Ontario Economic Summit

Speech

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

Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario

November 3, 2016

Check Against Delivery

Introduction

Thank you very much, Allan [O'Dette, President and CEO, Ontario Chamber of Commerce], for that kind introduction.

I'm honoured to share with you today a few ideas about our government's role in growing the economy through innovation—and in particular, what role I see for Ontario in this challenge.

In many ways, Ontario's success is Canada's success. This province has the largest population in the country. And it has a diversified economy with an established manufacturing base.

We have many of you in this room to thank for that.

Transformations

The world is changing rapidly.

These days, the merger of globalization and technology means companies can source their talent, goods and services from anywhere in the world.

And when companies look to invest, they aren't always looking for the lowest-cost jurisdiction.

Instead, many companies seek the most innovative economies—the ones with the most creative and entrepreneurial people, who can turn ideas into solutions.

That's why companies look to Ontario.

That's why Google Canada opened a huge office in Kitchener.

It's why GM will triple to 1000 the number of engineers it employs in Canada.

The company will also make Ontario its design headquarters for the car of the future.

It's why Ciena is building a major new R&D facility in Ottawa.

One of your panelists this morning was Antoine Van Agtmael.

His book, The Smartest Places on Earth, traces a shift from an obsession with cheap goods to the production of smart ones.

He looks at how rustbeltcities are transforming themselves into brainbelt cities.

Many Ontario communities are making this transition.

Indeed, one of the things I enjoy as I travel around this country is seeing innovation and transformation in action.

A few months back, I was in Sarnia. That community is moving from a regional economy based on petrochemicals to an economy based on green and sustainable bio-chemistry.

This emerging sector is not made up of white-collar jobs or blue-collar jobs.

It's made up of green-collar jobs.

We're talking about jobs focused on technologies that are more energy-efficient, produce lower carbon emissions and promote healthier communities.

Sarnia is making a smart and forward-looking move.

In fact, across the province, communities are building on their existing assets to move into a high-value, knowledge-based economy.

And with interest rates at historic lows, now is the time to invest in Canada to keep our country competitive.

Earlier this week, as part of the Fall Economic Statement, our government announced $81.2 billion in new infrastructure investments over the next 10 years.

This investment brings our government's total infrastructure spending to more than $180 billion.

That includes the $2 billion that we are investing 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.

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 and services. 

This unprecedented level of infrastructure funding will create good jobs now.

These investments will also set businesses up for long-term economic growth.

They will lead to healthy and livable communities.

I have heard from business leaders—including many of you in this room—that attracting the best and brightest from around the world will help Canadian companies grow, which will result in more jobs.

And I'm proud to say that our government has listened to your concerns.

We are committed to making it faster and easier for Canadian companies to recruit global talent.

Highly qualified people with in-demand skills will soon have their visas and work permits processed within a period of two weeks—an ambitious standard.

Here's something else that our government is doing: we are encouraging international companies to invest in Canada.

More foreign investment will create more jobs and lead to greater prosperity for the middle class.

In fact, the threshold that triggers a review of foreign investments will soon be raised to $1 billion from $600 million.

I'm proud to say that this change to the Investment Canada Act, which is under my portfolio, will take place two years earlier than scheduled.

And finally, our government will soon introduce legislation to reinforce the independence of Statistics Canada, which is also under my portfolio.

The legislation will increase the transparency and decision-making authority of the Chief Statistician.

That's because our government wants to ensure that we have the best-available evidence to make financial, economic and social decisions that benefit all Canadians.

Now, more than ever, we need our country to be at its absolute best—especially if we want to compete with countries around the world for the most talented people, the fastest-growing companies and the newest technologies.

Why are these actions such urgent priorities?

Why Innovation

The truth is that Canada is in a crisis right now—a crisis that's unfolding very quietly.

This crisis is the steady erosion of the gains that have given us a rising standard of living generation after generation.

Canada has thrived over the past half century.

But we won't automatically do the same over the next half, especially if we stay the course.

That's because today, Canada and other advanced economies face new pressures.

Global companies are becoming local competitors.

Technology is digitizing and automating every aspect of our lives, including our jobs.

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

On top of all that, Canada will have fewer working-age people as our population ages.

There's no doubt that these challenges are daunting.

But low growth does not have to be Canada's destiny.

We can see these pressures as opportunities and seize the future.

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 30 round-table discussions and invited Canadians to visit our website or engage with us on social media.

In total, we received more than 1,400 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.

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

Let me tell you about three themes that we heard from Canadians.

Theme One: People

First, we heard about the need for people with the right skills and experience to drive innovation.

Why?

Because as technologies become commodities that are widely available to everyone, the only competitive edge for countries—and businesses—is the distinctive talent and creativity of their people.

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

That's because the number of jobs in the economy that require those disciplines will continue to grow.

There is not a single industry that those fields don't touch anymore.

In the information technology sector alone, an estimated 180,000 jobs will go unfilled by 2019.

Canada is simply not keeping pace with demand.

In particular, we need more women to participate.

As a father of two girls, I want to say this: 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.

Innovation depends on good ideas, and those ideas can come from anyone.

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

That training should start early and continue throughout different stages of life.

Children as young as my daughters, six and nine, should have the opportunity to learn how to write basic computer programs.

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

Meanwhile, people already working should have more opportunities for continuous learning.

And as I mentioned earlier, business leaders made it clear to me that bringing top people from abroad does not take jobs away from Canadians.

It actually has a multiplier effect. One key hire can attract others.

A critical mass of talent enables the start-up of new companies and the scale-up of others that employ more Canadians.

Theme Two: Technologies

A second theme came up in our conversations with Canadians. It's about harnessing emerging technologies to achieve big things.

The role of government here 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.

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

Our government has already taken some bold steps.

We are investing more than a billion dollars to support the development of clean technologies.

This means technologies that are more energy-efficient, have lower carbon emissions and promote a healthier environment.

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

These investments will focus on the platform technologies in which Canada has the potential to show global leadership.

Theme Three: Companies

A third theme that Canadians told us was important to them is growing the next generation of globally competitive companies.

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

But we are not as strong in scaling them up.

In other countries, governments use their purchasing power 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 when the government is an early adopter of innovations.

It helps to have the government as a marquee customer when companies seek new clients.

Our government is prepared to be a meaningful partner in this area.

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

And we can streamline government programs to make it easier to take innovations from lab to market.

Conclusion

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

We are prepared to invest more in our people, companies and technologies to drive economic growth through innovation.

That means setting ambitious goals and striving to achieve them.

One of those goals is increasing business investment in research and development.

Business spending on R&D 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, corporate spending per worker on 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.

We need all of you in this room to join us.

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

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

Thank you very much.


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