In the first televised debate for the Nov. 25 Toronto Centre by-election, Chrystia Freeland framed her meeting with voters as “the biggest job interview I’ve ever been at.” Unfortunately, as with so many job candidates in this country, she immediately stumbled into a classic trap called “lack of Canadian experience.”
Her remarks, which sounded carefully scripted, were clearly designed to emphasize her Canadian credentials. “I was born and raised in Northern Alberta, on a farm where my dad is still farming,” she introduced herself to viewers. A quick sentence followed about “a wonderful career as a foreign correspondent around the world,” along with the mention that one of her kids was born in Toronto Centre, presumably in-between her many career moves. The emphasis, though, was: “I’ve come back home, I live in Toronto Centre, my kids go to school here.”
Linda McQuaig, the Toronto Star columnist celebre and Freeland’s NDP nemesis, though, wouldn’t have it. “Toronto is my home, I’ve lived and worked here all my life,” she told viewers, as though to underscore a dreadful liability in Freeland’s resume.
Later on, her attacks became more direct, including a quip about Freeland being in “Manhattan, hanging out with the rich” and clearly out-of-touch with the struggles of regular folk in, say, Regent Park and St. James Town.
That the “Canada experience” issue looms so large in the Freeland vs. McQuaig contest is disheartening. Because copious anecdotal evidence indicates this is exactly the cultural bias that keeps capable individuals from around the world from landing good jobs in this country.
Our points-based immigration system is the envy of the world. It’s the one thing Americans often recognize that Canada has pretty much nailed and the U.S. got woefully wrong. And yet, we can’t seem to capitalize on the wisdom of our policies.
We have Ph.D.s driving taxis. Doctors languish as they wait for validation of their foreign degrees — despite the limited local supply of MDs. And so many others highly-skilled foreigners toil in low-wage jobs.
The pay gap between university-educated newcomers and their Canadian-born counterparts is 33%, according to Statistics Canada. In the U.S., foreign-born college graduates now tend to earn more than American graduates. Even Canadians who’ve studied or started their careers abroad often face a hard-landing in the home job market.
It would be a real shame if we started to vet political candidates through the same, twisted lens. I’m not endorsing Freeland here. She must make a convincing case to voters that her international experience is an asset for the gig she’s aiming at, just like any job applicant would. Former Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff clearly failed to do so. And Freeland has been a little too vague on the topic. Her globe-trotting past, she’s told viewers last Friday, can “help find a place for Canada in the world economy.” But that all sounds a bit abstract. As any career counselor would tell a neophyte: Show, don’t tell.
Still, to chastise Freeland because she has plenty of international experience is to potentially shut the door to top talent on Parliament Hill too.