Americas Competitiveness Exchange


Speaking Points

The Honourable Navdeep Bains, PC, MP
Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development

Toronto, Ontario

September 26, 2016

Check Against Delivery


Thank you, Ilse.

Hello, bonjour and hola. Welcome to the Americas Competitiveness Exchange.

Bienvenue au Canada.

Bienvenidos to all of our friends from the community of nations in the Western Hemisphere.

I'd like to take this opportunity to recognize my fellow ministers in the audience: Roselyn Victoria Paul of Dominica, Gale Tracy Christiane Rigobert of Saint Lucia and Jerome Kennedy Fitzgerald of The Bahamas.

I also want to acknowledge Nestor Mendez, Assistant Secretary General of the Organization of American States, and Jay Williams, Assistant Secretary of Commerce of the United States.

A warm welcome to all of you.

A warm welcome also to our friends from South Korea, Israel and Germany.

What a distinguished group we have here today.

It's going to be a great week.

There will be opportunities for you to get to know each other and to learn from each other.

And there will be opportunities to hear from our German, Israeli and South Korean guests, whose countries are global leaders in innovation.

And of course, you will have a chance to see some truly impressive made-in-Canada innovations.


There is no better place to start your visit than here at the MaRS Discovery District.

This place does amazing work to support entrepreneurs who are building high-growth firms.

MaRs creates the right conditions for innovation to flourish.

The most innovative solutions happen when people with diverse yet specialized skills come together for a common purpose.

When we look at MaRS, it is easy to see the power of teamwork—the power of having scientists, entrepreneurs, students, investors and marketers collaborate in this hotbed of innovation.

Let me tell you about a company called Hydrostor.

It got started here in Toronto with support from MaRS and government.

Hydrostor has activated the world's first underwater system that stores energy.

The system converts excess electricity—say from wind power—into compressed air and stores it at the bottom of nearby Lake Ontario.

When demand for energy is high, the air is returned to the surface and converted back into electricity.

Our Caribbean neighbour, Aruba, has a contract in place to use Hydrostor's technology.

The goal is to help Aruba achieve energy independence by 2020.

I'm told Chile is also interested in this technology.

Hydrostor is a fine example of the power of partnership.

And it has the potential to help with energy challenges throughout the Americas.

Partnerships like this happen at MaRS.

They also happen in cities across Canada.

You'll see it in Hamilton, an hour's drive south.

Hamilton has historically been linked to the steel industry.

But the city has worked hard to diversify its economy.

Now, life sciences and information technology have emerged as key pillars of Hamilton's economy.

You'll also see the power of partnerships in Waterloo, a two-hour drive west.

Waterloo is the birthplace of the BlackBerry mobile device.

Waterloo is also a world-class hub of technology innovation.

And finally, you'll see the power of collaboration in the Niagara region, a two-hour drive 

This region is home to the world-famous Niagara Falls.

But it's also fruit and wine country – Ontario's own version of Napa Valley.

It's got a thriving agri-food and agri-tourism sector.

And it's also a manufacturing hub.


Many of your countries, like ours, are blessed with an abundance of natural resources.

But we cannot rely on them alone.

However rich we are in resources, our countries must also develop the resourcefulness of their people—especially when some economists say we live in a world of low economic growth.

In the past, we relied on increased trade and high commodity prices to boost our economy during periods of low growth.

We also relied on more people joining the workforce.

But those options are no longer enough.

Today, the Americas face new pressures.

Global companies are becoming local competitors.

Technology is transforming how we live and work.

Climate change is reshaping the ways we meet our energy needs.

Social inequality leads to poverty and disease.

These challenges transcend national borders.

But we have an opportunity to turn these challenges into opportunities and seize the future.

For example, McMaster University in Hamilton is working with Colombia to develop a diagnostic test for the Zika virus.

And Niagara College is doing important work with Peru, Bolivia and Jamaica to strengthen employment through education.

Taking Control

These examples show that we don't have to accept the pressures we face as limitations.

We don't have to accept low economic growth as our destiny.

The Government of Canada has taken bold steps to seize the future.

First, we are investing in public infrastructure.

That includes new roads and bridges that allow Canadians to get around faster, new sewers and water mains to keep water clean, and high-speed Internet to connect Canadians digitally.

At a time of historically low interest rates, these investments give an immediate boost to the economy.

They create jobs and they make life more pleasant for all Canadians.

Our government has also taken bold steps to drive economic growth through innovation.

Innovation has the potential to create well-paying jobs, turn small local companies into global successes and improve the lives of all Canadians.

