Cultural Newsletter: Canada

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Canada is the second largest country in the world (after Russia). It covers an area of 9.98 million sq km, its capital city is Ottawa and the population is just over 38 million. Canada has a Head of State, Queen Elizabeth II, and a Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau.

Canada became a self-governing dominion in 1867, while retaining ties to the British crown. Canada gained legislative independence from Britain in 1931 and formalized its constitutional independence from the UK when it passed the Canada Act in 1982.

Since World War II, the impressive growth of its manufacturing, mining, and service sectors has transformed the nation from a largely rural economy into one primarily industrial and urban. Canada has a large oil and natural gas sector with the majority of crude oil production derived from oil sands in the western provinces, especially Alberta.

Canada is heavily influenced by its proximity to the USA, and as a large majority of Canadians live within 200km of the Canada/USA border, there are similarities in behaviour and accent.

On a per-capita basis, Canada has one of the highest immigration rates in the world. This tends to change the makeup in many of the country’s metropolitan areas, in particular Toronto and Vancouver which have become very cosmopolitan.

According to the HSBC Expat Explorer annual report in 2021, Canada is the 13th best country in the world overall for expats due to its safe environment and quality of life.

Canada’s population includes an English-speaking majority representing almost 60 per cent of the population, and the French-speaking minority, most of whom live in the Quebec province, representing around 23 per cent today. It is essential to be aware of and respect the significant cultural and language differences between these groups. French translations of any marketing and promotional literature should be provided when trying to enter the market (especially in the area of Quebec).

Canadians share the informality, freedom of expression, pioneer spirit and entrepreneurial imagination of the USA, yet they tend to be more modest and indirect.

In the workplace, Canadian managers are not expected to manage in an authoritarian or paternalistic manner but are expected to be decisive. Management style is characterised as informal and friendly with managers preferring to be seen as ‘one of the guys’ rather than as an aloof authority figure who stands apart from everybody else.

Managers will consult widely when a decision is called for and expect input from all concerned parties. However the final decision remains with the manager and quick decision-making is respected by all. Before any decision has been made, speak up, no matter what your status. You might not be asked explicitly to contribute, but demonstrate initiative and self-confidence by making your voice heard. Politely yet clearly provide your opinion even when it differs from what the boss seems to be thinking.

Hierarchy in Canadian organisations is established for convenience, superiors are accessible and managers rely on individual employees and teams for their expertise. It is customary for managers and staff members to consult one another and to share information freely. With respect to communication, Canadians value a straightforward exchange.

Canada is characterised as an Individualist culture. This translates into a loosely knit society in which the expectation is that people look after themselves and their immediate families. Similarly, in the business world, employees are expected to be self-reliant and display initiative.

While Canadians strive to attain high standards of performance in both work and play, the overall cultural tone is more subdued with respect to achievement, success and winning. They tend to have a work-life balance and are likely to take time to enjoy personal pursuits, family gatherings and life in general.

This is also indicative of the easy acceptance of new ideas, innovative products and a willingness to try something new or different, whether it’s in technology, business practices, or consumer products.

At meetings, punctuality is a priority, and your business card should have both French and English translations. You may find Canadians to be initially reserved, but they usually warm up as conversation proceeds. You can expect them to be polite, easy-going, relatively informal and organised. Canadians are polite listeners and rarely interrupt others. They can be somewhat direct. They might ask for clarification and do not find it difficult to say ‘no’ when they dislike a request or proposal.

They want sensible discussion during business and negotiate calmly and reasonably, seeking a compromise for a win-win outcome. They will not be enticed by hard tactics or tough bargaining.

Appeal to common sense during negotiations and be clear about your intentions. Support your aims with facts and figures, being careful not to make any statements that you cannot support or demonstrate.

Canadians, especially Anglo-Canadians, generally prefer a monochronic work style meaning they carry out actions and goals systematically. They do not like wasting time but also do not appreciate being hurried into decisions. Agreement is usually sought from everyone in the room as a unanimous consensus is ideal.

Canadians usually leave meetings with an immediate plan of action in mind. Once a decision has been made, its implementation is often rapid.

While building rapport is important, Canadians tend to make professional friendships with their colleagues instead of building personal relationships out of them. They value their privacy and like to keep a line between those they do business with and those they socialise with outside of the workplace.

Finally, while our article applies to Canadian culture overall, there are some differences between Anglophone Canadians and Francophone Canadians (the province of Quebec). French Canadians can be more formal, hierarchical, relationship-focused and expressive.

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