GLOBAL OUTLOOK: CANADA
AN INTRODUCTION TO THE GLOBAL OUTLOOK SERIES
As global expansion experts, we recognize the complexities of managing an effective transnational strategy. There are a number of key characteristics that must be considered when expanding into any new market. In this series, we’re exploring the Canada Global Outlook and some of the major markets that play a vital role in our interconnected and globalized economy. We want to provide a helpful resource for businesses that are looking to develop a strong global strategic direction.
The COVID-19 pandemic has dominated headlines over the past year in Canada. Since the country experienced its first instance of community spread in early March 2020, the country has seen 1.77 million COVID-19 cases. In response, the Canadian government took dramatic steps to curb the spread of the pandemic, especially in major metropolitan areas. Earlier this spring, the BBC reported that Toronto and Montreal have experienced the world’s longest duration of indoor dining restrictions since the start of the pandemic. For both cities, these restrictions have lasted over 300 days. Some provincial governments took additional steps. For example, Ontario has declared three separate state-of-emergencies since the start of the pandemic (declared on March 27, 2020, Jan 14, 2021, and April 7, 2021 respectively). These various state of emergencies included province wide stay-at-home orders along with stringent restrictions for many businesses. These lockdowns have become increasingly controversial, and the latest lockdown imposed in April 2021 received major backlash from pandemic-weary residents.
The Canadian government also imposed sweeping international travel restrictions. For over 16 months, Canada enacted a ban on international travel with the United States, Canada’s biggest trading partner. The Canada government “turned away tourists at entry points across the 5,500-mile land border in an effort to contain further spread of Covid-19. On Aug. 9, Canada began allowing fully vaccinated Americans to enter the country again, and on Sept. 7, Canada expanded that reopening to include fully vaccinated visitors from other countries.”
Many Canadians have been financially impacted by the pandemic. “A survey from the Angus Reid Institute found 44% of Canadian households had someone who had lost hours due to the coronavirus shutdown.” At its peak, Canadian unemployment was 13.7% in May 2020. In response, the Canadian parliament voted on a $107 billion CAD relief package that distributed “emergency aid and economic stimulus” to assist struggling Canadians.
As the country began vaccine rollouts in early 2021, it initially struggled to secure enough vaccine supplies; however, as supply eventually caught up with demand, Canada was able to effectively implement a strong vaccine campaign. Currently 77% of the population is fully vaccinated. 80% of Canadians have received at least one dose. In comparison, 59% of Americans are fully vaccinated with 70% having received at least one dose. The Canadian government is “expected to approve Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine for children aged five to 11 — as it continues to review Moderna's pediatric version.”
There is fierce debate about how to approach mandatory vaccines, especially for children. Like many other western countries, the pandemic has been heavily politicized, which makes any pandemic policy inherently divisive. Analysts say these pandemic debates will continue to impact Canadian politics for many years.
UNMARKED GRAVES AT CANADIAN RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS
Over the past year, “close to 1,000 unmarked graves have been discovered at former residential school sites in British Columbia and Saskatchewan.” Between 1863 and 1998, “more than 150,000 indigenous children were taken from their families and placed in these schools throughout Canada.” In many cases, these “children were often not allowed to speak their language or to practice their culture, and many were mistreated and abused.” These residential schools were state-sanctioned and/or religious institutions. In fact, the Roman Catholic Church operated 70% of these residential schools. Experts believe that roughly 6,000 children died while attending these schools. The Cowessess First Nation said the discovery was "the most significantly substantial to date in Canada."
These revelations shocked and outraged many Canadians. At a news conference, Prime Minister Trudeau said, “I recognize these findings only deepen the pain that families, survivors and all Indigenous peoples and communities are already feeling as they reaffirm the truth that they have long known.” In another statement, Trudeau said the revelations are "a shameful reminder of the systemic racism, discrimination, and injustice that Indigenous peoples have faced.”
In response, “cities in the provinces of British Columbia, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick...canceled celebrations for Canada Day on 1 July in protest, and statues of figures involved with residential schools, including Canada's first Prime Minister John A Macdonald, have been vandalized or removed throughout the country.”
