With the magnitude of the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic becoming increasingly apparent, the success of Canadian innovation is more critical than ever before. In July, Elevate hosted a roundtable to bring together leaders of Canada’s tech and innovation ecosystem to share ideas directly with the Honorable François-Phillippe Champagne on how the government can support the recovery and growth of the tech sector.
Minister Champagne was first elected to the House of Commons in 2015; he served as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance until 2017 when he was appointed Minister of International Trade. Earlier this year, he became Minister of Innovation, Science, and Industry, supporting Canadian innovation efforts, trade and investment, growth, and economic development in Canadian communities.
Minister Champagne opened the roundtable by acknowledging the events of the past seventeen months. “We as humanity, and certainly as Canadians, have been faced with some great challenges. And I’m a firm believer that technology, science, and innovation will provide the breakthroughs in order to find solutions.” He fervently emphasized the critical role the sector will play in our nation’s economy, before posing a crucial question: “How can we make Canada into a global innovation powerhouse together?”
The moderator of the roundtable, Angela Brown, offered a perspective she has developed through her role as President and CEO of Moneris. “Many of us on this call can see the recovery happening very unevenly,” she expressed. “We can see which businesses are winning and which businesses are losing or have lost a tremendous amount of ground since the pandemic began.”
“Where we struggle is building a plan that’s inclusive of all Canadians,” agreed Fate Saghir, who leads sustainability and sustainable investments at Mackenzie Investments.
Minister Champagne wholeheartedly agreed with Angela and Fate, citing instances in which individuals are affected in different ways by the pandemic; for example, women who assume the role of primary caregivers may find themselves at a larger disadvantage than their more independent counterparts. “We are not going to succeed as a nation if we don’t harness the full potential of everyone,” the Minister concluded.
However, before any potential can be optimally harnessed, companies must first have the people possessing it. “Right now, there’s a war for talent,” expressed Claude Guay, the President and General Manager of IBM. He emphasized the need for firms to recognize expertise from all levels of education and experience. “In the new world of technology,” he said, “you don’t need a Ph.D. in cybersecurity. You can get a certificate and still contribute.”
Rola Dagher, Dell’s Global Channel Chief, countered this point before raising her own. She proposed that Canada is good at attracting talent, but lacks the ability to retain it, citing the nation’s notoriously high cost-of-living expenses and tax rates.
Gillian Riley, Executive Vice President and CEO of Tangerine, agrees that funding for business for flexible innovation does need to be looked at and sped up.
“Canada does have all the ingredients. We just need to figure out the recipe,” said Maithili Mavinkurve, co-founder and COO of Sightline Innovation. “What government may want to start thinking about is if the government could start to invest in building out a national data trust infrastructure, as well as a regulatory framework around that?” Maithili believes that such an initiative could level the playing field for small and medium-sized businesses.
This demographic is also negatively affected by incomplete, disjointed policy initiatives, explained Sasha Krstic, President of MasterCard Canada. For example, businesses first had to navigate the problem of digitization during COVID, before moving onto the behemoth that is cybersecurity.
Additionally, COVID has accelerated digital ID, digitization and secure transactions in virtual environments, according to Debbie Gamble, Chief Officer of Innovation Labs and New Ventures at Interac. The needle was moving in this ecosystem, but the charter in development was bogged down with bureaucratic delays and critiques. “It might not have been perfect,” the Minister admitted. “But sometimes the perfect is the enemy of the good.”
Jill Schnarr, Chief Social Innovation and Communications Officer Telus, cited a study that stated “more people are concerned about climate change in Canada than they are about COVID.” She emphasized the importance of finding ways to ensure the nation is making progress, but not at the expense of the environment.”
The Coronavirus pandemic brought our nation to its knees. But under the leadership and guidance of Canada’s top executives, the innovation industry will be crucial in navigating the aftermath of COVID-19 and may allow the country to build back stronger than ever before.