Next Canada co-chair Tony Lacavera discusses the importance of supporting Canada's startup ecosystem at his organization's NextAI Venture Day on Sept. 20, 2017. (Note: This story's remarks were not delivered at the podium.)

Published: September 22nd, 2017

TORONTO – One of Canada’s best-known and most successful tech entrepreneurs is frowning at the nationwide push to bring Amazon.com Inc.’s second headquarters north of the 49th parallel.

During NextAI Venture Day 2017, an event organized by Next Canada, the startup-boosting non-profit he co-chairs, Tony Lacavera told IT World Canada that he was less than impressed by Toronto mayor John Tory’s response to the Seattle tech giant’s recent invitation for cities across North America to submit proposals.

“I think it’s outrageous that we’re chasing Amazon,” he said. “I think that we need to immediately stop celebrating and rolling out the red carpet whenever Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and now Amazon announce they’re opening a new office somewhere, especially when we have so many fledgling, early-stage technology companies that desperately need the talent.”

“We’ve solved the challenge of scale-up funding,” he said, referring to Next Canada and its support for 15 startups at the Sept. 20 NextAI event, “and now we’re about to create another massive challenge – a lack of available talent – to scaling companies in Canada.”

After all, Lacavera said, the career path of someone hired by Amazon Canada, Facebook Canada, Microsoft Canada, or Google Canada isn’t towards a management position with Shopify, Hootsuite, or other Canadian tech darlings – it’s Amazon’s head office in Seattle, or Microsoft’s in Redmond, or Google’s or Facebook’s in Silicon Valley.

“And that is disastrous for Canada,” he said. “You’re not just losing great people – you’re losing the people who rise to the top of those organizations. Because it’s not like Amazon’s really going to move their head office to Canada. It’s not like Microsoft’s leaving Redmond. So the star performers that should be rising to the top in our country – the best Canadians marketers, developers, engineers – are going to end up getting pulled by a logical career path to the U.S.”

Toronto’s push for Amazon – in which Tory quickly promised the city would compete for a new office that founder Jeff Bezos has promised will bring its host city 50,000 jobs with an average salary of $100,000 USD per year – is a perfect example, Lacavera said, noting that he was all the more annoyed to learn that Tory would be collaborating with his counterparts in nearby Mississauga and Brampton to sweeten the deal.

Lacavera said that while he doesn’t think Canada should be resisting American tech companies, he’s bothered when he sees, for example, Justin Trudeau making an appearance at Google Canada’s new research and development facility in Kitchener, Ont. rather than a Canada-first event such as Elevate Toronto.

“I want to be clear – I think we should be welcoming these companies,” he said. “I just don’t think we should be advantaging them over the early-stage Canadian technology startups that really need that talent.”

Lacavera’s not alone in his assessment: asked for his opinion of Toronto’s push for Amazon’s new office, Ryerson DMZ executive director Abdullah Snobar said that while he thought the city has the right ingredients to accommodate the new headquarters, Tory and co. should be pursuing it with a more critical eye than what they’ve been using so far.

“Toronto has the stability and government support to continue to evolve and attract tech giants like Amazon,” Snobar said. “However, it will take a lot of work to ensure that major corporations entering our city don’t absorb talent away from Canadian startups.”



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