Waterloo Innovation Summit


Speaking Points

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

Waterloo, Ontario

September 15, 2016

Check Against Delivery


Thank you, Feridun [Feridun Hamdullahpur, President of University of Waterloo].

Good morning, everyone.

I'm delighted to be here to kick off this summit.

There's no better place to talk about innovation than Waterloo, a place that is in the centre of this nation of innovators. Take a look at this video to see what I mean.

So what is next?

That's what we're here to talk about today.

You know, whenever I get the chance to meet such an impressive group of leaders and innovators, I'm much more confident about the future.

Your role in shaping the future is more vital than ever.

Low-growth world

Some economists believe 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, Canada and other advanced economies face new pressures.

Global companies are becoming local competitors.

Technology is transforming how we live, work, play and learn.

We have fewer working-age people because of population aging.

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

In the face of these challenges, low growth does not have to be our destiny.

We don't have to accept these pressures as limitations.

We can see them as opportunities and seize the future.

Innovation Agenda

With the right plan, Canada can outperform the rest of the world.

Our government calls this plan the Innovation Agenda.

Our vision is to make Canada a global centre for innovation.

Our mission is to create good-paying jobs that will grow the middle class.

That's because Canada only thrives when the middle class thrives.

The first and most important phase in developing this plan was to hear from Canadians.

That's because government can't act alone if Canadians expect meaningful results.

We had an extraordinary level of public participation.

Over the summer, we held 28 round-table discussions.

They included leaders from a wide range of business sectors, civil society and knowledge institutions.

Young people and members of Indigenous communities participated.

Many of them are innovators in their own right.

Some of them are in this room today.

We also invited Canadians to visit our website or engage with us on social media.

The response was very encouraging.

In total, we received more than 1,300 ideas on how to make Canada a global leader in innovation.

In the coming months, those ideas will inform our government's work as we craft the budget for 2017.

Government as entrepreneur

I will talk about the ideas that matter most to Canadians.

But first, let me say a few words about the role of government in 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.

Last year at this summit, economist Mariana Mazzucato stood on this stage.

She talked about how government can play an entrepreneurial role in driving innovation.

Nanotechnology. Biotechnology. Renewable energy.

These sectors exist today because government funded the early-stage research.

Government made the risk levels acceptable for the private sector to step in and bring those innovations to market.

Bold steps forward

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

Our government has already taken some bold steps to spark growth through innovation.

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

These investments will allow students, professors and researchers to work in state-of-the-art facilities and to collaborate in specially designed spaces that support lifelong learning and skills training.

Students, professors and researchers will work in close proximity with partners to turn discoveries into products or services.

In the process, they will train for—and create—the high-value, middle-class jobs of the future.

Here's the second step that we're taking to spark innovation.

We are investing in the people who drive innovation through research.

We recently announced $900 million that will support cutting-edge research across the country.

One of those projects is at this university.

Our investment of $76 million will allow a prototype of a quantum computer to be built.

A quantum computer completely transforms the scale, speed and complexity of what even the most powerful computers today can do.

This type of computer has the potential to upend everything we know about the science of computing.

This type of investment is designed to create a pipeline of discovery for the next breakthrough technologies.

It could even plant the seeds for the next great companies to come from this region.

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 tell you about three themes that we heard from Canadians.


First: talent.

We heard consistently about the need for more 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 women, young people and Indigenous people 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 are women.

That's just not good enough.

There are even fewer people from Indigenous communities.

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

I firmly believe it is 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 those good ideas can come from anyone and anywhere.

The bigger the talent pool, the more good ideas emerge.

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 the co-ops for which this university is renowned should be expanded across the country.

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 exist yet.

Here's something else that many business leaders told me: we need to attract more of the best and brightest people that the world has to offer.

These leaders made it clear that bringing in top talent does not take jobs away from Canadians.

It actually enables the start-up of new companies and the scale-up of others that employ more Canadians.

Our government stands ready to be a meaningful partner.

We understand the importance of speeding up visa approvals for highly skilled professionals in some sectors.

We are committed to creating an innovation ecosystem here in Canada that is too attractive for our own graduates to resist.

That's how we will keep more of our sharpest minds rather than lose them to other countries.


Here's another area where Canadians have told us we could do a whole lot better.

Canada has moved in the right direction in starting up businesses.

Canadians start more than 70,000 new companies every year.

Canada actually ranks number one among G20 countries in providing digital businesses with access to capital.

But building an economy driven by innovation requires having the next generation of globally competitive companies.

We are not as strong at scaling up our start-ups and keeping the good-paying jobs that they create in Canada.

In other countries, governments use their purchasing power—as the single largest buyer of goods and services—to help companies scale up.

The entrepreneurs that I've heard from wonder why Canada can't do the same thing.

They tell me it makes a huge difference to have the Government of Canada as a marquee customer when they go abroad in search of new clients.

Our government can be a meaningful partner in this area.

We can set aside a portion of our resources to support start-ups with the most innovative solutions.

We can provide these high-potential companies with the testing ground they need to refine their products and services.

And we can streamline government programs to make it easier and faster for start-ups to take their innovations from the lab to the market.

That's how we can support the scale-up of globally competitive companies.

Emerging technologies

There's a third theme that came up consistently 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 of research 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.

Our government has taken bold action in this area as well.

We have earmarked $800 million over the next four years to strengthen innovation networks and clusters.

These investments would focus on the key platform technologies that will drive growth across industries—areas where Canada has the potential to show global leadership.

We have heard from Canadians that targeted, high-value investments will have greater impact than spreading ourselves too thin.

That means we need to make strategic choices. And we'll need to be guided by leaders like you.

In the coming months, we will engage with industry leaders around the technologies you believe in and will invest in.

And we will launch an expression of interest to identify the best opportunities for us to work together.

We can create and shape the markets that have the potential to unlock a world of opportunity for everyone.

That's how we will create the jobs of tomorrow that grow the middle class.

Mission-driven research

As I said, one of our government's goals is fighting climate change.

In addition to investing in innovation clusters, we have put big money behind our climate-change mission.

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 this 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.

Canada must lead in this emerging and increasingly competitive market.

Call to action

The 2016 Paralympics are happening right now in Rio.

Before that, we were riveted by Canada's Olympians.

I'm inspired by their excellence.

Make no mistake: driving economic growth through innovation is an Olympian challenge.

It takes a commitment to high performance.

That means setting ambitious goals—and accepting setbacksand learning our way to the podium.

One of those goals is increasing business investment in R&D.

Business spending on research and development has been going in the wrong direction for more than a decade.

Canada has slipped to 22nd among 34 of the world's advanced economies.

Meanwhile, the world is changing as fast as Andre DeGrasse ran the 100 metres.

We need to set our sights on competing in a digital world.

In Canada, corporate spending per worker on information and communications technology is only half that of the United States.

And data suggest that employees in Canada receive less workplace training than those in leading European countries.

I challenge you to invest more in the people and technologies that will power our country to a prosperous future.

Our government is prepared to do its share.

But we need all of you in this room to join us.

We need corporate Canada to join us.

We need small and medium-sized businesses to join us.

We need civil society and knowledge institutions to join us.

We need my provincial and territorial colleagues to join us.

Join me in this global race to the top.

Be part of the solution. Be part of the Innovation Agenda.

Thank you very much.

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