On Wednesday, the company formerly known as Research In Motion unveiled its BlackBerry 10, and the talk was about whether it would save the company, or turn into the final nail in its coffin.
The second level of discussion had a nationalistic tinge: whither Canada's biggest technology company? What would it mean for Canada if BlackBerry crashes and burns?
Frankly, not much.
There's a persistent myth that a country's fortunes are intimately linked to its large and internationally known firms. China may be the factory of the world, but no one took much note of its technology sector until Lenovo bought IBM's personal computer business. Likewise, no one cared how many cheap widgets were made in Japan in the 1950s, but when they started bringing Hondas and Toyotas to American shores, then they started being taken seriously.
Does having a big firm based in your country create jobs, drive the economy, improve local competitiveness?
A little bit. But not nearly as much as people like to pretend when they wrap BlackBerry in the flag.
For example, when BlackBerry, then still RIM, went through massive layoffs in July of 2011, slashing 2,000 of its 17,000 jobs, it was notable that only 9,000 of its total staff worked at the company's headquarters in Waterloo, Ont. Where are the rest?
All around the world, in other parts of Canada, the United States, Europe, Asia.
The big corporate headquarters is a major job source for Waterloo, and from there spinoffs hit the rest of Ontario and to a lesser degree the rest of Canada and the U.S. So having a high-tech company based in Canada is far from a bad thing. But we should also remember that it is not here out of the goodness of its heart.
If its sole goal was to benefit Canada's economy, surely it would build its phones here, right?
Actually, BlackBerry really doesn't build its own devices. As with virtually every major brand in the world, from Apple to Nike to Lenovo to Microsoft, manufacturing is now done through a network of contractors and subcontractors.
For BlackBerry, it's involved a Finnish firm called Elcoteq that does its actual manufacturing in China, and a couple of American companies that work in China, India, the Ukraine, and Mexico, and Hungary.
Maybe someday the manufacturing of Black Berries and iPhones and Xboxes will come to North America-but it won't be out of any nationalistic pride or desire to give Canadians jobs. It'll be because it became cheaper than the alternatives.
This is the point that is often glossed over when it comes to the debate about Canadian firms.
We tend to care about whether they fail or succeed, because we see them through maple-leaf-o-vision. But they don't care about Canada.
They can't. Corporations are like machines, and machines don't have ethics, they just do what they're designed to do.
A corporation is a machine designed to make money. It is competing with a bunch of other machines trying to do the same thing. So if making money means off-shoring jobs, it will do that.
If making money means hiring more people in Canada, it will do that.
Some of the side effects of the machine's actions are good: it's nice that people have high-paying work, and it's good that we have a lot of highly skilled people working in Canada instead of brain-draining away.
But don't mistake those accidental spin-offs for patriotic concern. It's all about whether a firm can keep making money.
? Matthew Claxton is a reporter with the Langley Advance.
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