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Steve Lafleur: Protectionism is no way to run a hockey team—or an economy

Commentary

Welcome to another NHL free agent season! We are deep into the summer now and depending on who you cheer for you’re either delighted, furious, or perplexed by your team’s decisions so far. Furious might not be strong enough if you’re a Calgary Flames fan. Franchise player Johnny Gaudreau booked a one-way ticket to Columbus, Ohio. It’s no surprise that fans are taking this personally. I’m an Islanders’ fan, so I know what it’s like when your franchise player leaves town for no compensation on 24 hours’ notice. 

Of course, he’s just a hockey player. Surely, they can find someone nearly as good to replace him? Losing one 28-year-old kid from New Jersey surely isn’t enough to change the fate of an entire professional hockey franchise, right? Well, there are 32 teams in the NHL and only eight guys scored over a hundred points last year. Gaudreau finished tied for second with 115.Stats – Skaters https://www.nhl.com/stats/skaters If there were hundred-point scorers laying around North Bay, other teams would probably find them. But that doesn’t happen very often, because the difference between the top one percent of professional hockey players and the top five left wingers in the world is enormous. It’s a game of milliseconds and millimeters. Tiny edges in performance lead to massive differences in outcomes. And Johnny Hockey is very, very, good at hockey.

Of course, not every industry has the same flexibility as professional sports. Getting a job in another country is a daunting, bureaucratic process for most people who can. For most people, it’s not a practical option. But governments make it easy for professional athletes to work across borders—even Russian nationals. After all, if your local sports team wants to win, they need the absolute best players.

The Washington Capitals probably wouldn’t have a Stanley Cup if Alex Ovechkin had been sent back to Russia. The reigning champion Colorado Avalanche wouldn’t have enough talent to compete in the AHL if they weren’t able to ice their foreign-born players (especially the Canadians). To find something close to an all-domestic-born team that won the Stanley Cup, you have to go back to the 1992/93 Montreal Canadiens. While Canada has produced around half of the players in the NHL over the past few decades,NHLers by Country: On Top of Their Game and the World https://thehockeywriters.com/current-nhl-players-by-country/ no team in recent history has tried to field an entire team of Canadiens. The reality is, if you’re trying to win, you need to go with the best talent regardless of where players are born. In a competitive global talent market, you don’t have the luxury of worrying too much about details like whether someone is from Brampton or Bratislava. 

Pro-sports teams are unusual in that no one seems to make a fuss about where their teams’ players are born. Fans crave the best players because they want their teams to win. When it comes to other businesses, though, it’s not so simple. Part of it is that few of us see the inner workings of big businesses. We can see what hockey players bring to the table by turning on the game. So we care a lot about our teams having access to the best players. If for some reason Auston Matthews was denied a work visa, there would probably be a revolution. If a software engineer is denied a work visa, we might never hear about it.  Since most of us neither understand what those people actually do (I don’t), nor how big the difference is between a good employee and a great one, it’s hard to get worked up about someone not being able to work in Canada. Some might even view it as a victory for Canadian workers. But sometimes missing out on global talent has major implications.

Consider, for instance, COVID vaccines. The co-founder and chairman of Moderna was born in Armenia, moved to Canada as a teen, then settled in Massachusetts. Choosing America rather than, say, staying in Canada, gave the United States a major edge in the vaccine race. Similarly, the co-founders of BioNTech SE, who created the Pfizer vaccine, were children of Turks whose parents brought them to Germany. Germany’s gain, Turkey’s loss. There are any number of examples of this. Think about a counterfactual where Elon Musk managed to build Tesla in Canada rather than leaving for Silicon Valley. Or think about American-trained Turkish national Erdal Arikan. You probably haven’t heard of him (neither had I). But he made a crucial breakthrough in developing 5G technology. He wasn’t able to get a suitable job stateside (and therefore no work visa), so off he went to China. He brought his technology to a little outfit you probably have heard about—Huawei—and gave China a massive advantage in the race to build out 5G technology. And that has created a major headache for the West.

This was something that Ronald Reagan understood.The Cold War’s Lesson for Immigration Policy https://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/cold-wars-lesson-immigration-policy So did George HW Bush. It’s a lesson that was forgotten as the memory of the Cold War faded. If you want to beat the Soviets, take their best scientists. Similarly, if the West wants to keep its technological edge over China, we should welcome their best engineers and scientists. 

Not every immigrant story is this dramatic. But in a competitive global economy, even small missed connections add up. If you want to win, you need the best, whether they’re from Victoria or Vladivostok. Hockey teams know this, and they play to win. It’s hard to compete with America. But given that they’ve stopped trying so hard to attract the best and brightest,America has an innovation problem. The H-1B visa backlog is making it worse. https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/23177446/immigrants-tech-companies-united-states-innovation-h1b-visas-immigration that’s an opportunity for Canada. We should seize it as ruthlessly as the Columbus Blue Jackets seized Johnny Gaudreau.

