“In 2015, we inherited an economy that was emerging from its second recession in a decade under the Harper government. Unemployment was high — over seven percent. Growth was slow. Wages were stagnant.”

Mediaplanet spoke with Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, The Honourable Navdeep Bains, to highlight his mandate: to build an economy that works for everyone. 


Mediaplanet: How are you creating a climate that is ripe for innovation, investment, and growth in Canada?

Navdeep Bains: In 2015, we inherited an economy that was emerging from its second recession in a decade under the Harper government. Unemployment was high – over 7%. Growth was slow. Wages were stagnant.

As Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, my mandate was clear: build an economy that works for everyone. 

The results have been spectacular. Canadians have created more than a million jobs since 2015. The unemployment rate – now just over 5% - is the lowest in history. And our growth throughout this period has been among the leaders in the G7.

So what did we do differently? In a rapidly transforming global economy, we realized that we needed to invest to create the right economic conditions for businesses to grow and create jobs, and ensure all Canadians were equipped to fully participate, contribute to and benefit from that economic growth.  We needed to invest in people.

Our Innovation and Skills Plan – the basis of our report, Building A Nation of Innovators – is a new approach to innovation that puts people first. Innovation isn’t just about having the latest iPhone. It is so much more: it is when people find new solutions to the challenges we face. My job has been to work with Canadians across the country to make the kinds of investments that ensure innovation is done here at home.

Our report highlights the investments we have made thus far:

  • The CanCode programhas given over a million young people access to digital skills such as coding; because of its success, we extended it in Budget 2019.
  • The Connect to Innovate program has already announced projects that will bring high-speed internet to 900 rural and remote communities; we are committed to ensuring that 100% of homes have access to high-speed internet by 2030.
  • The Innovation Superclusters Initiative is expected to create over 50,000 good jobs and grow Canada’s economy by $50 billion over the next ten years. This initiative uses partnerships and collaboration to encourage industry-driven R&D activities, provide access to cutting-edge research equipment, develop pools of highly skilled talent, attract international corporate

Our smart, responsible plan is focused on people. This is what differentiates Canada from other jurisdictions, and sets us up for future success.

How is Canada preparing for growth in the digital economy?

The Internet as we know it is about to undergo a revolution—again.

What began in the ‘dot com’ age at the dawn of the new millennium, and continued with the high-speed internet and then smartphone revolutions, has now become a data revolution.

As Prime Minister Trudeau said in Paris in May, the rate of technological change in our economy has never been as fast as it is today. At the same time, it will never be this slow again.

Earlier this year, StatsCan reported that the digital economy is now bigger than Canada’s resource or forestry sectors. Looking to the future, the potential for how our data is used is only constrained by our imagination.

When it comes to how that data circulates, 5G wireless technology will blow everything we have out of the water, allowing for doctors to perform surgeries at a distance and much better traffic management in cities. It is expected to add $40 billion annually to our economy by 2026.  Our government has laid out a plan to make the necessary spectrum available for 5G deployment so Canada can be at the forefront of this technology.

"Our government has laid out a plan to make the necessary spectrum available for 5G deployment so Canada can be at the forefront of this technology."

That said, we also recognize that Canadians pay some of the highest prices in the developed world for cell phone and Internet plans, which can prevent people from taking full advantage. Since 2015, our government has taken action to promote greater competition in the sector, which has led to the introduction of more affordable and diverse plans across the country. But we know there’s more to do, that’s why I recently directed the CRTC to prioritize all forms of competition and investments in their decisions, putting consumers at the centre of their decisions for the very first time.

Through our Connecting Families program, we are working with private sector partners to offer low-cost Internet plans to families  who need it.

We want to build a country where Canadians everywhere will be able to take full advantage of these new technologies. Already, 900 more communities are able to connect to high-speed Internet, including 180 Indigenous communities. Our commitment is to deliver high-speed Internet of at least 50 Mbps to all Canadians by 2030.

The government recently announced Canada’s Digital Charter. How will this shape policy going forward? 

Our Digital Charter is the next phase of our Innovation and Skills Plan. It is made up of ten principles, based on Canadian values, against which all government policies, programs and legislation will be tested.

The advantages of the digital and data economy for Canadians and our economy are obvious. But alongside the potential unlocked by data, we cannot ignore some of the new and complex challenges.

At the heart of these challenges is the question of trust. How can Canadians trust their data will be used to improve their lives when it can also be used to bombard them with disinformation? How can Canadians from diverse backgrounds feel welcome when the forum we spend half our lives in – the digital world – can be so racist, sexist and hateful?

Innovation cannot happen at the expense of privacy and personal security. Trust and innovation must be mutually reinforcing.

For innovators, if we create confidence in the way data is governed in Canada, our country will become a destination for the jobs of the future. And for Canadian consumers, if we fiercely protect their privacy, they will trust and feel comfortable living and working in the digital world.

"Innovation cannot happen at the expense of privacy and personal security. Trust and innovation must be mutually reinforcing."

Fair competition in the online marketplace is necessary to facilitate the growth of Canadian businesses. That’s why I wrote to the Head of the Competition Bureau to see if our current tools are adequate for him to ensure fair competition in the digital age. The Charter will be complemented by extensive reviews of our marketplace and e-protection frameworks, like Canada’s private sector privacy law, our Anti-Spam Legislation, a review of the Privacy Act, and an examination of our frameworks for Open Banking.

Through this Charter, we will build a foundation of trust for our digital and data-driven economy and society. It will not only help us address the challenges of this new reality, but also to leverage Canada’s unique talents and strengths in order to harness the power of digital and data transformation.

Our government is bullish on the great potential for our country in this digital age.

With our new Digital Charter, we now have the tools in place to reach that potential.

Climate change is a growing concern for many Canadians. How is Canada using innovation to confront this global problem?

Extreme weather events are increasing in severity and costs are spiraling. Canadians want an ambitious and sensible climate plan that keeps a healthy economy growing while tackling pollution at home and with partners around the world.

When our government came to office, we acted immediately to invest in green innovation throughout the economy.

Through a variety of programs, our government has invested $2.3 billion in Canada’s thriving clean technology sector.

"At a time when Canadians are seeing the effects of climate change first hand, we cannot afford to go back to the Harper years when the environment was an inconvenient afterthought."

At its core, cleantech embodies the innovation economy: these companies are working to develop new processes and technologies to solve today’s biggest challenges, which undoubtedly include climate change. Whether it’s supporting building retrofits to make them more energy efficient, supporting manufacturing plants to help them reduce emissions, or investing in new technologies like electric vehicles, our government has understood since day one that we have to take a comprehensive approach.

Our investments are complemented by putting a price on pollution, which in itself encourages companies to reduce emissions to save costs. At the same time, consumers will see the cost of pollution reflected in the prices of goods, and, in the course of saving themselves money by purchasing the least-polluting option, they will also be spurring greater competition and innovation.

Canadians want a government that takes climate change and the protection of our environment seriously. We are the last generation hat can take meaningful action to reverse this alarming trend. At a time when Canadians are seeing the effects of climate change first hand, we cannot afford to go back to the Harper years when the environment was an inconvenient afterthought.