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CTA Fuels Ottawa’s Tech Obsession


 Canada is fast becoming a hotspot for tech companies to find top talent and the supporting digital infrastructure to fuel their growth within the consumer technology sector, with hubs like Waterloo, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

Canada’s Minister of Innovation Navdeep Bains

Given lagging commodity prices and a decline in traditional manufacturing, governments across the country are actively seeking to capitalize on economic benefi ts from the tech sector. Now is the opportune time for consumer technology companies to engage with policy makers at all levels in Canada. British Columbia has developed a Tech Strategy to support the industry through investments in talent, data, capital and markets. Alberta is pursuing trade missions to Silicon Valley to lure tech companies to set up shop in the province. And Ontario recently named its first chief digital officer and has a rich history of investing in incubators and accelerators to help startups and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). 

Most important, the Government of Canada is setting its sights on a new Innovation Agenda to drive growth and development in this sector and position the country as a tech leader. For Innovation Canada, attracting and retaining world-class consumer technology companies within the country, as well as promoting Canadian tech and innovation abroad, are two central goals going forward. 

Over a year ago, CTA began a proactive engagement strategy with decision makers in Ottawa to contribute to and facilitate conversations on how Ottawa can best position itself to support tech companies in Canada. CTA had previously lobbied government departments on matters like energy efficiency and regulatory harmonization, but the government’s new push for innovation called for further thought leadership and engagement. 

CTA has some 160 members with a presence in Canada, from all business stages including startups, SMEs and multinational corporations. At CES 2017, 70 Canadian exhibitors demonstrated everything from wearables to mobile apps to virtual reality.

Canada’s Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains was leading the Canadian delegation, meeting with tech giants and innovators such as BlackBerry, Evertz, and Ford. Bains’ presence at CES signaled how important the tech sector is to the government's vision of positioning Canda as a global innovation leader.

CTA saw a lot of firsts with respect to its fresh approach to public policy engagement in Canada in 2016 including its first market research study on Canadian consumer tech preferences, its first Canadian members meeting, and its first trade show and lobby day on Parliament Hill. CTA’s first Canadian members’ meeting brought together leaders from various tech companies in Toronto last summer. Discussions revealed public policy priorities: drones, energy efficiency, e-waste, copyright reform and Canadian content. More importantly, there was an honest discussion of how the group could best pursue these priorities.

All effective government engagement begins with research and data. That’s why CTA released its first study on Canadians’ Consumer Technology Ownership and Market Potential. The study found Canadians are strong tech adopters with 95 percent of Canadian households owning a television and three-quarters owning smartphones, digital cameras and laptops. 

Armed with this research, CTA presented the findings to Heritage Canada to inform its consultations on Canadian content in a digital world. With so many Canadians embracing consumer technology, the government needs to ensure policies are technology-agnostic and avoid putting up barriers to access content across a variety of devices. 

From there, CTA made a splash at Parliament Hill by hosting its first tech demo and reception in November 2016. CTA participated in seven meetings with government decision makers, and hosted 16 Members of Parliament and Senators, and more than 220 guests at the evening reception and tech demo. 

During the day, CTA met with Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, Heritage Canada, Transport Canada and other officials to discuss their priorities and contribute to the government’s thinking around front of-mind projects, such as the Innovation Agenda, recreational drone regulations and Canadian content rules. At the tech demo, CTA was called to testify on drones at a House of Commons Transport Committee hearing. On behalf of CTA, I made the case for why drone regulations should continue to be flexible and easy to understand for recreational users in order to boost compliance while at the same time being friendly to innovators, who are part of a relatively nascent, but emerging sector. 

With the arrival of a new administration in Washington D.C. this January, the Canadian government has moved engagement with key players on Capitol Hill to the top of its priority list. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has taken pains to put key members of his team into strategic positions on the Canada-U.S. file while engaging the whole government in outreach to the new administration in the interest of positive relationship building.

When Canada’s industry committee visited D.C. on May 2, CTA hosted the delegation of Members of Parliament at CTA’s Innovation House. There were productive discussions about how Canada and the U.S. could work together to facilitate harmonization and joint initiatives across the border to promote innovation and the tech sector.

Going forward, consumer technology companies should strive to be part of a growing conversation inside and outside of the Government of Canada regarding key policy areas that range from disruptive technologies to blockchain to artificial intelligence. 

Doug Johnson

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