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

At Startup Canada Day on the Hill

Ottawa, Ontario
November 21, 2013

As delivered

Thank you very much for that introduction. Thank you for inviting me to join you today. It’s a real pleasure to be with you today, having been in that other larger room with many of you, having breakfast and seeing those first conversations with entrepreneurs and feeling the energy of this day and of this network is truly inspiring. And to have it happening here so close to the Hill, so close to our democratic institutions in the heart of the country is a very powerful experience for me, and I know one that will transmit through to everyone who sits in the House of Commons and the Parliament of Canada and across government because you are the future of this country in many, many respects, the future of its economic prospects.

And we are, I think, as this audience needs no convincing, a start-up nation. Canada, from its very origins — and I think in many ways we’re still trying to understand fully how we got to where we are today — is a community, a society of entrepreneurs that has driven forward in each century, each generation of our development, by harnessing that entrepreneurship at a higher level, on a larger scale. 

Think back to the cod fishery of the 15th, 16th century. You know these were entrepreneurs, Basques, Breton, French, from the west of England, coming across the North Atlantic, which was not an easy trip in those days, to benefit from the huge bounty of the Grand Banks.

And then, centuries later, waves of entrepreneurship later, here we are in Ottawa with all of you.  You know, I had the pleasure of running into Terry Matthews, as many of you have done, and you heard from him this morning, you know, an inspiring leader of generations, I think, in the plural, of Canadian entrepreneurship. 

And we know that in 2013, we have the potential to take that tradition even further, to build on it and to take it global because particularly since the recession and since our recovery began in earnest in 2009, Canada has been one of the countries helping the whole global economy start up, restart in a new context after a terrible global period of recession, depression in many places, higher unemployment. The model that we have is one that is shining even more brightly around the world. We see it in the immigration program because it works, because it harnesses diversity, because it harnesses the talent and the great ideas of entrepreneurs in a new forward-looking way. 

So I am very excited to be here, very excited to be here as part of Global Entrepreneurship Week in Canada.

And your event is quite unique, because it isn’t every day that we have the opportunity to gather entrepreneurs and industry leaders with members of the start-up community, cabinet ministers and government officials. We are all here because we believe in the power of entrepreneurship, the value of innovation and, of course, the importance of start-up businesses to our national economy.

And let me just give you that perspective from my portfolios. Specific angle of vision, we don’t just say that we believe in entrepreneurship and innovation, we actually have programs, world-beating programs, I would say, that are delivering a focus on innovation, a content to the flows of immigration to this country, flows of visitors to this country, that is more and more focused on the needs of your network, the needs of a start-up community that is as big as Canada itself.

Because our Government’s primary focus is on jobs, growth and long-term prosperity, it means that start-up culture, start-up vibrancy, start-up success is our bread and butter. It’s absolutely – without those results, we know that our economic success cannot continue. We want growth to continue. We want innovation to drive it, but we can’t do these things without immigration. We’ve always been a country in one way or another that accepted relatively large waves of immigration. There were a few moments during world wars when it went down, for obvious reasons, but the rest of the time, we have been leaders in designing immigration programs that worked and that worked for the new economy that we have always been building.

In fact, only 10 years ago, we were already saying that 45 percent of Canada’s labour market needs, Canada’s workforce renewal, depended on immigration. Today it’s more like 65 percent, going on to 75 percent. There are different studies on this. But if we didn’t have immigration of a quarter million-plus people that we have every year, we would be starting to create a shortfall on that scale in the annual renewal of our workforce. And nowhere would that hit harder than in small and medium-sized enterprises, start-ups that many of you represent.

Many of you in this room are immigrants yourselves, or children of immigrants. It was mentioned earlier my wife is an immigrant and a start-up entrepreneur. We know from personal experience, those of us who’ve seen the immigration program, how vital it is to meeting Canada’s economic and labour market needs. 

And let’s not talk about trivia here, or about the micro phenomenon of immigration to Canada, because there is a macro picture here that is absolutely extraordinary. An Ipsos-Reid survey a couple of years ago, literally polling people around the world, came to the conclusion that there may be two billion people who in one part of their mind, in China and India, other parts of Asia, Africa, are interested in coming to Canada, specifically in coming to Canada.

We also know that almost half, just short of 50 percent of Canada’s millionaires today are immigrants to Canada or first generation Canadians with at least one parent born abroad. 

So immigration is not marginal to our economy, to Startup Canada. It is central. It is one of the drivers. You understand that in a global economy perhaps better than anyone across this country. So we want to attract more of those successful immigrant entrepreneurs and innovators who have the potential to launch, build, sustain, grow the innovative companies of the future, and grow them in a global perspective.

