Navdeep Bains, federal minister of innovation, science and economic development, was at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre on Monday for digital and data consultations. GREG SAKAKI/The News Bulletin

Innovation minister leads tech talk ahead of cabinet retreat in Nanaimo

Navdeep Bains participated in digital and data consultation Monday at conference centre

The prime minister said his cabinet’s meetings in Nanaimo this week would focus on the economy, and the first foray today focused on the digital economy.

Navdeep Bains, federal minister of innovation, science and economic development, was at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre on Monday for digital and data consultations.

About a dozen tech company representatives from the region met with the minister for a round-table talk about ways Canada can be a leader in a digital and data-driven economy.

“We’re looking at how do we compete in the long term,” said Bains. “How do we help companies grow in scale? How do we help individuals get good quality jobs? … This is so critical in terms of the economic opportunities it presents.”

Bains referenced an IBM study that calculated that 90 per cent of the world’s data has been generated in the last two years.

“There’s an enormous amount of data. What does that mean?” the minister asked. “How do we monetize that data? What kind of jobs would that create? Do we have the right skill sets?”

Bains said the importance of digital infrastructure can’t be underestimated in making sure Canada can take advantage of big data and open data. A recent discussion paper from his ministry suggests there is “a series of global sprints” happening and “fierce competition” to assert digital leadership.

“Positioning Canada not just to participate, but to lead in the digital and data revolution will require thoughtful action – the right infrastructure, the right bets, and supporting Canadian firms to grow and scale up quickly,” the paper notes. “Understanding who and how to take the necessary next steps to unleash this innovation is a critical outcome for this consultation.”

Innovation Island, a non-profit startup accelerator on the mid and north Island, was a host of the round-table Monday. Graham Truax, Innovation Island executive in residence, said digital leadership and data is changing very fast and people realize that. He suggested there’s a role for government to create the right conditions for tech companies.

“They face, in a lot of cases, a lot of pressures to locate elsewhere,” Truax said. “Perhaps there’s more investment capital, perhaps there’s a great talent base. Perhaps there’s a large customer base. So those companies are very keen to hear what governments are doing to help them be able to grow and stay here.”

A city may wish to be a tech hub, but Truax pointed out that communities not just provincewide and nationwide, but worldwide, wish for the same thing. He said there are positive signs in Nanaimo.

“When those companies succeed, the talent base increases as well. Lots of folks may work with one company and they may move for other circumstances to another company,” he said. “Those are the seeds of what we would call a hub or an ecosystem.”

Bains said the goal of the cross-Canada consultations is to collect feedback to create a framework to put forward policies, programs and legislation.

RELATED: PM Trudeau and federal ministers to meet in Nanaimo



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