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Canada needs to engage its citizens living abroad

Nearly 2.8 million Canadians (9 per cent of the population) live in other countries, according to a study by the Asia Pacific Foundation, proportionally about five times higher than the United States and roughly the same as Britain.

It is time Canada viewed its expatriate population of 2.8 million as a strategic asset - and not as a liability. Not, in other words, as a brain drain at all.

Ottawa should appoint a parliamentary secretary to oversee an office dedicated to engaging with these Canadian citizens, who live in Hong Kong, the United States, the United Kingdom and elsewhere. Through outreach and public diplomacy, this office could foster greater business, educational and cultural ties with Canadians who live abroad. Many other countries, including Ireland, South Korea, Italy, India and the Philippines, have long understood the value of diaspora communities, and have dedicated ministries and programs to leverage the benefits.

Canada should take the same approach. Tapping into the global Canadian network could also help Ottawa understand what drives emigration and how to foster a sense of attachment.

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Some critics have dismissed Canadians living overseas as "citizens of convenience," who expect the government's help when things go wrong. However, in today's globalized world, this is too narrow a view. The government recovers the cost of any crisis-related consular services, including evacuations. Moreover, expatriate Canadians add value in many other ways. They are an excellent source of intelligence who offer useful networks and business contacts. They can facilitate partnerships and exchanges, build business links between countries and be a source of investment. One survey shows 69 per cent of Canadians living overseas plan to return home eventually. You can be a good Canadian and live abroad. In the meantime, Canada should unleash the potential of nine per cent of its total population. Those brains, after all, are still Canadian.

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