TRUDEAU SNAP ELECTION
In 2019, Justin Trudeau was reelected for a second term as Prime Minister, but his broader Canadian Liberal party was not reelected with a majority in parliament. This has forced Trudeau to helm a minority government over the past several years, which effectively limited Trudeau’s ability to enact major legislation since the minority government required Trudeau to compromise more often to maintain his political coalition in parliament.
In early 2021, Trudeau forced a SNAP election with the hope of regaining a solid Liberal Party majority in the parliament. The election was significant because it was the first major national Canadian election after COVID-19. Many political analysts felt this election would effectively be a referendum on Trudeau’s pandemic policies. Going into the election, Trudeau had many “reasons to be confident [since] half of Canadians think his government has handled the pandemic well; less than a quarter think it has done badly.” By all accounts, Trudeau appeared to be in a commanding position. Erin O’Toole, the Conservative Party nominee for Prime Minister, was largely perceived as a relatively inexperienced and uninspiring candidate for conservative voters. Despite these advantages for Trudeau, the election, which occurred in September 2021, did not significantly reshape the Canadian political landscape. In fact, the election results suggest Trudeau’s gamble “failed to pay off as Canada's Liberal Party only gained one seat compared to its 2019” showing. Trudeau has also faced intense criticism since announcing the SNAP election since the move was largely seen as a cynical political calculus.
On his official website, Trudeau states, “Climate change is the greatest long-term threat that we face as a global community, but it is also our greatest economic opportunity. By taking bold climate action, we will create new jobs for the future [and] strengthen our economy.”
Despite his zealous rhetoric on the issue of climate change, Trudeau is in a delicate position as Prime Minister when it comes to supporting the economic interests of Canada’s vibrant existing fossil fuel industry. Earlier this year, President Biden announced his decision to “revoke key permits” for the Keystone XL pipeline, a controversial pipeline that was being built “to carry oil nearly 1,200 miles from the Canadian province of Alberta down to Nebraska.” In response to the decision, Justin Trudeau expressed his "disappointment" to President Biden during his first call with the White House. In a statement, the prime minister said he “underscored the important economic and energy security benefits of [Canada’s] bilateral energy relationship [with the United States] as well as his support for energy workers" to the President.
ARCTIC DISPUTE WITH RUSSIA
As the arctic region continues to thaw due to climate change, Canada has found itself in increasing contact with Russia as the two nations jockey to assert dominance over the existing natural resource deposits and new international shipping lanes. A recent Russian claim to the area “would push Russia's claim all the way up to Canada's exclusive economic zone, an area 200 nautical miles from the coastline, in which Canadians have sole rights to fish, drill and pursue other economic activities.” Robert Huebert, a defense analyst with the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, says, “In effect, they're claiming the entire Arctic Ocean.” In 2019, Russia “revamped its arctic military base” to further support its ambitious territory claims in the region. The modernized base, which sits along a major arctic shipping route has alarmed its neighbors, which includes Canada, Norway, Denmark, and the United States. A spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada reaffirms Canada’s commitment to "exercising in full its sovereign rights in the Arctic."
Canada is currently making major investments in its next generation of telecommunication technology. Huawei, the Chinese tech giant, has made moves to become a major developer of this new infrastructure in Canada. As 5G networks begin to expand across North America, Canadians are taking an increasing interest in their data privacy and cyber security. Canada is under pressure to ban Huawei, which has received intense criticism from western security experts. The Chinese company has been effectively banned from any new technology infrastructure by all other members of The Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance, which includes Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Domestically, 75% of Canadians support banning Huawei from 5G networks. Many analysts see this debate as a microcosm of Canada’s broader relationship with China. If nothing else, a decision to ban Huawei in Canada will likely have far-reaching impacts on the complicated Canada and China relationship.
CANADA GLOBAL OUTLOOK CHALLENGES
When doing any business in Canada, it is critically important to understand the dynamics posed by Canada’s unique language requirements. Canada has two official languages: French and English. 68.3% of Canadians speak only English. 11.9% of Canadians speak only French. 17.9% of Canadians self-identify as bilingual. The vast majority of Canada's French speakers reside in Québec, where 85.4% of residents speak French fluently. This heavy concentration of French-speakers is a product of the region’s history as a former French colony.
