Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took the stage at the grand opening of Google’s Canadian engineering headquarters in Waterloo Region this morning with a clear message: The best path out of economic hardship is to cultivate innovation.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau uses Google Cardboard to look at the House of Commons

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau peeks at his seat in the House of Commons through Google Cardboard, while Actua co-founder, President and CEO Jennifer Flanagan looks on. (Communitech photo: Phil Froklage)

“As we move forward as a country through ups and downs in the global markets and in the Canadian dollar – and in the economic times we’re having, and challenges people are facing in their daily lives as well – we know there are still tremendous bright spots,” Trudeau told an exuberant crowd inside the sprawling facility, housed in a renovated factory. “Canadians have always been problem solvers, always been thinking in an ambitious and optimistic way about the future, and the opportunities for our kids, and for the world. This continues to be an essential part of how we’re going to continue to grow Canada.”

Pundits and politicians have been closely watching Trudeau’s young government, hoping to glean its priorities in the early months of its term. With this latest announcement, a picture is beginning to emerge.

In late December, three of Trudeau’s cabinet ministers met with the Council of Canadian Innovators – a lobby group comprised of 35 prominent startup leaders – to discuss the needs of Canada’s most innovative companies. Earlier this month, Minister of International Trade Chrystia Freeland made the Trudeau government’s first trade-promotion announcement here at Communitech for a granting program called CanExport. And earlier this week, Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, visited Communitech along with Bardish Chagger, Minister of Small Business and Tourism.

That’s a lot of attention paid to innovation in just two months. With serious challenges facing the country, Trudeau and his cabinet seem to be turning to the brightest minds in science and technology — many living here in Waterloo Region — for answers.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau poses with a cohort of students from Actua's Codemakers Program.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau poses with a cohort of students from Actua’s Codemakers program. (Communitech Photo: Phil Froklage)

“It really is amazing to see the innovative, forward-thinking, hardworking, proud Canadians gathered here, participating not just in success for K-W and the area, but success around the world,” said Trudeau. “The innovation and entrepreneurship that stems from here, the tools we’re giving to young people and people around the world – to be empowered, full participants in the extraordinary changes we’re living right now – is really, really impressive.”

Tech is a natural fit for Trudeau. When asked if he had a plan to make tech education a priority for Canadian students, the Prime Minister revealed that he studied engineering in university and “got halfway decent as a coder in C++,” to roaring applause from some of the 350 Google engineers who now call 51 Breithaupt St. home. “That was easy applause in this room,” he joked.

But Trudeau was clearly doing more than just playing to his audience. Before the announcement, he met with students from Actua’s Codemakers program, and when time needed filling, Trudeau was instantly on his feet.

“What is coding? What’s an algorithm?” he asked. The PM, in full teacher mode, quizzed the students about the fundamentals of technology before sharing his own insights:

“Efficiency. Doing something in the fewest steps possible. It’s what people here work on. This is what you’ll be working on, algorithms that are as clean as you can make them. An elegant algorithm is the big goal you should be working on for your lives,” he said to laughs from the kids and hearty nods from surrounding Google engineers.

“What’s happening here really, really matters, not just to the region, but to the country and the world,” the tech-focused PM told the crowd.

“It was such a pleasure… to wrap up my visit to K-W with this great new building that ties the best of the extraordinary history of hard work and service to the world of this region, with what is on the cutting edge of where we need to be, not just today, but in the decades to come,” he continued. “I’m very, very excited to be here today, very optimistic about K-W and, indeed, the entire country. And glad that you’re all a part of it.”