Experts disagree on the brain drain issue

If admitting to a problem is the first step toward recovery, then it appears that the high tech brain drain is a long way from being solved.

Though given much media attention as of late, including comments earlier this month from Nortel Networks chairman John Roth regarding the link between taxes and the brain drain, experts remain divided as to whether the prospect of homegrown talent moving to the U.S. actually poses a problem.

Even among those who are sounding the alarm bells, there is some disagreement about what can be done.

“What we’re really looking at is what are the right combination of actions to take,” said David Stewart-Patterson, senior vice-president of the Business Council of National Issues (BCNI) in Ottawa.

A think tank made up of influential Canadian CEOs, the BCNI recently turned its attention to the brain drain as part of its larger study on the overall health of the Canadian economy.

The group said Canada’s high-tech talent is fleeing for what they perceive to be better opportunities in the U.S. Though Stewart-Patterson admits there are other factors behind the migration, including cash-strapped universities and a lack of cutting-edge research, Stewart-Patterson said the BCNI is still focusing on taxation as a key issue.

Specifically, the BCNI is looking at what it takes for a hotbed of IT activity like Silicon Valley to appear in the first place. According to Stewart-Patterson, the work of so-called “angel” investors – people with high tech entrepreneurial experience and money to burn, who personally invest in start-ups – is an important part of the puzzle. Angels remove the more conservative institutional forms of capital venture from the picture. They’re plentiful in the U.S. but rare in Canada, where business people are forced to pursue more traditional and less experienced avenues for investment, Stewart-Patterson added.

Problem is, higher Canadian tax levels vis-