It can be tedious listening to Nikki Haley, South Carolina's newly re-elected governor.
In her public appearances in Mumbai on Wednesday she recited every glowing designation her lovely state has received from trade publications she didn't name. South Carolina was voted the third-best state in which to invest, she said. Charleston was chosen the best tourist destination in America and the second-best in the world. South Carolina is the fifth-best state in which to retire. And so on.
But you know what? Her audiences didn't seem to mind. The local press might have asked the Republican Governor about her party's opposition to overhauling immigration rules, including an expansion of visas for high-skilled workers. Instead, reporters had Ms. Haley expand on her sales pitch. They even asked her for her assessment of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as if the leader of a state of 4.8 million people had advice to offer the leader of a country of 1.3 billion.
"What Mr. Modi is trying to do works," said an undaunted Ms. Haley, who was visiting the country where she gave a talk at a luncheon event organized in her honour by the All India Association of Industries. "This is personal for me," said Ms. Haley. "This is not my last visit to India."
One shouldn't sniff at success. Significantly fewer people attended a speech by Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall on Monday evening than turned out for Ms. Haley, even though Saskatchewan exports about $1-billion worth a goods to India, more than double what the country buys from South Carolina. And unlike Ms. Haley, Mr. Wall couldn't be accused of jumping on the Modi bandwagon. Saskatchewan's leader first visited India in 2011.
Canada has tremendous assets. It also suffers from a fatal flaw: complacency.
There are exceptions, of course. Brad Loiselle, chief executive officer of SKILLSdox, an Ottawa-based company that develops digital education products, told a group assembled by the Canada-India Business Council on Tuesday that he spent two years just trying to understand India before he started doing any real business in the country. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne returned from a trip to China this month with investment pledges that could create 1,800 jobs. Mr. Wall was doing what he could to help Cameco Corp. sell uranium to India.
Yet there are at least as many signs that Canadians are sitting back as the global economy shifts to Asia.
Our beloved Tim Hortons Inc. has been talking about "going global" since 2010. It could be too late in India. Starbucks, McDonald's, Dunkin Donuts and Krispy Kreme Doughnuts are here already.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper went straight home after the Group of 20 summit in Brisbane, Australia, last weekend. Chinese President Xi Jinping and Mr. Modi stayed on to address the Australian parliament and François Hollande became the first French President to conduct an official tour of Australia. While Canadians debate the pros and cons of exporting liquefied natural gas, India is about to receive its biggest ever shipment from an American producer.
Brian Porter, chief executive officer of Bank of Nova Scotia, told me in September that it's naive to assume the world will line up to buy Canada's resources. Countries such as South Korea and Indonesia will invest where they can be most certain of getting a timely return. Mr. Porter said Canada is developing a reputation of taking too long to decide whether to grant mining and drilling permits. "[It's] something Canadians need to think long and hard about … do we really want world access and what does that mean?" he said.
None of this is an argument for putting money ahead of Canada's environment. Nor is it a judgment on Mr. Harper's desire to get home after many days abroad, or the reluctance of Tim Hortons' management to try their luck at selling coffee in Beijing and New Delhi. The point is to guard against overconfidence. Canada's advantages aren't so great that it can sit back and wait for the world to knock on its door.
Exports still are below the pre-recession peak. Does that matter? Only if you aspire to generate greater economic opportunity than is being created now. And if you do, you better get out and sell what you got to offer. Otherwise, Nikki Haley is going to eat your lunch.
Kevin Carmichael is a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation.
Special to the Globe and Mail