The Council of Canadian Innovators (CIC) released an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau October 27 calling for the creation of a national prosperity strategy that puts a renewed and stronger focus on innovation. Signed by 133 tech CEOs, the letter stresses the importance of supporting Canada’s knowledge economy, “where wealth and power are derived from control of data and ownership of valuable intellectual property”.
“When your government took office in 2015, we received encouraging signals that you understood the importance of Canada’s overdue transition to a knowledge economy … but in the years since 2015, innovation is barely mentioned,” the CEOs write, including those from Eleven-X, Hubba, PointClickCare, Ross Video, SkipTheDishes and Stradigi AI.
The CIC criticizes the government for its “patchwork” approach to funding innovation, saying a “bold, cohesive plan” is needed as part of a post-pandemic recovery. As part of such a plan, it calls on the government to follow through on its promised national data strategy, rollout of the national IP strategy and implementation of the recommendations from the Economic Strategy Tables.
“Today our country is facing the harshest economic crisis since the Great Depression and all Canadians are looking to you for leadership,” the letter states. “Business leaders are looking to you for signals on economic priorities and rebuilding strategies.”
The full letter appears below:
Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,
There was a time Canadians engaged in nation-building. We built our own transportation corridors — railways, seaways, and canals. We successfully implemented a policy-driven post-WWII industrial transformation.
We developed pioneering global communications infrastructure with coast to coast sub-second telecommunications. As the third nation in space, Canadians built the most successful global satellite operator (Telesat) and space communications infrastructure that tackles the world’s most complex communication challenges. We designed our energy prosperity and sovereignty by creating innovative hydro-electric projects, developing transformative technology for nuclear power (CANDU) and oil and gas extraction (AOSTRA’s Sag-D). These were all globally renowned innovations that Canadians created, owned and prospered from.
We paired these national projects with the necessary institutions such as member-driven credit unions and mutual insurance companies to finance local economies. We created a diverse set of co-ops for shared agriculture infrastructure to support Canadian farmers driving a growing agricultural economy. National and regional organizations were created to facilitate energy generation and transmission, transportation, communications and more.
This proud tradition stands in contrast to the 2020 Bloomberg Innovation Index which shows that Canada fell to 22nd place behind Slovenia, a country that emerged from communism in 1991. This should be a signal that it’s time for Canada to do nation-building again.
The digital transformation over the past 30 years has created a new kind of economy, where wealth and power are derived from control of data and ownership of valuable intellectual property (IP). IP and data are now the world’s most valuable business and national security assets. Some of today’s technologies have a dual-use, concurrently reshaping both economy and national security. Other technologies shape both private and public domains.
Climate change brings in another dimension to picture, forcing us to consider the fragility of the natural world as part of economic and social governance. Yet without a sovereign clean technology strategy — a roadmap that aims to generate, own, and commercialize our reasonable share of this critical sector — Canadians will be forced to make unpalatable trade-offs between addressing climate change and supporting prosperity. As an example, we need to own more of the value-chain for the electric vehicle industry, which could permanently support important assembly jobs in Canada.
These forces are unprecedented in both their scale and rapidity, and they demand serious strategies to reposition Canada for success today and in the decades to come. COVID-19 laid bare and accelerated the urgent need for comprehensive nation-building projects for our contemporary realities.
Digital transformation represents a challenge, but also an opportunity. Unlike in the traditional economy where the size of the country or its military power was relevant for its industrial capacity, in the knowledge-based economy it is ideas that lead the way, enabling smaller countries to reap outsized economic, social and security benefits. The tiny island nation of Singapore is third on the aforementioned Bloomberg Innovation Index and landlocked Switzerland with a quarter of Canada’s population is fourth.
Today, nation-building means creating the digital infrastructure that enables Canadians to succeed in the global economy driven by IP and data. It must be paired with the digital policy infrastructure that leaders use to govern and support creation of new private and public wealth in the 21st century knowledge-based economy. Like nation-building projects of the past, it is a partnership, with government working hand-in-glove with businesses to achieve success and improve outcomes.
When your government took office in 2015, we received encouraging signals that you understood the importance of Canada’s overdue transition to a knowledge economy. We heard of new plans to support innovators across this country. Programs like the Strategic Innovation Fund, the Innovation Superclusters Initiative and creation of the Economic Strategy Tables aimed to make Canada competitive in today’s global economy. But in the years since 2015, innovation is barely mentioned. We see less of a bold, cohesive plan for innovation in Canada and more of a patchwork — pilot programs and furtive policies rolled out in hope they will amount to something greater than the sum of the parts. We are still waiting for the creation of the promised national data strategy, rollout of the national IP strategy and implementation of the recommendations from the Economic Strategy Tables, and we look forward to partnering with your government on these needed efforts.
This fall, as we grapple with the economic impacts from COVID-19, and prepare for the post-pandemic recovery, we need a real prosperity strategy. This is inherently also a national security strategy, with the kind of nation-building ambitions that match the enormity of the events we’re confronting as a country. Canadians need a prosperity strategy that enables our economy not just to recover the jobs lost to global pandemic but to build a new economy, new industries, new infrastructures that create our innovations.
Canada’s high-growth technology companies are positioned to drive those outcomes for our country. We are currently creating high-quality jobs and sustainable wealth by commercializing Canadian ideas and exporting them to the world. We currently employ tens of thousands of Canadians and we have negative unemployment for high-skilled talent. We are working on ground-breaking technologies in sectors as varied as health, agriculture, education, cybersecurity finance and energy. Our potential to make Canada prosperous, strong, and inclusive is unbounded. We are nation-builders who are ready to play a major part in this century’s national building projects that will define our future and the future of generations to come.
But we need a champion in government.
You can champion us by implementing strategies that foster commercialization of Canadian ideas and designing ecosystems where Canadian innovators can grow both at home and abroad. You can champion us by making strategic investments into market-proven businesses that have already been working overtime during the pandemic. You can champion us by building capacity for the economy of IP and data inside your government so that our policymakers can relate to our businesses and the global marketplace driven by innovation. With a strong partner in government, we will drive our companies forward, support economic resiliency and contribute to the public tax base which allows the government to make Canada a better, fairer, more progressive place for us all to call home. Canada must embrace the 21st century’s digital transformation and its opportunity, or we will be left behind, and we will all be poorer for it.
Today our country is facing the harshest economic crisis since the Great Depression and all Canadians are looking to you for leadership. Business leaders are looking to you for signals on economic priorities and rebuilding strategies. We have heard your call to build back better in Canada. Canadian innovators are ready to help.
A full list of signatories can be found here.