Microsoft Canada

At what resembled an old fashion pep rally, Microsoft Canada president Frank Clegg told a packed audience of Canadian business leaders that though there is much work to be done, the economic direction of Canada is on the right track.

“I believe that Canada’s fundamentals have never been stronger and that we have broken the back of the recession,” he told a Canadian Club of Toronto audience recently. “[And] no matter what the pundits say, technology is not just an economic sector, it is the engine of the Canadian economy.”

His opinion of a brighter future was based on what he called landmark improvements in three key areas: fiscal, economic and the strength of the Canadian workforce. He cited a reduction in the federal tax burden, reduction of foreign debt and Canada being the only G7 nation not likely to have a deficit this year as positive economic indicators.

Traditionally Canadians tend to see themselves as economically subordinate to our southern brethren even it we do surpass them in many other aspects. But Clegg repeatedly pitted Canadian statistics against those of the U.S. to show that we are not only equals but in many cases surpass the Americans.

“After lagging the U.S. in software and hardware spending through the economic boom of 1993 to 2000, software development in Canada is up 15 per cent year over year, while in the U.S. it has risen by just one per cent,” he said.

He also cited statistics which show Canadian 15-year-old students to be superior in both math and reading skills to their American counterparts.

But the sense that Canada lags behind the Americans is unfortunately held by the group with the most influence, he said.

“Oddly enough, it isn’t the so-called uninformed public who hold this view, it is people like us in this very room,” he said. “If the psychology of businesspeople and the marketplace continue to be roadblocks to real recovery, I’m hear to challenge you, a business leaders to become evangelists.” A COMPAS Inc. poll found that only 29 per cent of top echelon Canadian business executives thought the economy was in good shape vs. 64 per cent the year before, he said.

On the other hand, statistics show that Canadian consumers appear to be relatively confident Clegg added.

Gaylen Duncan, president of the Information Technology Association of Canada, is not too sure why this is the case. “I do not understand why [consumer confidence] is as high as it is, given the dollar is as low as it is unless the consumer has broken the connection (between the state of economy and the value of the dollar).” But January was not as bad as everyone said it was going to be, we no longer talk about still going down,” he added.

While Clegg called on the business leaders to “create a culture of innovation” and to “not fear failure,” others were not sure the tasks will be easy as a motivational pep talk.

Michael O’Neil, IDC Canada’s country manager who came to Canada from the U.S., said at first he could not understand why Canada was not the wealthiest country in the would. Given our resources, both physical and intellectual, it seemed apparent Canada should be at the top, but then he realized, “the level of political leadership in this country is abysmal.” He then went on to cite the political triumvirate of Prime Minister Jean Chretien, Ontario Premiere Mike Harris and Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman as an example of this lack of leadership.

Canada’s business leaders are not that much better, he added.

Clegg urged audience members not to fall prey to nay-sayers. “I urge you to take all these positive indicators to heart, as leaders we absolutely have to become our nation’s champions.”

So, though Canada may have the necessary tools to resolutely pull out of this slowdown (or recession if you prefer), it is not apparent we have the men and women at the top to do job as quickly and efficiently as we could.