Different Business Cultures in Canadian Provinces

With the coronavirus pandemic forcing Canada’s borders to remain closed, many Canadian businesses are looking towards other provinces as new markets to enter. These businesses are presented with new challenges in getting to know the differences in Canadian business culture between provinces. While there are ample internet resources for foreigners on Canadian business culture, there are relatively few articles outlining the differences between regions.

It would be difficult for any discussion to cover all the regional distinctions, of course, but below are a few key points on topics ranging from exports to etiquette, to help business owners from any province better understand their extra-provincial partners and clients.

Exploring Business in the Maritime Provinces and Newfoundland & Labrador

If the first thing you think about when someone mentions Atlantic Canada is seafood, you’re on track. Seafood has historically been one of the region’s top exports, with the US as its primary market.

Business owners may also be curious to know that Atlantic Canada’s property prices are relatively low, which can help reduce companies’ operational costs.

The cost of leasing office space in downtown Halifax is about $30 per square foot. Compare that to the cost of leasing office space in Toronto on Bay Street at $68, and in Vancouver on Burrard Street at $55 (Intelligent Office).

Here are a few other points about the maritime provinces and Newfoundland & Labrador that you might not know:

  • The Atlantic provinces have the highest proportion of college graduates in Canada. The region also possesses 16 universities, making postsecondary education one of its chief exports.
  • The pub industry is thriving: St. John’s has the most bars per capita of any city in Canada, with Halifax coming in a close second.
  • Newfoundland & Labrador, which were once considered one of the weakest provinces economically, has grown the development of its minerals, hydroelectric capacity, and offshore oil, and is now regarded as an above-average performer in per-capita GDP output.
  • Atlantic Canadians may care more about manners than other parts of the country: according to a recent survey, 52% of Canadians think people are less polite than they were five years ago, but this number rises to 58% in the maritime provinces.

Understanding Western Canada’s Business Cultures

The last federal election made it clear that there were some very different perspectives between Western Canada and some other parts of the country, which inter-provincial businesses will want to be sensitive to. According to a post on Global Affairs Canada, generalizations can “raise sensitive issues of regionalism” if Central Canadians are perceived as speaking for the rest of the country.

But there’s so much more to the West than disgruntlement. Here are a few compelling facts for business owners about the West’s business environment:

  • While one of Manitoba’s top exports is, unsurprisingly, wheat, this is second to its export of medicaments (substances used in therapy). Other top exports include aerospace parts and furniture.
  • Saskatchewan’s excellent farmland and the development of its uranium, potash, shale oil, and other resources have fostered record growth in population, employment, investment, and exports in the past decade.
  • While oil pipeline projects have been a matter of controversy in the country (fueling some of the results of the federal election), output from Alberta’s oil sands is still expected to almost triple from 2012 to 2035.
  • Lonely Planet observes that the western-most parts of BC are ultra-friendly. Travelers to Canada should “Expect everyone from shop assistants to restaurant servers to engage you in a few lines of chat,” but that “People are particularly effusive on Vancouver Island.”

Business travelers to Western Canada will also want to be mindful of the abundance of cultures within the population and their differences. For example, etiquette expert Nina Durante advises that, in a Canadian-style meeting, you can expect a team approach where everyone talks, but in a Japanese-style business meeting in Canada, the most senior person may do all or most of the talking.

A Changing Business Environment in Ontario

You may associate Ontario with the seat of the federal government in Ottawa and the cultural and business centres in Toronto. These cities are key, but there’s also a lot more going on in the province that is relevant to businesses.

Manufacturing vs. Service Industries

Much of Canada’s manufacturing sector is based in southern Ontario. Next Generation Manufacturing Canada (NGen), Canada’s Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster, has its headquarters in Hamilton, ON. Its goal is to match companies with innovative technologies to further advanced manufacturing in Canada.

Ontario’s service industry has also seen substantial growth. Service industries now make up 77.5% of Ontario’s GDP, with manufacturing accounting for 11.9%.

