Opinion

Opinion | Justin Trudeau

Canada’s crucial investment in tech and innovation

Lesley Becker/Globe Staff/AP/Adobe Stock

The world is in the throes of a huge shift to a knowledge-based economy, driven by the creation of ideas and their translation into commercial value.

This shift presents us with an extraordinary opportunity. There’s the prospect of well-paying new jobs and potential solutions to some of our most pressing problems.

But it also brings changes to the way we work and the skills we need to have a real and fair chance at success. That’s a challenge we in Canada are facing head-on.

Canadians have created more than a half-million jobs over the last two years. The unemployment rate is near 40-year lows, and wages are growing at their fastest rate in six years. We are home to a highly skilled workforce and some of the world’s top researchers. Our prospects for the future — in the innovation economy — are bright.

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Thanks in part to investments in science, research, and innovation, we’ve built world-leading universities and colleges. We’ve also created a strong research environment — one that continues to draw top talent in emerging fields, from clean tech to artificial intelligence.

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Canadian cities are among the fastest growing hubs for AI in the world. We know AI is forecast to be a $1.2-trillion (in US dollars) global industry by 2020, so we’ve established a Pan-Canadian AI Strategy to secure Canada’s foothold in AI research and training. Tech giants have taken notice, and are setting up offices in Canada, hiring Canadian experts, and investing time and money into applications that could be as transformative as the Internet itself.

But Canadians know better is always possible. Time after time, we’ve applied curiosity and courage to create positive change. We won’t rest or stand still.

When I look at some of the most pressing challenges facing Canada and the world — climate change, inequality, and the gender opportunity gap, to name a few — I know we must act quickly and accelerate our progress.

To that end, our government is making smart, strategic investments in skills training and post-secondary education to prepare our workforce for the future.

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For example, we’re teaching a million kids to code, and creating nearly 60,000 paid internships. We want the benefits of a rapidly changing economy to be felt by all — with productive, well-paying jobs.

We’re also investing $740 million toward an innovation superclusters initiative, bringing together academic institutions, not-for-profit organizations, and companies of all sizes to develop the next generation of technologies and businesses. This investment, which will be matched dollar for dollar by the private sector, is expected to create more than 50,000 middle-class jobs and grow Canada’s economy by $40 billion over the next 10 years.

When my government was first elected, I wrote a mandate letter to each of my 30 cabinet ministers. I made them public, so everyone could see what we were trying to achieve — and so others, beyond government, could help us move ahead.

I asked my ministers to experiment with new ways of solving social, economic, and environmental problems, and to work together with civil society, business, and research communities to identify and implement the most promising solutions.

We recognize, of course, that governments can’t fix things by themselves. Some new ideas will work, and some won’t.

But in many cases, strong public-private partnerships, with the potential to create shared value, can be a pathway to success.

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In order to attract new innovators, government needs to be more transparent, so we can share our information more readily. Our government is continuously making more data open and available, so that potential partners can more easily become part of the solution.

If we draw attention to a problem that needs solving, communities and innovators can get together and develop solutions that we couldn’t even imagine.

That’s why we launched the Impact Canada Initiative earlier this year. This is a new challenge approach that brings together the private sector, small and medium-sized enterprises, innovators, and problem-solvers from all walks of life to compete toward finding better outcomes for Canadians.

This program creates solutions in areas that matter to people — like breakthrough technology to support clean growth and the transition to a low-carbon economy.

And just last week, we launched the “Women in Cleantech Challenge” to help more women launch clean technology businesses. In Canada, as is the case worldwide, much of the household income growth we’ve experienced over the last three decades stems from women entering the workforce for the first time.

This has been a tremendous change. But there’s still a lot more work to do.

McKinsey Global Institute found that fully closing gender gaps in work would add as much as $12 trillion to global GDP by 2025. The Peterson Institute for International Economics found that increasing the share of women in leadership positions from 0 to 30 percent translates into a 15-percent boost to corporate profitability.

That means a feminist economic agenda is not only morally right, but it also holds tremendous global potential and comes with significant social and economic benefits for everyone.

We know a country depends on the talent and creativity of its people. Innovation requires an open and welcoming environment for foreign investors and companies. It also requires that we tap previously untapped sources of creativity and entrepreneurial energy.

With the Canadian economy rated as the fastest-growing in the G7, this makes us a hub for talented researchers and skilled workers, and a top destination for businesses to invest, grow, and create jobs.

We’re adding to that virtuous circle. Our most recent budget included the single largest investment in fundamental research in Canada’s history, investing in the next generation of scientists.

The nearly $3.13 billion in new funding will give our country’s scientists, scholars, and students even more of the opportunities and tools they need to conduct ground-breaking research.

Here’s the bottom line: Canada is an amazing place to live, work, and invest. We’re open for business, and creating more opportunity all the time. Come on up. There’s never been a better time to do so.

Justin Trudeau is the prime minister of Canada. He will participate in the Solve at MIT conference on Friday.