Canada has implemented strong consumer-packaging regulations to preserve both languages in the country. According to Canadian law, “All mandatory information must be in both official languages of Canada: English & French.” There are selection exceptions, but it is important to properly understand the Canadian regulatory policy before exporting any products. CASTUS Key Account Manager, Alisha Schulz explains some of the challenges of Bilingual packaging, “Bilingual packaging is a fine balance between content and size – the reality of it is that you only have half of the given space for a product or brand message, so you must be able to get that message across in two different languages because it’s not realistic to just double the size of the packaging.” It is also worth noting that “Québec has additional French language requirements for products sold in their jurisdiction.”
“Bilingual packaging is a fine balance between content and size... you only have half of the given space for a product or brand message
— Alisha Schulz
E-COMMERCE IN CANADA
Canada’s total e-commerce market was valued at $29.9 billion USD in 2020. During the same year, US e-commerce was worth over $460 billion USD. While Canada's smaller population understandably constrains the total size of this market, there are four key factors that hamper the growth of e-commerce across Canada: large geographic size, inhospitable terrain, low population density, and cross-border shopping .
“[t]he massive shifts we saw in consumer behavior during the pandemic forced Canadian retailers to invest in and implement digital shopping capabilities a lot sooner and faster than planned to gain market share.
— Alisha Schulz
The average Canada population density (people per sq. km of land area) is 4.239. In comparison, the US population density is 36.019. Canada’s low population density, combined with the difficult terrain in the northern territories, makes e-commerce difficult to implement cost-effectively across the entire country.
Historically, e-commerce in Canada has lagged behind other highly industrialized nations. Schulz says, “Digital commerce in Canada is not as sophisticated or advanced as it is in the United States, and the massive shifts we saw in consumer behavior during the pandemic forced Canadian retailers to invest in and implement digital shopping capabilities a lot sooner and faster than planned to gain market share.” In 2018, Canada’s head of Amazon Web Services told reporters that “Canadian businesses are slower to adopt new technology than their European and American counterparts.” The digital buyer penetration in Canada is just 72.5% (compared with 81% in the wider North American market). In 2019, only 25% of Canadian businesses had at least some e-commerce sales. This has changed over the past two years since consumers were forced to adopt online shopping as a result of Canadian COVID-19 restrictions.
Cross-border shopping is another major trend that has slowed the domestic growth of e-commerce in the country. 72% of Canadians live below the 49th parallel line. 90% live within 150 miles of the US border. Schulz notes, “the vastness of Canada, combined with its geography, can make it challenging to economically ship products to consumers who live in more central or northern parts of the country.”
“Since the population clusters near the US border, many Canadians choose to digitally shop across the border in American stores, which sometimes offer better product selections. According to a recent industry report, cross-border shopping is a “staple behavior” in the country. An estimated 12 million Canadians will make purchases on non-Canadian sites in 2021, which is almost half of all Canadian digital buyers.
“[t]he vastness of Canada, combined with its geography, can make it challenging to economically ship products to consumers who live in more central or northern parts of the country.
— Alisha Schulz
CANADA GLOBAL OUTLOOK OPPORTUNITIES
Despite Canada’s regional differences, the country still has many remarkable cultural similarities with other major economies like Australia, the UK, and the US. These similarities often allow consumer products from the United States, Australia, and UK to easily translate into the Canadian market. Canada maintains a healthy trade relationship with many countries around the world; however, the United States is Canada’s largest trading partner. According to the International Trade Commission, “two-way trade in goods and services [between Canada and the US] totaled more than $614.9 billion in 2020.” As a result, US companies are in an exceptionally strong position to expand internationally in Canada.
STRONG WORKFORCE & CONSUMER BASE
Canada boasts an impressive workforce. It has some of the highest education levels in the world. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says “56 percent of adults in [Canada] have earned some kind of education after high school.” In the 2016 World Economic Forum, Trudeau praised Canadian education as “the nation’s greatest resource.”
This strong Canadian workforce has two major implications for businesses. First, businesses will have access to a strong domestic talent pool that can assist an expansion into the country. This will be helpful as companies think about regional offices, sales representatives, etc. Second, this highly developed and relatively affluent workforce has created a strong demand for consumer goods. According to the most recent official data, the average after-tax Canadian income was $62,900 CAD (about $49,200 USD). As a result, Canadians have high levels of discretionary income. Total retail sales in Canada will reach $555 billion in 2021, which is a 1.8% increase from 2020.