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Canada needs more Shopifys, not an Amazon branch plant


Sorry, I just can’t muster the enthusiasm to celebrate.

Yes, I know Amazon is an amazing company. Full disclosure: I actually own the stock.

Yes, I know these are presumably good jobs, not rustbelt subsidy trickle-downs or “praying for $100 oil to come back as the cost of solar energy keeps falling” tar sands hopers.

And yes, I know the path to a country that gives innovation a fair shake isn’t a straight line and this just may be a baby step away from the Suburys and Kitimats and Fort McMurrays and Asbestos Quebecs; hardscrabble mining towns that have dominated the popular imagination of a Maritimer like me and so many other Canadians through so many other generations.

“We are excited to have this opportunity and to be able to tell Toronto’s unique story,” Toronto mayor John Tory said upon receiving the news that Toronto was one of twenty bachelors given a precious rose by suitor Jeff Bezos. “The Toronto Region has emerged as a global centre of innovation and technology because of our talented, diverse and inclusive workforce. There is no other city region in North America that can boast the same talent, the same quality of life, the same vibrancy and economic strength.”

I have tried, but I’m just not excited about the prospect of Amazon’s second headquarters, the now-nearly mythical HQ2, landing here in the Great White North.

Don’t get me wrong, John Tory seems like a very good mayor and an awfully nice man. It would probably be unwise for him to not enter this beauty contest, all things considered. But the prospect of sending our armies of talent and diversity and inclusion off to line the coffers of another American balance sheet just doesn’t wind me up like a Canadian junior hockey fan singing “Heee—eeey baby…” after our country’s eighth goal.


In fact, all this HQ2 talk kind of saddens me. Is this what our engineering talent from Western University in Kingston was meant to do? What our Computer Science grads from Laurier and The University of Waterloo were destined for? Should our Ivey School of Business students down in London be counting the days til they can head down the 401 to the U.S. border crossing?

I say no.

“The trick,” Cantech Letter’s Jayson Maclean wrote in these pages recently, “…is, of course, that by being branches of a bigger company elsewhere, these Canadian plants have no control over what they produce (and thus what we consume) nor do the profits from these operations stay in Canada, instead ending up abroad. And, in the end, when a head office decides to close a plant (for the good of the company) Canada’s branch economy has no say in that either.”

I think what our best and brightest should be doing is be looking to help create the next Shopify. That is to say, something entirely new and entirely here. Nearly, a decade ago Nortel delisted from the TSX, ending a long and painful decline and began another period in which people in that city gazed at their shoes and talked about what might have been. Some engineers left.

But it didn’t last long.

In 2004, Shopify was born. And all of a sudden Ottawa was cool again. Okay, let’s not get carried away: Ottawa was relevant again. Now, Shopify’s plans to employ 3000 by the year 2021 aren’t in the league of Nortel at its peak, but there is nothing saying they have to do it on their own. Company’s like Montreal’s Lightspeed, Vancouver’s Mobify, Waterloo’s Vidyard and Toronto’s Wattpad, which recently raised a world-class $61.25-million are right there with them as emerging innovators. There are a thousand more. And a thousand more on top of that.

“Right now Shopify is stealing customers from the few rivals it has,” Bloomberg wrote of the Canadia phenom last summer, noting the stellar performace of the company’s stock following its IPO. “A few years ago Amazon shut down its own store-building tools and moved existing customers over to Shopify’s platform.”

Did you hear that? a U.S. company moved people and resources to Shopify because it was simply a better solution. Maybe the rest of us should take note.

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About The Author /

Cantech Letter founder and editor Nick Waddell has lived in five Canadian provinces and is proud of his country's often overlooked contributions to the world of science and technology. Waddell takes a regular shift on the Canadian media circuit, making appearances on CTV, CBC and BNN, and contributing to publications such as Canadian Business and Business Insider.
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