But, as you know, Canada is in direct competition with other industrialized countries that must also rely on immigration to fuel their economic growth.

We are not alone in this competition for global talent, for global entrepreneurship. There are other countries that want to be hubs, that want to have deeper capital markets to support start-ups, that want to achieve innovation excellence and drive it further, better than anyone else. And yes, we are top of category in many areas, but we will have to work hard to stay there, and we will have to work hard to get there across the board in other areas where we may not have all of the assets that we want to have.

And that’s why in our immigration programs we are determined to make sure that entrepreneurs choose Canada. And so we created a Start-up Visa Program. It is literally called a Start-up Visa Program. And it was only launched in April of this year. It’s the first of its kind in the world. Chile, others have something similar, but not quite like this, not both the entrepreneurship dimension and the immigration dimension, permanent residence in Canada, which we are offering as part of this deal, literally, which we as a country are better at offering in a more principled, rules-based way than almost anyone, and more proactive in offering than really anyone else in the world, certainly on a per-capita basis. It’s the first of its kind in the world, part of our efforts to build a fast, fair and flexible economic immigration system focused on meeting the new and emerging needs of the Canadian market – economy and labour market.

Now what does it mean? It essentially means that eligible foreign entrepreneurs with viable business proposals can become permanent residents once their proposal is accepted, once they’ve done a deal with a Canadian angel, a venture capital organization or an incubator. We don’t expect all of those entrepreneurs to create the next Apple or Google. We fully recognize in the Start-up Visa Program that some of those who come will have proposed businesses and will receive financing for businesses that will fail. That is part of entrepreneurship. You know it. We know it. The best and most of these people will pick themselves up, try something new, and it will be better than anything they had previously tried.

We’re also confident that even if their failure is the first destination after arriving as part of this program, the skills and abilities of these entrepreneurs are what count in the long term. And as permanent residents, they will have the right, the luxury, for some of them, to start over again, which is, as you all know, part of entrepreneurship.

We are not in government out to pick winners, and that’s why we’ve engaged these private-sector players, these private-sector clearinghouses, associations, to ensure checks and balances are in place, and to ensure the best judgment is being applied, business judgment, about whose proposal deserves support and who should come. We know that Canada’s private sector will only invest in ideas they think have merit and will succeed. After all, an investor’s success depends on choosing winners. 

So we started accepting applications on April 1st.  We’ve done it with Canada’s Venture Capital & Private Equity Association and the National Angel Capital Organization. They help us identify and designate the groups that are participating in the program, and it’s only when the entrepreneur, foreign entrepreneur, potential immigrant does their deal with a Canadian venture capitalist or angel that the process starts. We hope to have the first people coming through this program very quickly. That will be a record almost certainly in the annals of Canadian immigration to move from table to lips to drink the results of this program in a matter of months rather than a matter of years.

But we also recognize the importance of incubators to our economy and to helping us remain competitive. They provide promising entrepreneurs with valuable mentorship, greater supportive environment for start-up businesses to experiment, learn, grow and thrive. In a sense, what you’re doing here today is incubation on a grand scale and incubating the incubators. 

And for that reason, just one month ago today, I was pleased to announce the launch of a dedicated new stream under our Start-up Visa Program, with CABI, the Canadian Association of Business Incubation, our third partner under the program. So to come through under the angel category, it’s a smaller investment — $75,000. Venture capital it’s $250,000. If you do a partnership with an incubator, there’s no investment required at all, but the incubators will be very discriminating. 

And what has this program done already before anyone comes through it? It has put us on the map, the immigration map in a new and aggressive way that, I think, we can all be proud of, because there is certainly no program that we have launched in Citizenship and Immigration that has garnered so much positive publicity so quickly in Silicon Valley, in Latin America, across the United States, across Europe, in Israel, and so forth, because we have said our doors are open to business for entrepreneurs, that we’re not just waiting for you to show up, we are going out and looking for you, and that we want to be proactive in recruiting the best and the brightest and do it through this program, but also make it a feature of our other existing programs. 

The two fastest growing immigration programs we have, both economic immigration programs, are the Canadian Experience Class and the Provincial Nominee Program which is in partnership with the provinces and territories. How many of you have heard of either of those? That’s good.  Not bad.

