CDO: Stop Assisting the NYC Migration

Ultra Vires (U. of Toronto Faculty of Law)

The Career Development Office (CDO) has to be one of the best-run bits of U of T. Efficient, compassionate, and knowledgeable — these people do a great job. I can only think of one thing that would make the CDO better: they should stop helping American firms hire our best graduates. The CDO shouldn’t advertise American jobs, host American OCIs, or do anything else to encourage our graduates to work outside the country.

15 members of the class of 2007 intend to take up American jobs after graduation. Each of these 15 will pay their taxes primarily to American treasuries, with little if anything staying in Canada. They’ll each make about $90k a year, and pay $35k apiece in taxes. That’s over half a million dollars between them—in their first year out alone. A big chunk of that half-million will disappear into Iraq, the War on Drugs, or some other futile sinkhole. Some of it will make Americans’ lives better. What the half-million won’t do is any good at all for Canada or Canadians.

Eventually, these 15 will contribute more to society than their taxes. If the New York firms are as selective as they’re supposed to be, then these people are the cream of the crop. They’ll shape and contribute to the law. They’ll eventually write ground-breaking articles, if not ground-breaking judgments. If only Canada could hold on to them, they’d eventually grace our Benches and our Cabinets. In the all-too-likely event that they remain American residents, Canada loses out on all of this enormous potential.

Why should the CDO care about this? Because the Faculty of Law should, along with serving students, also serve Canada. Patriotism is a good enough reason. What’s more, Canadian taxpayers deserve something from us in return for the millions which Queen’s Park and Ottawa pump into the school each year. In addition to direct funding of the University, government OSAP and Millennium Scholarship money allow the School to get away with charging the tuition which it does.  Moreover, it’s government grants to faculty that let them produce the scholarship which burnishes the School’s reputation. The Faculty of Law owes a great deal to Canada, and encouraging our best and brightest to leave is a lousy way to repay the debt.

In a 2004 Globe and Mail article, Michael Valpy took an optimistic view of highly-skilled Canadians moving to New York. Valpy expressed his hunch that most of the newest brain drain cohort would only briefly dally Stateside, before returning north. Like Canada geese in pinstripe suits (the theory runs), our elite graduates have some mysterious homing instinct which will return them to us after short sojourns in the South.

Valpy’s faith was bolstered by his conversation with A.B., son of two Canadian public servants and a McGill Law graduate working in New York. A.B. spoke flatteringly about how much more open-minded, egalitarian, and generally nice Canadians are than Americans. He told Valpy that he was “certain” that he would be coming back to Canada soon, to work for a university, think-tank, or Ministry. Very reassuring stuff. So I googled A.B.. Three years down the road, surely he’s realized his dream of coming home? Err, no. It turns out that A.B. is currently practicing antitrust law at Constantine Cannon LLP, of New York City. If A.B. marries, buys real estate, and makes partner, Canada’s hopes of getting him back will dwindle steadily.

My guess is that A.B. is entirely typical of the 15 we’re about to lose. Whatever they may say now, most of them will be gone for good. After all, according to Valpy’s article, there are 250,000 Canadians living in New York City alone. How many of them will ever come back? We wouldn’t want to interrupt the free movement of people across the border, and some people will leave no matter what we do. But the Faculty can decide whether or not it wants to encourage the brain drain. Each of the 15 grads we’re about to lose is an extremely valuable resource – as a taxpayer, as a creator, and as a leader. There’s no reason to suppose that these golden Canadian geese will return; it’s much more likely that they’ll lay a lifetime of golden eggs in the American nest. It’s time to stop encouraging their southward migration.