With a trademark display of charm and charisma, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau paid a visit to soaring Waterloo Region tech company Vidyard Tuesday, underscoring his government’s commitment to technology as Canada’s new engine for economic growth.
Taking part in a town hall style question-and-answer session with Vidyard CEO Michael Litt, Trudeau hit on themes like talent, education and protectionism, in the process reinforcing initiatives set out by his government in last month’s tech-friendly federal budget.
“Standing up for Canada’s interests is what my job is, whether it’s softwood or software,” Trudeau said to applause and laughter from a rapt audience of Vidyard employees.
Trudeau came wearing socks bearing the logo of his “beloved Montreal Canadiens” and he came prepared. Asked by Litt about the issue of talent retention, and keeping skilled Canadians from leaving home for places like Silicon Valley, the prime minister looked at Litt and replied with a wry grin:
Which is true enough; Litt left for the Valley in 2008, returning to eventually start Vidyard in 2011. Vidyard, which specializes in analytics software that tracks how online video is viewed, now has 175 employees and ambitious plans to add 100 more within the year.
“The capacity to build strength and success here in a Canadian way mattered to you,” Trudeau told Litt. “I want people to be able to choose Canada. And to know if they do choose to build [in Canada] … we will be there to support them.
“I know Canada can compete and succeed against any community, any country, in the world. All people are looking for is an opportunity to demonstrate that.”
With Canada’s southern neighbour making recent and increasingly pointed demands with respect to trade issues such as softwood, dairy and renegotiating NAFTA, Litt, speaking as the head of a company which makes most of its sales in the U.S., asked Trudeau where Canada stands.
“We are tremendously interconnected in our economy with the United States,” said Trudeau. “It’s not just a one-way relationship. As I’ve pointed out to the [U.S.] administration many times, there are millions of good U.S. jobs that depend on the smooth flow of goods, services and people back and forth across our border.
“You cannot thicken this border without hurting people on both sides of it.
“Any two countries are going to have issues that will be irritants to the relationship. Having a good, constructive working relationship allows us to work through those irritants.
“The core of this relationship is bigger than any two individuals sitting atop their respective governments.”
And then, addressing Litt’s question with respect to tech and Silicon Valley, Trudeau said:
“Canada’s tech industry is doing great because of the connections to Silicon Valley. And I know Canada is providing expert value and advantages to Silicon Valley. There is always going to be far more things that keep us working together than those narrow interests that always want to close off or impose barriers.
“Quite frankly, I know we can compete with anyone in the world given a fair playing field.”
The 2017 budget, unveiled by the federal Liberals in March, was chock full of initiatives designed to spur technology growth, including $905 million spread across a list of programs.
Trudeau referred to those, particularly the ones related to training and education, and then hit once again on the theme of protectionism and populism.
“We have a rise in populism that’s coming from a tremendous anxiety that people are feeling,” said the prime minister.
“You’ve got parents out there who are worried that their kids aren’t going to have the same kinds of opportunities [that they had]. That can be exploited and amplified by populist politics that say, ‘You know what, we’re not going to take it anymore, and it’s their fault, [so] we’re going to build a wall.’ ”
Then, realizing he had inadvertently waded into the contentious issue of the U.S. proposal to build a wall along its border with Mexico, added:
“A metaphorical wall,” which generated laughter from the audience. When it had subsided, he continued:
“We understand that anxiety,” said Trudeau. “Let’s solve it together. Let’s work together, let’s make pathways, so that you can develop the skill sets, will contribute, will learn, and ensure success for yourself throughout your working life, and success for your kids.”