The ads and billboards began going up before the election, and haven't stopped. Sortable, an ad platform based in Waterloo, Ontario, started running an ad in March showing a picture of President Trump with the words "Feeling Homesick?," part of an attempt to bring Canadian tech workers in the U.S. back home.
A company called True North launched in November 2016 to help tech workers, especially those on visas nervous about recent anti-immigrant rhetoric, relocate from Silicon Valley to Vancouver. In May, Toronto Life magazine ran a feature about eight Americans who relocated to Canada, including a Bay Area tech worker who found both opportunity and a better work-life balance, and provincial leaders in Ontario are launching a social-media outreach campaign targeting tech execs.
In the age of Trump, Canada's tech scene sees an unprecedented opportunity. Sure, it's still a fraction of the size of the industry in the U.S.—while venture capital investments in Canadian companies nearly hit an all-time high of $1.7 billion in 2016, it's still tiny compared to the $69 billion invested in U.S. companies (figures are in U.S. dollars unless otherwise noted).
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But big names, such as Shopify and Hootsuite, continue to grow, Toronto is aggressively pursuing investments in artificial intelligence, and the Canadian government announced in June it would streamline the visa process so international tech workers can get a work permit in just two weeks (the process in the U.S. takes months).
But in addition to a burgeoning tech scene and more open immigration policy, our northern neighbor has another big economic advantage in the long run: a much more focused, pro-urban policy on multiple levels of government. Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver each have their own issues—especially affordability and an "overheating" housing market—but they're all growing, while the public and private sectors are making big investments in urban projects across the country. At a critical time, when populations and jobs are more concentrated than ever in urban areas, the contrasts between the Trudeau government and Trump administration on urban issues is marked.
"We don't separate citymaking from economic development," says Brent Toderian, Vancouver's former chief city planner and now international consultant who helped make his city of Vancouver a model of progressive urbanism. "Smart citymaking is the bedrock of economic development. We get a lot of attention in Canada for our cities' livability, but livability isn't the only thing. Affordable housing, sustainability, healthy urban design, public transport, climate change: these are critical to the success of cities, and cities are critical to the success of Canada."
Toderian believes that many Americans see Canadian cities as different because they appear to be more socialist, or less capitalist. He says that's a myth that misunderstands the history of the two nations' urban development. Canadian cities, he says, quoting Toronto's former Director of Urban Design Ken Greenberg, are "more American than American cities," because they're far less dependent on massive subsidies for suburban sprawl, or government funding for highways.
@BrentToderian: "Canadian city-building is marked by optimism, willingness to try, & a consistent belief in cities." My interview:
Greenberg, now a leading urbanist and consultant, says Canadian cities, on an upward trajectory for decades, are really starting to achieve their potential. Recent job statistics suggest the same: According to recent research from urbanist Richard Florida, between 2001 and 2016, more Canadian metros saw job growth, while more U.S. metros saw job loss.
"It's due to a broad acknowledgement that we're an urban country," Greenberg says. "Eighty percent of us live in big city regions, and have more in common with each other as opposed to the heartlands in the provinces. That's significant. We're not experiencing that kind of deeply unsettling constant culture war that tends to be happening in the U.S., or the anti-urban backlash."
He was shocked when Trump advisor Stephen Miller used the word "cosmopolitan" as an insult during an exchange with a reporter last week over immigration. In Canada, Greenberg says, that would typically be used as a compliment.