Post Your Opinion
Send Us Your Money
by Jeff Walker

LIVING ABROAD CASTS a new light on our own culture, but so can talking to those from abroad who now live here. The Globe and Mail writer Brian Milner talked to scores of megabuck entrepreneurs from Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, and it is indeed interesting to see Canada and Canadians through their eyes. On the plus side, a German real-estate magnate, Klaus Vogel, observes: If you do business in the United States, you can never relax. You always have to be on the lookout or someone will screw you. [There] anything can be dismantled with a lawsuit. With my Canadian partners, things are so easy. If they agree to something, they honour it. And apparently our Canadian establishment is a lot less resistant to infiltration by wealthy foreigners than are its counterparts in the likes of Germany and Australia. On the downside, a Swiss emigre investment adviser concludes that Canadians are "extremely negative thinkers:" He still finds himself having to line up U.S. customers for a product before Canadians will invest. He also regards Canadians as "complete morons" in our failure to appreciate assets and opportunities right here. A Hong Konger finds Canadian business "slow"; another rails against the stinginess of the Canadian rich when it comes to donations to universities and hospitals. Our business elite is too parochial, conservative, and hesitant to think globally; Milner labels them "ice-agers" and the "blue-suited dinosaurs on Bay St:" Of course, many of our inadequacies redound to the competitive advantage of immigrants, especially when they arrive wealthy and globally well-connected. And unlike previous waves of immigrants, many are wealthy indeed. Milner relates how a Canadian golf course owner demanded $4.5 million from some Japanese highrollers interested in buying. They replied, no, no, it`s the course itself we want, not just a club membership. Not surprisingly, many expatriates from ludicrously expensive Tokyo and Hong Kong see bargains galore here, but get burned on their initial foray into Canadian real estate. Another competitive advantage is character forged in the crucible of political upheaval. Milner`s most moving interviews are with entrepreneurs forced by terror and expropriation to flee their homelands. Remarks a rich-again Iranian expatriate, "It gives you special experience when you don`t know what is going to happen to your life tomorrow:" Milner disposes of the misconception that money from the Far East is gobbling up our downtowns. On the contrary, conservative financial institutions and realestate companies have "a lock on most of the prime buildings in every major city," and they aren`t selling. He also calls attention to the supreme importance of family and ethnic ties for these newcomers. While this may limit the first generation`s interactions with other Canadians, it`s refreshing to hear that for Asians "lawyers rank somewhere near office cleaners and most deals are done on the basis of trust." The next great influx of monied foreigners may be from Taiwan and South Korea, now that the governments of these two Asian economic tigers allow residents to leave with millions of dollars. Such immigrants are, as Milner puts it, "our last best hope of turning into an economic force, instead of [a] neglected backwater..." If that`s true, we`re in trouble. Political stability has been our "most important export;" but a prolonged Quebec crisis in the 1990s will reduce that stockpile considerably. As it is, money from abroad hates our high taxes and government controls, and postcold-war opportunities abound in Europe and elsewhere. Many big money players, especially those from the East, determined to keep a low profile and restrict themselves to moneymaking rather than time-wasting conversations, avoid journalists like the plague. Brian Milner is to be commended for probing as many members of the new "hidden establishment" as he does for this book.

Home First Novel Award Past Winners Subscription Back Issues Timescroll Advertizing Rates
Amazon.ca/Books in Canada Bestsellers List Books in Issue Books in Department About Us