By Julie Garner and Craig Robinson

It has been a year in politics that has inspired, excited and confounded.  We sit here on the eve of 2017 with a Canadian economy at a point of inflection, a neighbour to the south going through a major transition and an apparently growing global appetite for protectionism: #build the wall, #brexit.

For companies in the Communitech ecosystem, however, the future looks bright and partly sunny. Canadian decision makers of all stripes understand the importance of the Toronto-Waterloo Corridor and are coming to grips with what it will take to make the potential of tomorrow a reality. Studies like the most recent one by McKinsey & Company on the Toronto-Waterloo Corridor highlight the ability the region has to put Canada on the map, but also point out some challenges that will have to be overcome if we are to succeed in becoming a top global innovation hub.

In the federal arena, the Advisory Council on Economic Growth, upon which Communitech board member Katherine Barr sits, is now well along in its mandate. The council, also known Barton process ­— so-named after Advisory Council chair Dominic Barton ­— released three reports earlier in the fall proposing the creation of a Canada Infrastructure Bank, a more welcoming attitude towards foreign direct investment (FDI) in Canada and significantly higher immigration levels. The recommendations on the infrastructure bank and FDI have been accepted by the government and we will see more concrete results in 2017, but on immigration levels the government opted to remain with the current target of welcoming 300,000 immigrants in 2017.

The Barton group will be releasing reports in the coming months on such issues as aging and the need to boost labour force participation through better training and upgrading, focusing leading-edge and transformative technology, supporting the scale-up of new technology companies, developing critical mass clusters focused on innovation and a Business Growth Fund designed to support the scale-up of small businesses with big potential. Additional Barton reports will emerge when they are completed.

The Bains innovation process is now largely complete, as well. Bains refers to Navdeep Bains, the federal Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development. His focus includes:

·      fostering of a more entrepreneurial and creative society

·      supporting global science excellence and investments in world-class science and research

·      building world-leading clusters of innovation

·      supporting the scale-up of small and medium-sized companies

·      capitalizing on digital technologies

·      lowering barriers to doing business in Canada, and

·      simplifying government incentives that support innovation

While the results of Bains’ exercise have been considered by Cabinet, its decisions have yet to be released. Budget 2016 earmarked an $800-million envelope for innovation, and it is expected that the bulk of this funding will be used to support the clusters initiative that has been identified by both the Barton and Bains initiatives. It appears the government is leaning towards the designation of three to five specific clusters and the creation of a fund that would respond to bidding proposals for support from coalitions of leading-edge organizations across sectors.

At the provincial level, the Ministry of Economic Development and Growth, under the leadership of Minister Brad Duguid, has set the stage to be much more flexible and business friendly than ever before.  The Ministry is appointing officials to act as the client representative for high-growth companies and it appears that they have figured out that businesses need help to work with government and are trying to provide a more comprehensive service to them where they can.

The new Ontario Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development, in partnership with the Ministry of Education, is focused on the skills challenges that businesses face. They are working on the development of future talent and upskilling Canadian workers. Just last week there was an announcement on coding in elementary school that could have been written by Toronto-Waterloo Corridor tech companies in order to address their long-term talent challenges.

All this to say, things are happening in Canada and Ontario that point to strong promise of growth to come. That being said, there is still more work to be done. We have been part of client meetings this year with government that demonstrate that although there is an understanding that Cool S#!t Happens Here, decision makers don’t always fully understand what is happening at each individual tech company. We have seen companies come in to showcase their tech and end up having significant input into government guidelines that would have looked much different without their input. We have also seen contracts sole-sourced to companies because the decision makers did not know what the marketplace looked like here and abroad. Both examples have led me and my partners at Earnscliffe to urge you to speak up and raise more awareness about your cool stuff. For the first time, your sector is being looked to as a driver of our economy. If you demonstrate how you can help achieve the goals of our nation in a small or large ways, it may help you advance your business goals for 2017 and beyond.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

There are number of strategies organizations should employ to ensure their contributions to the government’s various consultation processes are well received.

1. “Get involved!”

First and foremost, you need to be at the table. As signaled by this government’s numerous consultation activities, decision makers are interested in hearing from stakeholder groups and looking to incorporate their ideas into their agenda.

2. Don’t wait!

If organizations wait to respond to government announcements it can already be too late. It is far more effective to become engaged while the government is developing policies in order to shape the requirements or criteria for specific programs. This type of engagement will not only ensure that the policies and programs meet the needs of your organization but also make them more likely to achieve the government’s desired policy outcomes.

3. Look for alignment with government priorities

The government has several publicized priorities they have committed to delivering against. Do not be perceived as adding to an already long checklist. Instead, look to align your input with their priorities and be perceived as bringing solutions to the table. Most notably, rally around the following themes:

  • Supporting Canada’s Middle Class
  • Driving Economic Growth
  • Promoting Diversity and Accessibility

We thank you for reading us this year and wish you a safe and happy holiday season.

 

Julie Garner is a Principal at Earnscliffe and is an accomplished government strategist and communicator. Active in politics from a young age Julie spent close to 10 years working in government before moving into the private sector. Julie is on the Board of the Trillium Mutual Insurance Company and is involved in various community activities in her home town of Kitchener-Waterloo. 

Craig Robinson is a Principal at Earnscliffe and is one of Ottawa’s top advisors on senior-level enterprise strategies. He has a strong track record engaging governments on behalf of clients, working directly with executives to ensure organizations deliver maximum shareholder value while improving customer and stakeholder relations. Prior to Earnscliffe, Craig spent almost nine years with Deloitte Consulting’s Strategy and Operations practice and is also a veteran of the Public Opinion Research Industry having worked with Decima Research.