Canadian Experience, we took 10,000 people, roughly, this year. It’ll be 15,000 next year.  We’re targeting people who already have an experience of Canada. Some of them have studied here and done a year’s work. Some of them have come as temporary foreign workers and proven their ability in our workforce. Some of them are entrepreneurs or investors who have bought a business here, brought themselves here to work in the business, as our quite generous work permit, labour market opinion system, allows. We’re reforming that as well. And then once the business starts to work and they decide they like Canada for themselves and their families, they apply under the Canadian Experience Class.

So don’t get the wrong idea. Just because the Start-up Visa has just begun this year, we are already bringing entrepreneurs, investors, start-up masters from around the world to this country through every channel available to us. 

I can’t tell you how excited we are about the expansion of this program, and to see it starting to yield fruit. I was at GrowLab in Vancouver on a recent visit, an impressive facility with incubator, accelerator, investors all under one roof. Vancouver and Toronto, I guess, already ranked in the top 10 cities in the world for start-ups. We know that Waterloo, Montreal, Calgary, smaller cities across Canada are climbing those rankings, and it was a privilege to see that dynamic environment at work, as we see it at work in this room and in this conference today.

The Start-up Visa was our promise to the young entrepreneurs of the world that if you can pitch your idea to a designated Canadian angel investor, venture capital player, business incubator, if you manage to strike a deal, we’ll open the door for you and make it easy for you to immigrate to Canada.

But I would like to make an undertaking to you that our promise to ourselves and to Canada is to take that start-up approach, to take that proactive approach to our immigration programs across the board. We’ve already cut backlogs by half, sped up processing times considerably, strengthened partnerships with universities, provinces, business associations across the country to get them involved in helping us attract the best and brightest, but we’re driving towards a brand new framework for our economic immigration system on January 1st, 2015. It’s called the Expression of Interest system. We’ll be looking to those two billion people around the world to say if you really are interested in coming to Canada, signal that to us. Fill in a small form online. Be part of a pool of people who have shown interest in Canada, and then we will reach out to those we really need — the entrepreneurs, the welders, the specialized technology brains — and invite the ones that we know can succeed here, whose skills we know are in deficit in Canada now, to invite, and we’ll process their applications in real time. Our processing target will be six months at that time.

And for many of you who’ve been through our current economic immigration programs, or came through in the ‘90s or the ‘80s, you will know that’s a big improvement.

The buzz that you are creating, the buzz that Canada is creating is palpable. It’s audible around the world. We had our own moment of being blown away by the potential of getting the right message in the right place at the right time with a single billboard. Perhaps it was the best investment in advertising the Canadian government has made in recent times. I don’t know how much it cost, a couple of thousand dollars. We put it up on the highway to Silicon Valley. It said “H-1B Problems? Pivot to Canada. Try the Start-up Visa.” And it probably got us 25 articles in the top business newspapers around the world.

So our message is loud and clear. This is a country built by risk-takers and the future strength of our economy depends on the success of entrepreneurs today and in the future. Just as many of Canada’s original entrepreneurs were immigrants, recruiting the best, brightest and most innovative entrepreneurs from around the world will help Canada remain competitive in the global economy. 

And again, it’s not just a rhetoric of global engagement that we are offering today. It is a reality of deepening global relationships for Canada outside of North America. The Canada-Europe Trade Agreement is an extraordinary historic achievement that will bring us closer to European entrepreneurs and allow us to pivot back to Asia and say look what we’ve achieved with this enormous, largest economic partner for the world, the European Union. We want to do this with Korea, with Japan, with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, with China, with all of our major Asian partners along the lines that we have already proposed. And we want to accelerate that success. 

The launch of the Start-up Visa was an important step in overhauling our business immigration programs, but the Start-up Visa is just the beginning. As you heard from last month’s Speech from the Throne, we are going to continue overhauling immigration to attract the best and the brightest, update our Citizenship Act to make sure it fully reflects the value of Canadian citizenship today, and entrepreneurship is one of the dimensions of Canadian citizenship we would like to see reinforced. We’re going to update the Investor Program. And, simply put, we need to ask more from foreign investors when they come to Canada. We want to ask them to be part of that risk-taking culture that you are all part of and that we know pays off enormously in terms of jobs, growth and long-term prosperity.

Our goal is that in the future, newcomers arriving as immigrant investors and entrepreneurs will make a real contribution to our economy in exchange for the security, pathway and responsibility that comes with Canadian citizenship.

It was really inspiring to have been a part of your event today. We believe in what you are doing. We are doing all we can to meet your expectations and help you realize your potential. The recent reforms to our immigration system substantially reflect today’s atmosphere and your shared determination to launch a new wave of entrepreneurship in Canada.

Thank you very much for this invitation. I look forward to meeting and working with many of you in the months and years to come.

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