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Go About Your Business
A bi-weekly column with timely, relevant and possibly irreverent insight into the BC technology industry.

Something Ventured:
March 21st, 2003

By Brent Holliday
Greenstone Venture Partners


"Paranoia strikes deep,
Into your life it will creep,
It starts when you're always afraid,
You step out of line,
The man come and take you away.
We better stop, hey, what's that sound,
Everybody look what's going down "- Buffalo Springfield, For What It's Worth


There have been many editorial cartoons lampooning the US war in Iraq and Canada's fence-sitting and final refusal to fight. If I could draw, I would summarize the current Canadian perspective as a beach scene with a big, beefy Uncle Sam pummeling a skinny kid, named Hussein, while looking over his shoulder at an equally skinny Jean Chretien. The skinny Chretien is taunting the big bully, calling him "moron" and "bastard". Of course, the striking thing about the image is that the skinny Chretien is a siamese twin, attached at the hip to the big bully.

Pick up any Canadian paper or watch Belle Puri's CBC report that interviewed Darcy Rezac of the Vancouver Board of Trade, Jim Pattison the and various other BC business luminaries and the rhetoric about our lack of participation in the war on Iraq is at a fever pitch. Business is wringing its hands about the coming economic backlash of our federal government's apparent disdain for the Bush administration.

I have been a huge proponent of Canada and the Canadian technology industry (with particular focus on BC) for the past few years. My venture firm has staked its core differentiation on the ability to work cross-border with American firms, American subsidiaries and American investors. So I feel particularly exposed to the argument being made that the US will not cooperate economically with Canada going forward. I also feel that I am well-positioned to offer up a completely counter argument: This Canadian-created worry about a backlash is all a bunch of crap.

Whatever you think of the war and Canada's lack of participation in it, I want to quash this whole concept of it hurting our economic relations with the US. It just ain't gonna happen.

There are two reasons:

1) We, as Canadians are hypersensitive to our relations with the US and are blowing everything out of proportion

2) Americans, first and foremost, are capitalists and will only carry their principles to a certain extent… as long as it doesn't hurt their ability to make a profit

Now, maybe I didn't get the memo from the right-wing, capitalist propaganda office that says that I should be towing the line and making lots of hay out of the threat of economic disaster from the US. After all, it's a nice counter argument to the left's principles of staying out of a war that was going to happen whether we joined or didn't join. I mean, gosh wouldn't it be nice to know that we weren't among the "coalition of the willing" and feel all warm and fuzzy inside as we stand in the unemployment line because our job just went to Spain.

Like most business leaders and pundits, it frustrates me that we can be as hypocritical as we appear to be in not joining the mother of our economy and our security in what would amount to a token gesture. But at the same time, I cannot subscribe to the "sky is falling" scenarios that business leaders are touting in the papers today.

We are a funny bunch as Canadians. Yes, that is a double entendre. We can be as witty, sarcastic and self-deprecating as the best of them (Rick Mercer's rant that is making the rounds on the Internet is a great example). And yet, we are fiercely proud in our own way. We generally think we are smarter than the Americans. We definitely think we walk a higher moral ground. But, c'mon, if we weren't the US's largest trading partner, where would we be? Selling furs to Europe?

Let me say it again to the Canadian business community... you are over-reacting. Most Americans are fixing their current disdain on the French. Canada is not appearing on the radar. And in a year, all of this will be forgotten because every nation, under the banner of the UN, will be instrumental in helping Iraq, Afghanistan and other failed nations in the Gulf. The only exception that I can see in the US is Cuba. For some reason, that will likely disappear with one more generation removed from the '62 missile crisis, Cuba remains on the s**t list in the US. Believe it or not, Jean Chretien is not Fidel Castro.

Sure, relations have soured with the Bush Administration. But economics always wins over common sense. Which brings me to the next point, they need us.

We are their number one export nation. Twenty-five percent of what Americans ship out of their country comes here (mostly in the auto industry). They need our wood, despite the softwood controversy. They need our oil, especially after this invasion. And increasingly, they need our technology. But most importantly, they love our dollar. In the film, technology and tourism industries, Americans come here to save big dollars.

Americans will always put profit ahead of minor scuffles and spats. As an example, the US home building industry is our forestry industry's best friend. They are sick of over-priced, inferior US softwood and are lobbying to get Canadian wood back. Sure, politics plays a role in dumb decisions in the US, but dumb decisions to save American jobs and get votes will not be done to piss Canada off for not being in a coalition.

Our border will not be walled off, as a columnist suggested in the Globe and Mail this morning. Gotta sell newspapers, I guess. The terrorist attack of 9/11 is the reason we will always have tight borders, but the US buyers of the 80% of Canadian exports headed that way are not going to let their business suffer too long. And they will certainly rail against any increased border wait times just to make a point to the sniveling Canadians. Give me a break.

Here is what we need to take away from all of this hullabaloo. We need to start doing business with Americans the way that they do business and politics under Bush. We need to be hard-nosed, non-apologetic and quit being pathetic whiners in the face of controversy. Fine, Chretien made his decision. Instead of shivering in fear that the big, bad Americans will crush your business, wake up, give you head a shake and realize that a few loud-mouthed news people and some disgruntled politicians in the US do not make up your customer base. We need them and they need us. Once the conflict is over and the businesses have stopped watching CNN, go about your business.


What Do You Think? Talk Back To Brent Holliday


Something Ventured
is a bi-weekly column designed to supplement the T-Net British Columbia web site with some timely, relevant and possibly irreverent insight into the industry. I hope to share some of the perspective and trends that I see in my role as a VC. The column is always followed by feedback (if its positive or constructive. I'll keep the flames to myself, thanks).

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