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A familiar debate has been stirring in tech and academic circles recently: Is Canada experiencing a brain drain, or a brain gain? Are the sunny, anti-Trumpian ways of our small polis attracting the world’s best and brightest, or are we sitting by again as our carefully cultivated geek corps skips across the 49th parallel?

Exhibit A for the “brain drain” crowd was presented last week in a study by a group of Ontario researchers who looked at where science, tech, engineering and math students from some of our best schools end up after graduation.

It found that about a quarter of recent STEM grads were working outside Canada, mostly in the United States. The figure was even higher in fields like computer science.

The most popular counterpoint from those who say we are gaining brains, the Trudeau government prominent among them, has been the Canada 150 Research Chairs program. It will use more than $100-million in funding to lure top scholars to Canadian universities. Early recruits include a computer-systems researcher poached from Harvard.

So which is it? Are we undergoing an exodus of talent, or an influx?

The twofold answer, disappointingly for fervid partisans on both sides, is “both, and that’s okay.” Hot calls for action from either side should be mostly ignored.

First, as the higher-education consultant Alex Usher has pointed out, the new brain-drain study has its limitations and shouldn’t be taken as conclusive evidence that we’re hemorrhaging talent. It only looks at three schools – the universities of British Columbia, Waterloo and Toronto – and only considers graduates who use LinkedIn, the professional social-networking site.

The paper does contain evidence that some of Canada’s most impressive young talent is moving to the U.S. for work. For example, 41 per cent of Waterloo tech grads in 2015 and 2016 left the country, mostly going south of the border.

But even then, it’s not clear that we should be treating this as a big problem. It might be nice if a few more bright bulbs stayed to work for BlackBerry, or founded the next BlackBerry, but the fact is that Silicon Valley dominates global tech the way Hollywood dominates film.

We should be glad the best Canadian schools are producing coders and engineers talented enough for Apple and Microsoft to come after, not begrudging the fact. Canadians tend to feel proud of Rachel McAdams and Denis Villeneuve for making it in L.A., not resentful.

And if it’s inevitable that San Francisco will lure away a few Mike Lazaridis types, it can also be a boon. Waterloo is an excellent school, but Canada’s top minds can learn far more working at Google. Some of them will come back home armed with new skills, not to mention business networks that this country can’t match. The next Mike Lazaridis might very well cut her teeth in Mountain View, Calif.

At the same time, we don’t have much evidence that Canada is attracting an upsurge of global talent. The hope, frequently expressed by people with the word “innovation” somewhere in their job titles, is that Donald Trump’s racist rhetoric will yield a bumper crop of techie immigrants choosing Canada over the U.S. It’s not yet clear that’s happening.

Foreign-student enrolment is up at some key universities, but it’s been growing dramatically for at least a decade nationwide. The Canada Research Chairs are nice, but they constitute a one-time incentive. A visa fast-tracking program for skilled tech workers has had some early success but, overall, tech-worker immigration does not seem to have grown dramatically in 2017.

Just as there’s some provisional evidence of a Canadian brain drain, there are tentative signs that Mr. Trump’s administration is pushing brainy workers north. What is really the issue is that people are making overwrought claims about the extent and importance of both those phenomena.

Canada is an attractive destination for immigrants that also happens to be located next to the world’s economic and innovation giant. Talented people are going to come here from abroad, and others are going to leave here for the U.S. Any effort to regulate these realities would be expensive and wasteful, even if we can tinker on the margins with policies to keep a few more tall poppies in Canada.

Rather than getting flushed about drains and gains, we should settle into our natural lot in the global talent marketplace: as a revolving door.

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