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Noah Zivitz

Managing Editor, BNN

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One of the world's most famous entrepreneurs has high praise for Canada as a "beacon of light" that could be a prime destination for global investors.

In an interview with BNN, Virgin Group Founder Richard Branson extolled the Liberal government, particularly in the wake of Donald Trump's election as 45th president of the United States.

"Canada is even more of a breath of fresh air today than it was two months ago," he said. "We need a country like Canada." 

Branson, who was in Toronto to announce a new charitable initiative in support of youth employment, added that he sees a strong appetite to invest in Canada.

"You’ve got a country that abides by the rule of law, talks good common sense, that has a prime minister and a cabinet that has a heart. There aren’t, I’m afraid, many countries like that left in the world now. So I think people would love to spend time and love to invest here," Branson said.

The comments come amid a full-court press by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government to attract global investors to Canada. The Liberals recently hosted a meeting of international institutional investors representing more than $21 trillion in assets to generate support for the government's $35-billion Canada Infrastructure Bank, which Ottawa hopes to leverage with global backers. 

"You could see some capital definitely diverting, especially when you look at some of the global impact of some of the trade talks and things like that," said John Zechner, chairman and founder of J. Zechner Associates, in reaction to Branson's remarks. "There's going to be some people who say, 'No, I'm just not doing business in the U.S.' ... Canada can quietly sit on the sidelines; we could sort of pick up a lot from disgruntled global investors here, absolutely." 

While U.S. stocks have gone on a record run fuelled by investors' hope for more spending and less regulation after Trump takes office in January, Branson is more circumspect. He warns the President-elect's vow to withdraw from trade deals could have an important spillover effect.

"To go back into your shell is not going to be good for America and it's not going to be good for the world. ... I think it's a dangerous mistake." 

Branson said the U.S. election campaign replicated a similar "unpleasantness" that was seen in the United Kingdom in the lead up to the June Brexit referendum. 

"What's sad is eight years ago, [Barack] Obama took over a country that was nearly bankrupt, going through a 1929 crash," Branson said. "He has sorted out America.

"I think three or four months from now, if he could have just waited a little bit longer, people would have started seeing it in their wage packets and would have started reaping the benefits of all the work that had gone on the last eight years."