Big Tech

    The hidden cost of Amazon’s Vancouver expansion

    Illustration by Augustine Ng

    In late April, as the world waited for word on Amazon Inc.’s highly anticipated—and still unannounced—HQ2, the company sprung the news that 3,000 high-skilled jobs would be created in Vancouver to boost the company’s e-commerce technology, cloud computing and machine learning capabilities.

    A month earlier, foreign direct investment in Canada had hit an eight-year low, dragged down by a 12.2 per cent drop in oil and gas sector investments, the lowest the industry has seen in 17 years.

    Perhaps that’s why the prime minister was there to deliver the announcement himself. “Our vibrant cities, which are home to some of the best talent in the world, are poised to attract premier investment that creates the jobs of tomorrow,” said Justin Trudeau, flanked by towers of Amazon Prime boxes in a crowded warehouse of observers.

    Trudeau’s appeals to the U.S. business community aren’t without merit. Last year, he wrote a personal letter to Jeff Bezos, pitching him on why Amazon’s second headquarters—and potentially 50,000 new jobs—should come to Canada. Toronto has since been shortlisted as a finalist for the US$5-billion project. But those overtures come with a cost. In Vancouver, there’s growing skepticism that a massive Amazon presence is what the city—grappling with a talent shortage and a housing crunch—needs to broaden its influence as an intelligence hub. Beneath the celebratory surface, there’s a sense of frustration that Amazon may take more than it will give in Vancouver’s tech and startup scene, offering little for the next generation of companies.

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