Yaël Ossowski and David Clement: Canada’s shaky rules on cryptocurrencies have their root in Ontario

Commentary

The notoriously volatile cryptocurrency market has seen more downs than ups, lately. But for Canadians curious about Bitcoin and cryptocurrency — which, notwithstanding the crash of earlier this year is now once again a $1 trillion global asset class — buying and selling any of these digital assets will hinge on where you live.

Quebecers or British Columbians will have an easier time, while Ontario residents will find their choices limited. Exchanges like Binance have learned the hard way, publicly battling with the Ontario Securities Commission over whether they can serve Ontario users.

Though Binance is registered through Canada’s FINTRAC as a money service business, it must comply with Ontario’s securities rules before it can legally accept users in Ontario. That has left millions of Ontarians blocked from Binance and other platforms.

Plenty of Canadians complain about Quebec’s unique status on other matters of regulation, but Ontario is the outlier when it comes to securities.

Canada’s decentralized system gives each province autonomy in the regulation of securities and investor protection. The two most important, due to population, are the Ontario Securities Commission and Quebec’s Autorité des marchés financiers. 

However, Quebec has an advantage as a signatory to a 2004 memorandum of understanding between securities regulators that acts as a “passport” to allow licenses to be accepted in other provinces. Every province and territory has accepted this passport system and works to foster more integrated rules across the country. All except Ontario.

Though the Ontario regulator is fairly busy, it has so far avoided joining hands with other provinces.

In 2020, Canadian Securities Administrators, the umbrella organization of other provinces’ securities regulators, chastised Ontario for not including the passport rule in their highly-praised taskforce to modernize capital markets.

These piecemeal licenses and exemptions, as well as the lack of any significant cryptocurrency rules at the federal level, mean Canadians who want to use these services are forced to adopt creative —if not technically illegal — methods of bypassing restrictions.

Using the second-largest global crypto exchange FTX, for example, is out of bounds. But if you fire up a Virtual Private Network (VPN) and set it to a U.S. IP address, you can easily log in, provide some information, and get to trading.

While FTX is registered with the federal government through FINTRAC, it still does not have the license necessary to offer its services to residents in Ontario. Recent acquisitions by FTX and other firms may change that, but only if the OSC accepts the new license. 

Considering dozens of other shady offshore crypto exchanges are all too happy to accept Canadians without following financial regulations or disclosures, this system is obviously broken and full of risk. Without smart rules, entrepreneurs and consumers have no other options, setting them up for a world of pain.

Dozens of liquidations and so-called “rug pulls” are cascading in the current bear market, putting millions of Canadian investments at risk. This includes Quebec’s major pension fund, which participated in a $400 million round in Celsius Network, a crypto lending and staking platform close to bankruptcy and default.

We already know that Canada, while a wealthy and free country, does not have interprovincial free trade, as we’re all too reminded in political campaigns and frequent cases before the Supreme Court. It’s no different with cryptocurrency rules.

While we await the unlocking of provincial trade barriers, there is something we can do to provide better clarity and security for Canadians who want in on the crypto economy.

Considering the billions of dollars from both institutions and Canadian investors at risk in the cryptocurrency space, it is true that there is currently no clear regulatory oversight or remedies apart from those we would traditionally apply to banking institutions. 

The current Capital Adequacy Requirements for banks in Canada can range up to 8 percent depending on the institution and holdings, usually owing to a level of risk exposure. This is a convoluted and complicated formula and keeps the number of banks in Canada quite low when compared to other industrialized and financialized countries.

While it may seem attractive to automatically lump cryptocurrency projects and protocols into Canadian banking rules and requirements, we recognize that virtual currencies are different than traditional investments and thus should also have their own set of rules. 

Disclosures, protections against fraud, and legal certainty, however, are key principles that would prove very beneficial to Canadian crypto consumers, as we have proposed elsewhere. But what can be done today?

First, Ontario should sign the memorandum to adopt the passport rule and other securities rules, like all other Canadian provinces. Second, if Ontario refuses to budge and there’s no appetite for a federal securities regulator, Canada should at least pass a law granting reciprocity of provincial securities licenses. Third, and most importantly, Ottawa should embrace smart cryptocurrency regulations that promote innovation, competition, and legally allow Canadians to buy and trade cryptocurrencies if they choose.

There are many advantages to being Canadian. We have a robust economy with plenty of opportunities that help raise our standard of living to punch above our weight. We must ensure that our rules reflect that, no matter our postal code and provincial flag. It’s time for our political leaders to follow through.