Northern Ontario

Northern Ontario’s resources possess strong potential to drive economic growth. For example, in 2018, gold was Ontario’s second-highest export, behind motor vehicles. Developing infrastructure to access such resources is a work-in-progress between the federal and provincial governments.

Ontario Tech

Invest Ontario has observed that seven of the ten largest tech companies in the world conduct R&D in Ontario, including Microsoft, IBM, and Intel. The Ontario tech industry also has well-developed subsectors in artificial intelligence, interactive digital media, and quantum technology. Moreover:

The Ontario tech sector may be giving a boost to the province’s automotive industry, as the Ontario government invests in funding for autonomous vehicle technology development.

The tech sector is also changing business culture in Ontario. Tech companies tend to have more casual expectations regarding business attire, invest more in perks such as fitness subsidies and catered lunches for employees, and implement open vacation policies.

Key Values of Quebec Companies

In Quebec, French is the language of business. Bill 101 made French the official language of government, courts, workplaces, instruction, communications, and commerce in Quebec. All business communication should therefore be in French, unless otherwise agreed.

While this legislation has limited some of Quebec companies’ opportunities with international businesses, Quebec’s aerospace industry is well-developed, with exports amounting to $7.6M in 2018. Other major industries include forestry, mining, and food and beverage.

Chocolate and other food preparations with cocoa totalled over $1M in exports from Québec in 2018.

I choose Montréal / Je choisi Montréal, an initiative of Montreal’s economic development agency and the Government of Quebec, provides some key insights into Quebec’s business culture:

  • Hierarchical structures in business tend to be more flexible than they may be elsewhere in Canada, with approachable managers and opportunities for motivated employees to move through the ranks.
  • In the summer, some companies start half an hour earlier and close half an hour later. This allows employees to take Friday afternoons off.
  • Companies are likely to accommodate parents of young children with flexible schedules and work-from-home days.

An additional note: those looking to expand their businesses in the Greater Quebec City region should know that a low unemployment rate, an aging population, and strong economic growth has led many Quebec companies in the area to rely on foreign recruitment. Québec First has resources that can facilitate international hiring, and business owners can also read about the Government of Canada’s Federal Express Entry Program for hiring foreign workers.

Northern Canada’s Economic Frontier

Northern Canada is sometimes neglected in economic and cultural analyses due to its low population density: Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, and Yukon amount to approximately 113,000 people. However, the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency describes the North’s importance:

  • The North accounts for nearly 40% of Canada’s landmass.
  • It has a high number of the country’s Indigenous inhabitants. Aboriginal peoples make up 85% of the population of Nunavut, 50% of the Northwest Territories, and 25% of Yukon.
  • It possesses world-class diamond mines and large oil and gas reserves. The Government of Canada therefore views the North as having enormous potential for wealth and job creation.

The North is expected to rise in importance in the coming decades due to melting polar ice caps, which may one day create a Northwest Passage for international shipping.

Additionally, populations in the North are young and growing quickly. In response, Federal Budget 2019 committed to funding a taskforce to study post-secondary education, with an emphasis on recommendations for improving access to education in the North. As well, funding for a new science building at Yukon College that will set the groundwork for making the College the first university in Canada’s North.

Additional Canadian Small Business Funding Resources

Businesses looking to learn more about the business climates in each region may wish to look to Canada’s Regional Development Agencies, which drive economic growth in each of six regions across the country. Businesses that aim to grow domestically and internationally may also want to explore opportunities from the provincial and federal governments for business development funding and capital investment and technology adoption funding.

Learn how you can help navigate the business funding landscape by downloading our Navigating the Government Funding Process slide deck to keep apprised of government funding programs and application intakes.

Navigating the Canadian Government Funding Process

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Sunnie holds a PhD in English from Dalhousie University, and has published her writing in several academic journals, as well as in magazines, newspapers, and blogs. She combines years of experience as a professor in English with practical experience in the private sector as a trainer in writing and analytical thinking.

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