The downside of expat life

The Globe and Mail

(Leigh Schindler/iStockphoto)

The federal government is only beginning to grapple with a world in which 8 per cent of Canadian citizens live outside Canada's borders.

Kenny Zhang, a researcher with the Vancouver-based Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, argues that government policies punish so-called transnational Canadians. For example, naturalized Canadian citizens living abroad can not pass on citizenship to children born outside the country. Also, a Canadian who lives abroad for more than five years is no longer permitted to vote in federal elections.

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Citizens living outside the country must pay Canadian taxes unless they can prove they have no economic ties to Canada, such as property or investments. All these policies, Mr. Zhang believes, encourage transnational Canadians to reduce their ties to Canada.

Yet many expats demonstrate a desire to maintain a Canadian identity. For example, 60 schools in 19 countries offer an accredited Canadian curriculum, suggesting that many transnational parents want their children to be educated in a manner that would allow them to fit easily into Canadian society. As many as 69 per cent of respondents to an Asia Pacific Foundation survey of Canadian expats said they plan to return to Canada.

Mr. Zhang believes that Canada could benefit from building ties to the growing Canadian diaspora, perhaps by establishing a federal agency devoted to researching and developing policies toward Canada's transnational citizens. "These are the global citizens that Canada needs. As a trade nation, as a nation that has a strong international presence and links, we obviously need people to facilitate and support this presence," he said.

EXPAT BUSINESS SUCCESSES

It's easy to name famous Canadian entertainers and athletes living outside the country. But expatriate business people have also made their mark. Here are a few:

David Cheriton: This Edmonton-born professor of computer science at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., has a knack for picking Silicon Valley startups. Most notably, he was an early investor in a fledgling enterprise headed by two of his students, Sergey Brin and Larry Page. Their creation, Google, did rather well and Mr. Cheriton, 58, is now worth more than $1-billion.

Victor Li: The son of tycoon Li Ka-shing, this 46-year-old Hong Kong-based businessman with Canadian citizenship is the deputy chairman of Cheung Kong (Holdings) Ltd., one of Hong Kong's largest property developers. He lived for several years in Canada, where he worked as an investment banker. He is co-chairman of Husky Energy Inc. of Calgary.

John MacBain: Born in Niagara Falls, Ont., he graduated from McGill, became a Rhodes scholar, earned a Harvard MBA and later built a hugely successful network of auto-trading publications, which he sold in 2006 for $2-billion. Now 52, he lives in Geneva, where he runs Pamoja Capital, an investment firm, and helps direct the McCall MacBain Foundation, a charitable organization.

Jeff Skoll: Born in Montreal, he earned an MBA from Stanford University and became the first president of eBay, the Internet auction firm. With a net worth estimated at more than $4-billion, the 45-year-old devotes his time to philanthropy and movie production. He lives in Los Angeles.

Staff

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