Government Action

So what role do governments have in driving innovation?

Some say government should provide bridges, roads and sewers—then get out of the way.

The truth is, in many countries that owe their growth to innovation, government plays an active role in nurturing that success.

To borrow a phrase from economist Mariana Mazzucato, governments can play an entrepreneurial role in driving innovation.

Our government is prepared to think big, aim high and act boldly—just like an entrepreneur.

We have already taken some bold steps to spark growth through innovation.

First, we have invested $2 billion in the renewal of university and college campuses across the country.

These investments will allow the people whose ideas power innovation to work in state-of-the-art facilities.

They will collaborate in specially designed spaces that support lifelong learning and skills training.

They will work in close proximity with partners to turn discoveries into products or services.

And they will train for—and create—the high-value jobs of the future.

Here's another way we are investing in the people who drive innovation.

We have invested $900 million in cutting-edge research.

Quantum computing, brain science, machine learning and water management: investments in these emerging areas will create a pipeline of discovery that could lead to the next breakthrough technologies.

They could even plant the seeds for the next great companies to come from this country.

That's the kind of role that government as entrepreneur can play.

So what else can government do to nurture growth through innovation?

Let me talk about two themes that I heard from Canadians earlier this summer.

That's when our government asked Canadians from all walks of life for their ideas on how our country can be more innovative.

We did that because we believe government can't act alone if Canadians expect meaningful results.

Here's what Canadians told me.


First: talent.

We heard consistently about the need for people with the right skills and experience to drive innovation.

The key is to develop a pipeline of talent that is broad and deep.

To start, we need more people in science, technology, engineering and math.

In particular, we need more girls and women to participate.

No country can afford to leave half of its brainpower on the sidelines.

And yet today, fewer than one in three computing and engineering graduates in Canada are women.

There are even fewer Canadians from Indigenous communities.

Among those with earned doctorates, fewer than one in 100 identifies as Aboriginal.

I firmly believe it's our moral duty to promote diversity and inclusion.

But these values are also good for business.

That's because innovation depends on good ideas—and good ideas can come from anyone or anywhere.

Canadians also told us that we need to do a better job of preparing people for a rapidly changing job market.

That should be the case no matter what stage of life they are at.

Girls as young as my daughters, who are six and eight, should have the opportunity to learn how to write basic computer programs.

They should be taught how to code at the same time that they're learning how to read and write in English or French.

University and college students should have access to more work-integrated learning.

Programs such as internships, apprenticeships and co-ops should be expanded.

These programs would help students integrate more quickly into the workforce after they graduate.

Meanwhile, people who are already in the workforce should have more opportunities for continuous learning.

Mid-career workers, right up to the senior management ranks, should have the most up-to-date skills and knowledge.

That's how they will make successful career transitions, especially into jobs that don't even exist today.

Emerging Technologies

There's second theme that came up in our conversations with Canadians.

It involves harnessing emerging technologies to achieve big things.

The role of government in this area goes far beyond simply funding research.

Government can set big-horizon goals, like fighting climate change, and target resources in specific areas to fulfill that mission.

Government can act as a broker between the public and private sectors to shape the new markets created by mission-driven research.

The Government of Canada has put big money behind the mission to fight climate change.

That includes $1.2 billion over the next four years to support the development of clean technologies across a number of industries.

Why invest in clean tech?

Because it reflects our government's commitment to protecting the planet.

But it also points to a clear and strategic direction for economic development through innovation.

That's because innovations in clean tech can create products or services that have an impact on a wide variety of sectors.

As was the case with the invention of electricity or computers, clean tech can lead to economy-wide growth.

It has the potential to create thousands of new jobs.

That's why some say the global market for clean tech is projected to be worth up to $3 trillion by 2020.

I am confident that our community of nations will find opportunities to work together to fight climate change.

And that includes developing business opportunities in the emerging and increasingly competitive market for clean technologies.


Ladies and gentlemen, I talked earlier about how common challenges can be solved through collaboration and innovation.

That's what the Americas Competitiveness Exchange is all about.

We have come together to learn about best practices, share stories of successes, identify opportunities for improvement and establish new connections.

You'll hear shortly from Meric Gertler, president of the University of Toronto.

Did you know that his university has deep roots in Brazil?

In fact, the University of Toronto is the top destination for students from Brazil.

Also with us today is Alejandro Adem.

He's the head of a Canadian organization called Mitacs.

It has research projects and industrial partnerships in Brazil and Mexico.

While you're here this week, I invite you to explore opportunities for collaboration.

By working together, we can build a strong and prosperous community of nations.

Thank you.

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