Federal minister of innovation, science, and economic development Navdeep Bains took part in a Q and A session on the government’s role in sustainable development and social innovation with U of M students Jan. 8.
Held in the Engineering Information & Technology Complex atrium and hosted by director of the Asper School of Business’s Stu Clark Centre for Entrepreneurship, La Royce Batchelor, the session’s theme was created around Canada’s continued innovation at home.
“We are here to ask some questions, truly in a representative government fashion,” Batchelor said. “Something that a lot of other countries don’t get to do.”
The role of government in innovation
The first question posed to the minister was on the Canadian government’s role in the innovation sector.
Bains said the Canadian government today is particularly crucial within the realm of many emerging global markets that place the country in the context of “a global innovation race.”
“We are competing with other jurisdictions when it comes to innovation,” he said.
Bains said the government can best serve innovation by using its ability “to bring industry and academia together to solve problems.”
“The role of government is to put out our ability to bring people together, and to deal with these areas that are challenges for us,” he said.
“Innovation is about challenging the status quo. It’s about solving problems. It’s about better outcomes, for ourselves, our children, and grandchildren.”
Bains also emphasized that the government’s capacity to engage in this global innovation race is through driving innovation and creating “the conditions for innovation to succeed.”
Bains noted that the pivotal sustainable development change forwarded by the current Liberal government has been to ensure “the environment and the economy go hand in hand.” This, he continued, creates a “compelling case” for meaningful growth.
Bains highlighted that the government’s increased focus on qualitative data analyzed through Statistics Canada has enabled it to formulate tangible targets for sustainable growth in Canada’s the clean technology (cleantech) sector.
Cleantech refers to technologies, processes, or services that reduce or eliminate harmful environmental impacts through energy efficiency improvements.
“We wanted to understand the cleantech sector – the cleantech market in Canada – and last year, we measured this information,” he said.
Bains said the clean technology sector represents three per cent of Canada’s gross domestic product, with about 274,000 Canadians employed in the sector nationwide.
“This is an area where we are making big investments,” he said.
The minister added that sustainable development is an important fixture of Canada’s global trade agenda, citing the government’s goal to “double the cleantech market share for Canada globally” as an example.
Asked about the social role in determining the Department of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development’s programs, Bains said the government has emphasized “promoting diversity” by being “inclusive in our approach when it comes to economic policy.”
“This is about making sure that we look at our Indigenous population, young people, more women, people of visible minorities,” he said. “We have that lens when we talk about creating programs and incentives.”
Bains said that the way the government implements this view is by examining social challenges such as poverty, and then asking questions like, “How can we inject innovation in that?”
“When we have programs that we assign, or funding that we assign, we actually have a social lens to it,” he said.
“We say, ‘What problem are you trying to solve and how would that impact your community in a positive way?’”