An Interview with the Consul General of Canada in Los Angeles - Zaib Shaikh

Consul General Zaib Shaikh

Consul General Zaib Shaikh

Canada has a new Consul General in Los Angeles to lead its promotion of trade and investment in the region – Zaib Shaikh. 
 
Well known to Canadians from his work in film and television, including the CBC comedy series Little Mosque on the Prairie, Consul General Shaikh served from 2014 until his appointment in 2018 as the Film Commissioner and Director of Entertainment Industries for the City of Toronto. In that role, he oversaw and supported the growth of the city’s screen, music, live festival, sporting event and tourism sectors, helping to double the value of film production in Canada’s largest city, which surpassed $2 billion in 2016.‎
 
He is married to Kirstine Stewart, a media & tech executive who is now a member of the Executive Committee of the World Economic Forum, its Head of Shaping the Future of Media, Entertainment and Information.
 
Welcome to Southern California CG Shaikh. We are delighted to welcome you and Kirstine to your new home. 
Thanks very much, it’s exciting to be here. I started my position right away, even before my things arrived, and Kirstine started a new job on another continent at the same time – so we’re not quite settled in yet!
 
Can you share with us how you learned of your appointment?
Everything kind of happened at once for both of us. I was in discussions for a while, as these kinds of things take time. Then Kirstine and I both got confirmation of our new jobs on the same day, actually. First, Kirstine heard about the WEF role and it was, ‘Guess we’re moving to Geneva.’ We were in our kitchen in Toronto deciding what to make for dinner, still absorbing her news, and I answered a phone call from Ambassador [David] MacNaughton to hear him offer me the CG position. Most definitely a day we won’t be forgetting soon.
  
What are you most looking forward to about your appointment as Canada’s senior representative in Southern California, Arizona and Nevada?
I’m looking forward to digging into all aspects of the job, which is already underway at a hectic pace – we recently had a crisis response simulation for our team to be able to support Canadian citizens here in case of emergency, and I was traveling in Arizona this past week, speaking about our economic and defense partnership. Before that, I was meeting with as many of the over 250 Canadian companies showcasing at CES in Nevada as I could. Beyond all that, I look forward to working with businesses in all sectors to leverage the already great relationships Canada has here in the US especially Southern California, Arizona and Nevada. 
 
With your experience in front of and behind the camera in the entertainment industry, what is your assessment of how well Canada and Southern California currently work together in this industry?
Like so many areas of the Canada-SoCal relationship, we’re succeeding together. Hollywood film and TV production in Canada hit record numbers last year. Our studios are staying near full capacity, in many cases already at capacity and expanding. Thanks to streaming and “peak TV,” there are more opportunities for Canadian content and stories to be seen by American audiences. Canadian talent is, as always, behind some of the critically acclaimed films and series this year again – look at Stephan James, who stars in If Beale Street Could Talk and Sandra Oh in Killing Eve as just two quick examples of the great diverse Canadian talent. And that's just the beginning because the real excitement is in the  partnerships and creativity possible whether in film, TV, music, really any medium. 
 
What cross-border entertainment industry opportunities are you most interested in exploring further as Consul General?  
Beyond the collaboration I just spoke about, there’s also the VR/AR [virtual reality, augmented reality] universe, an area where Canada is already so strong and where there is obviously great interest from the industry based here. And the merger of those two with AI [artificial intelligence]. I’m also interested in the live-sports/event/music convergence. There’s still some untapped business opportunities for Canada there.
 
Beyond the strong ties between Canada and Southern California in the entertainment industry, what do you view as some of the other key strengths of our relationship?
It goes so far beyond entertainment. We have 525 Canadian companies operating in greater Los Angeles. 27,000 people here work for Canadian companies, not to mention the tens of thousands more whose jobs depend on trade and investment with Canada. So the linkages are already there. 
 
Canada is not only the second largest market for California exports, the country is also one of the largest sources of foreign direct investment. What do you see as some of the economic development opportunities in trade and investment?
Our trade and investment team at the Consulate are uncovering opportunities all the time.  We have sector specialists in the life sciences, tech, advanced engineering, clean energy and infrastructure and the creative industries sector. In the short time I’ve been here, I’ve already seen exciting progress in the IT sector. The team has a great history of hitting its goals and big, thanks to them and my CG predecessors, but of course, we can always strive for more across the board given the era we are in as 2020 approaches. As they say out there, what a time to be alive! 
 
What kind of relationship do you want to have with the Southern California business community? 
It's about building upon what are already close, business-to-business relationships, and facilitating more for greater positive impact.  Being from the media and entertainment industries, I've experienced the power of person to person collaboration so I want to make sure I connect as much as I can on that level for the good of the Canada-SoCal family and partnership. There’s a lot of benefit to be had if it doesn’t focus on being simply transactional from one organization or business to another. 
 
What should Southern California executives know about doing business with Canada that they might not be aware of?
For starters, the strength and diversity of the Canadian workforce. Canada is in the midst of the biggest increase in welcoming immigrants in more than a century. Two-thirds of foreign-born Canadian adults have a post-secondary degree – that’s the highest of all the OECD countries. We’ve become the destination for the most skilled workers in the world, which is another reason why our diversity is a true asset. From there, I’d say we have very dynamic cities on a lot of levels including, of course, economically. A lot of people were surprised to see Calgary actually ahead of Toronto and Vancouver on the list of the world’s most livable cities – and all three in the top 10. And lastly, I’d mention our stable incentive infrastructure across the country for attracting, keeping and enhancing business.
 
As part of what is widely held to be the largest diaspora of Canadians in the world, what message would you like to share with the Canadian expat community here in Southern California?
We're here to help and support you. Our consular team is world-class. Individually and collectively, they have steered Canadians through every sort of crisis in every corner of the world. So if you need help, call us. And even when you don’t need urgent, crisis-response assistance, know that we’re all in this together. 
 
On a personal level, have you spent much time in Southern California and what do you most look forward to doing when you settle here?
I have family here, so I’ve visited frequently both personally and through work opportunities. I’m looking forward to catching up with family and friends and taking time to embrace the legendary SoCal lifestyle‎ more fully. 
 
Thank you, Consul General, for speaking with us. MAPLE Business Council looks forward to working together with you and your team to advance the interests between Canada and Southern California.