July 30, 2009

Nortel Situation is a Symptom of a Much Larger Problem

While the Nortel situation continues, I have just finished reading a section from John Ralston Saul's latest 'A Fair Country' that touches upon the problems that are being discussed and the (so-far) inaction of our federal government.

Saul argues that Canada is plagued by inept managers and economists who are afraid to be real owners and leaders in business. At the same time he also points out there is a lack of vision and strategy coming from our government that fights for strategic and important research and technologies within the country. Together these two major problems allow for the dismantling of important businesses by foreign owners.

In his book, Saul uses the example of Robert Milton being proud of being able to circumvent Canadian ownership rules by structuring Air Canada so that it could be sold off in pieces to American airline owners. Rather than team up with someone like Bombardier and become a regional airline leader and giant, such as Air France and Airbus has. And while Air France isn't the most successful company, the partnership has resulted in France holding a significant role in the European Union and the Air France/Airbus partnership plays a large role in France's foreign policy and economic strategy.

Because there is a lack of direction in contemporary Canada's foreign policy and economic strategy we've already seen the loss of or the diminishing of several strategic companies and sectors including Alcan, Molson, Stelco, softwood and mining and the close losses of Air Canada and Bell Canada. These have lasting effects as Canada and provinces lose control, jobs, investments, etc. All of these are important for long term sustainability, employment, growth and economic strategy. Most of all we lose research and development investments that in turns means we lose creativity, knowledge and technology as those in position to make those gains go elsewhere but more importantly, they leave for foreign lands. These problems have manifested themselves already as US Steel, the new owners of Stelco, and our federal government is fighting over employment commitments. And earlier this year Canada lost one of the world's leading AID researchers to an American university.

Now Canada is poised to lose another major company along with its advanced wireless technology, despite RIM, a Canadian and global-leading company, looking to keep this strategic technology within the country. RIM seems to be one of the few Canadian companies that enjoys being a leader and being an employer rather than being an employee and playing a subservient role in the world.

If our federal government doesn't step in and recognize that losing Nortel and its technology would be a net-detriment to Canada, then it essentially would be admitting to its own lack of leadership within and vision for the country. They would be continuing to show that they are playing the role of the powerless and too afraid to stand up for Canada and our national interest against all comers. And too, the loss of Nortel without ever giving serious consideration to RIM's or other national companies' interest shows that there are too many managers within Canada that thrive in mediocrity and lack any real skill set to make smart and strong decisions.

There is an obvious need for change when it comes how we see ourselves and our nation. It begins with a change in - or establishing - foreign policy and economic strategy. This must also include changing the culture that our corporations exist in and providing support and leadership for Canadian companies to thrive and provide a net-benefit for Canadians.

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Quotes from people smarter than me...

"If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich" ~ JFK

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. " ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. " ~ Benjamin Franklin

"First it is necessary to stand on your own two feet. But the minute a man finds himself in that position, the next thing he should do is reach out his arms. " ~ Kristin Hunter

"When you're a mayor and you have a problem you blame the provincial government. If you are provincial government and you have a problem you blame the federal government. We don't blame the Queen any more, so once in a while we might blame the Americans." ~ Jean Chretien

"Which is ideology? Which not? You shall know them by their assertion of truth, their contempt for considered reflection, and their fear of debate." ~ John Ralston Saul

"It is undoubtedly easier to believe in absolutes, follow blindly, mouth received wisdom. But that is self-betrayal." ~ John Ralston Saul

"Everybody dies, Tracey. Someone's carrying a bullet for you right now, doesn't even know it. The trick is to die of old age before it finds you." ~ Cpt. Malcolm Reynolds (Firefly, Episode 12)