Perceptions are wily things. Take Canada, for instance. Pose a Facebook query about what makes us Canadian and you’ll be inundated with thoughtful/throwaway responses united only by the fact that no two are alike. Things get even slipperier when applied to business.
What makes a business Canadian? Operating in Canada, maintaining a head office here, paying the CRA? Are certain values or branding propositions inherently Canadian? Does Canada Goose scan as more Canadian than Lululemon because nimble yogis conjure California, not Saskatchewan?
“‘Hewers of wood, drawers of water’ is what they taught me in economics,” cracks Wolfgang Klein, portfolio manager with Canaccord Genuity Wealth Management and a frequent TV commentator, citing the old chestnut about Canuck work ethics.
“From my perspective, ‘truly Canadian’ is impossible to define… and that's how it should be. The strength of Canada is in our diversity,” offers globe-trotting Hong Kong-born, Toronto-based super-chef and restaurateur Susur Lee, whose frame of reference on such things is as vast as it gets.
When it comes to buying and selling, has the advent of the border-blurring Internet ensured all bets are off, regardless of where products are manufactured or shipping orders fulfilled? That’s a particularly germane query for an independent bricks-and-mortar Canadian businessman daily fighting for a slice of the pie against that Bezos dude in Seattle.
“I’m not entirely sure what earmarks a business as Canadian; I suspect the people who care are a minority,” allows Ben McNally, owner/operator of the eponymous Toronto book shop. “As a bookseller I certainly try as hard as I can to buy everything in Canada.”
Still others see the question of what makes a business uniquely Canadian more clearly.
“My definition of a Canadian business is one whose idea was born in Canada and its founder keeps the headquarters here,” argues maverick bi-coastal entrepreneur Kelsey Ramsden. “Another view could be that the majority of the revenue made by the firm is distributed within Canada. However, to me, it’s about Canadian ideas that are Canadian-made.”
In the Canadian music industry, national identity holds philosophical dimensions. It can also mean the difference between getting played and not getting played on the radio, thanks to Canadian content regulations.
As Joanne Setterington, president of independent music publicity company Indoor Recess Inc. notes, the difference between a Canadian band and a band from Canada seems subtle, but it's actually quite vast:
“To say 'they're a Canadian band' infers they have a distinct Canadian sound; one defined as Canadian. To say 'they're a band from Canada,' defines only geographic origin, not sound. With that in mind, I think that a Canadian business is one that inherently understands the Canadian marketplace.
“American companies often treat us as another state, trying to overlay their business strategy from America onto Canada. It doesn't fit. A Canadian business recognizes the traits and nuances that make up the fabric of this country's marketplace and tucks in to ensure they're speaking to those needs.”
Maybe the whole “what is a Canadian business” question is just too complex to be answered simply – especially since we haven’t even touched on Quebec. Here, as in life, having a sense of humour – and that’s “humour” with a second “u” thanks very much – helps.
Muses Zane Caplansky, self-proclaimed “chief fresser” at Toronto's swinging Caplansky's Delicatessen: "Canadian values, culture and heritage are reflected in businesses exactly the same way they’re reflected in our culture generally: compassion, tolerance, diversity and the need to apologize at even the most inappropriate moment. Sorry, I'm trying to be funny here – also a Canadian thing. These are just some of the values that make businesses distinctly Canadian."
Adds Susur Lee: “It’s often said that Canadians don't value our own until we leave Canada. I agree.”