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Tech group praises Grits’ new science and innovation ministry


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s new cabinet includes a minister of innovation, science and economic development, Mississauga-Malton MP Navdeep Bains. The renamed post, formerly known as industry, consolidates the duties of that portfolio and the ministry of state for science and technology under one senior minister.

That change was the number one recommendation of the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA), which issued a seven-point agenda for the new Liberal government after its decisive victory in last month’s federal election.

“They did the pivot we asked for,” says the association’s CEO, John Reid. “This is very positive. I think we’re going to make some very good headway for not only the Ottawa (technology) community but for the Canadian community.”

Reid says he hopes the new minister, who is part of a smaller 31-member cabinet, has the clout and the resources to help boost the country’s private-sector R&D efforts. He had high praise for Bains’ appointment, a certified management accountant who served three terms in Parliament before losing to Eve Adams in the 2011 election. The veteran MP has also been a strong mentor to youth in his hometown, where he was known for organizing sports activities.

“He has a social consciousness,” Reid adds. “If you look at enterprises that attract and keep talent, they tend to have very strong community involvement. If we’re to brand Canada as an innovation leader, it should be an innovation leader that also pays attention to social causes.”

The Liberals have pledged to spend hundreds of millions of dollars over the next five years to kickstart Canada’s innovation sector, including more money for startup incubators. Industry advocates hope the new ministry is a sign the government is ready to make innovation a top priority.

“I like the idea of bringing those (responsibilities) together,” says Bruce Lazenby, CEO of Invest Ottawa. “As the fourth-largest city in Canada and one of the largest technology clusters in the country, we are a logical place for them to focus on trying to make sure that we can capitalize on a lot of the great research that’s done here in Ottawa and the great companies that we’ve got here.”

CATA also lauded the Liberals’ move to create a new senior science ministry as a separate entity. Kirsty Duncan of Etobicoke North takes control of that portfolio.

“We wanted very strong messaging at the federal political level,” Reid says. “Not only did we get our innovation minister, but we also got a separate science minister. You cannot neglect science in Canada. Even though there may not be a direct commercial application, it’s often the seed for evolution and technology development.”

Among the other planks in its innovation platform, the organization is urging the Liberals to boost regulations to make Canada a global hub for crowdfunding. It also wants the government to commit 10% of its procurement spending to startups and implement a more effective mechanism to resolve disputes over R&D tax credits.

Reid also called on the Liberals to emulate programs that have been successful in growing startups elsewhere, such as the Small Business Research Investment Program, a U.S. initiative that encourages startups to develop new technologies and New York’s tax exemptions for new companies.

“Let’s make sure that we scan the world for global best practices and see what practices can be easily adopted to the Canadian situation,” he says. “You don’t necessarily have to grow everything from scratch within the Canadian context.”

Lazenby said the government must do more to help small companies grow into firms that can excel on the world stage.

“I think one of the big focuses has got to be on how we create larger companies,” he said. “We are really good across the country at creating startups, but of the 33,000 ICT companies in Canada, only about 50 have got more than 500 people. That scale issue is a challenge.”

The capital region will have solid representation at the cabinet table, with newly elected Ottawa Centre MP Catherine McKenna being named minister of the environment and climate change.

Lazenby says he hopes to meet soon with McKenna, adding he thinks Ottawa’s growing clean-tech sector could assist her ministry in achieving its environmental objectives.