one of the fastest launches of any immigration program we’ve ever had. We launched the Federal Skilled Trades Program in January of 2013. We brought the first people into Canada under that program in August.

We’re hoping that it will be even faster in this case. But by expanding it, we’re now providing designated Canadian venture capitalists, angel investors and business incubators with yet another tool to attract innovative entrepreneurs from around the world. We’re excited about the Start-Up Visa’s expansion, fully anticipate that the world’s best and brightest will be welcomed to Canada through this program. I’ve seen it happening with my own eyes.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to be out at GrowLab in Vancouver, incubator, accelerator, angels not far away, and people are already there, in part, because of the visa. They haven’t received this actual visa, but they know what it means about our shared commitment, the commitment of our private sector as well as the commitment of governments at every level in this country to do right and to do well and do the right things in this space.

And so they’re here. We’ve got the attention of Silicon Valley, we’ve got the attention of the start-up community in many parts of the world. Let’s continue to use it. We look forward to a return on investment that will bring benefits for generations to come.

Thank you. Merci. And good luck with your conference.


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