Canada, eh? Recruiting Americans to the Great White North

By Donna Bergles
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 12/30/2001

There are plenty of reasons for Canadian companies to seek out and recruit American executives and managers. Take your pick: injection of an aggressive, entrepreneurial corporate culture, access to the world’s largest and highly successful business management pool, access — for those wishing to do business in the United States — to American market knowledge or industry expertise.

But why would Americans choose Canada?

Those who live and work here may understand the charms. But the vast majority of Americans — if they think about Canada at all — consider our country to be a cold, snowy, dark, boring little backwater. Many think we live in a perpetual winter — and that Canada may be clean, safe, pleasant, healthy, secure, friendly and familiar perhaps, but dull.

The perception of Canada held by many Americans is not exactly dynamic. And Canadian corporate recruiters have always had to spend a great deal of effort to debunk the myths.

That effort must continue. But in the post-Sept. 11 world, some of our perceived weaknesses may now be perceived as strengths, and should no longer be downplayed. The pleasant familiar, friendly, healthy, safe and clean stereotype of our country happens to be true –— and has become increasingly appealing to Americans.

As a result, Canada now has an unprecedented advantage over our foreign competitors in the global marketplace for American recruits.

The key is to stress the paradox that Canada is the same but different, familiar yet foreign. Americans coming to Canada can experience another culture and the many things we have to offer without really leaving home.

Near yet far,foreign yet familiar

Most Americans are amazed to hear that 90 per cent of Canada’s population lives virtually on the border with the United States and that more than half of Canada’s population lives within a day’s drive of New York or Washington. And most are amazed to know that Southern Ontario is on the same latitude as Northern California, that Vancouver has the same climate as Seattle, that Toronto has the same climate as Chicago, that we have glorious hot summers in most of our cities and countryside, and that our winters do eventually turn to spring.

Canada is easily accessible to and from the U.S. by car, train and bus — as well as by air. We are right next door, and we share far more than a border. Consider the similarities, which are major advantages from the American perspective: we speak the same language, live in the same time zones, have similar democratic processes and similar laws, rights and freedoms.

We use the same kinds of toothpaste, eat the same fast food, watch the same TV shows and movies, listen to the same music, drive the same cars — on the right hand side of the road. Our cities are modern, with rich cultural institutions.

We are friends and neighbours of the Americans, sharing a continent and a remarkable bond.

And yet, for all the similarities, there are differences that are strengths. As a secondary world power, and a country with a small population whose economy is largely dependent on world trade, we are on relatively good and friendly terms with most of the world. While a staunch ally of the U.S. in times of war, we have a strong tradition of peacekeeping, and few countries consider Canada an enemy. There is something reassuring about being off the geopolitical radar screen in these times.

As well, our low profile has allowed for the flowering of an extraordinary multicultural society and heritage — the Canadian mosaic, as compared to the American melting pot. This has led to a high level of tolerance, and has contributed to our global friendships while creating a rich cultural diversity in our cities and regions. In our major cities, Americans can sample the world without leaving North America. And of course, in Quebec, they can sample a different language and a full cultural experience.

The livability of Canadian cities

One of the major differences — and key selling points — for Canada is the livability of our cities.In many American urban centres, people don’t live downtown and are not even comfortable there after dark.

In Canada, in all major cities, people do live downtown — and not just in high-rise condos. Every city has major residential neighbourhoods at their core, with mature trees, large lots, safe schools with educational standards that are consistent with schools in suburban and rural areas. And our cities are clean and orderly, with relatively low crime rates, little street crime or violent crime, good infrastructure and safe modern public transit.

At the same time, Canadians can escape the urban landscape relatively quickly, with the kind of access to the great outdoors and rural getaways that American city dwellers can only dream of.

Targetting regions when recruiting Americans

Canada’s vast geographic diversity is similar to that of the U.S. We are a series of regions that could be twinned with many American regions. Thus, Americans are more at home in some parts of Canada than others and recruiting should be targeted accordingly. For instance, Americans on the West Coast feel an affinity for Vancouver and British Columbia. Americans from Dallas feel at home in Calgary. People from Chicago feel at home in Toronto. People from New York feel at home in Toronto and Montreal. People from New England feel at home in Atlantic Canada and Quebec. And feeling at home — for a new corporate recruit and their family — is vital to successful relocations.

Achieving the financial balance

Canada, eh? It doesn’t sound so bad. We offer a great number of benefits in terms of quality of life that will broaden our appeal to Americans in this new era. Selling prospective recruits on the lifestyle is as important as selling them on the merits of the job and compensation.

That is not to say that financial incentives have become unimportant: while we have a lower cost of living than major American urban centres, we also pay higher taxes and we do not have the advantage of mortgage deductibility. Nor do we enjoy the executive benefit and health-care programs of most major American corporations. On the other hand, we do have an immigration program that allows for spousal work permits for transferees — a major incentive for double-income families.

All these factors must be balanced and considered in the recruitment process. But Canada itself has never been a more attractive part of the package.

Donna Bergles oversees more than 300 relocations annually, primarily cross-border relocations between the U.S. and Canada, for Royal LePage Relocation Services. She may be contacted at (416) 510-5619, or visit

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