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Send Us Your Toiling Masses (And Send Us The Best)

Statistics Canada's unwavering take on the brain drain is nicely captured in the title of its latest study: "Brain drain and Brain Gain: The Migration of Knowledge Workers from and to Canada." With this the national number cruncher remains true to its mandate, managing by turns to give a cursory nod to the departing cream of the crop, while framing the exodus as part of the natural movement of the work force.

Precisely how does StatsCan set about minimizing the brain drain, or framing it as a "far more complex" issue, to use the exact words? Well, it whips up a frenzy of comparisons, yet all the while its authors manage to steer clear from too many jarring juxtapositions of like with like. Ultimately, the article finds the influx of immigrants an adequate makeweight for the nominal outgoing trickle.

The North American Free Trade Agreement has made it possible for Canadians with the designated skills to work in the U.S. indefinitely on an annually renewable visa. The TN-1 visa, as it is known, is available to Canadians right away, whereas the number of permanent visas is capped annually. It seems silly then for the agency to infer too much about the brain drain from the rate of "conversions" from temporary to permanent residency status.

The simple fact, about which StatsCan is mum, is that NAFTA visas are there for the picking, and permanent visas are not. To further deduce anything about the intentions of those who make use of the NAFTA visa is misleading. Still, the fact StatsCan has finally and belatedly begun to tally NAFTA-generated visas in assessing the brain drain is something for which to give thanks.

While it graces us with a profile of the leavers (12 percent of Canadian Ph.D. graduates live in the U.S.), StatsCan, is careful to proceed with the mission of debunking the tax 'myth'. "Among those who move to the US for work related reasons," write the authors, "the most common reasons cited included greater availability of jobs and higher pay," not taxes.

Statisticians know all too well that people, Canadians especially, will tend to give responses that are socially desirable. Could this be an answer to one of those cleverly worded questions that bank on Canadians not wanting to admit they flee due to government's theft of their incomes? Or maybe the Canman does not believe that, just as "higher pay" in the U.S. presupposes payment in a stronger currency, so does it subsume a lower tax. After all, when people talk of a "higher pay", they mean being able to keep more of their earnings, which translates into submitting to less forms of government pelf.

Unlike the Canadian government and its bean counters, documentary producer Paul Kemp of Stornoway Productions has managed to capture the caliber, not count, of the departing individuals. His documentary Canada's Brain Drain was televised earlier this year. The film is animated by the vim and verve of Canadians like Sheila Spence, a graduate of the Harvard Business School and already a thriving force on Wall Street. Or by the soulful Dr. Michele Donato, a young bone marrow transplant specialist in Houston, Texas. There is the acerbic dynamo, Chris Taylor, president of a high tech company, who shed the shackles of the Canadian tax regime, and is now creating prosperity in Washington State. There are many more.

The documentary's weakness lies in dignifying the typical collectivist and interventionist Canadian solutions to what are problems of individual liberty. The push factors in the brain drain are simply given short shrift. Unchallenged goes the convenient claim of Simon Fraser University's Don DeVoretz that Canada is powerless to stem the tide against the devouring and beckoning US economy. Dr. DeVoretz has recently offered up 'free' child care as a panacea for the loss of our minds, so to speak, this being yet another collectivist program that rests largely on seizing and redistributing the wealth of high-income earners. Unfortunately, until Canada stops leeching the lifeblood of her best and brightest, those who seek more rather than less liberty will flee.

Which is precisely what my own spouse has done. Having immigrated to Canada with his Ph.D. in electrical engineering, his patents, his accomplishments as a recognized musician, and his hopes, he soon discovered that half of his income would be seized by the taxman. This meant that for the duration of six months of every year he would be working for the government. The pull factors notwithstanding, had Canada not caged him and robbed him blind, he would still be here. My husband's Vancouver position remains unfilled. Where pray is the gain to match this drain?
 

©2000 By Ilana Mercer
The Calgary Herald
June 1




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