Compete in a Digital World Roundtable

August 22, 2016—Kitchener, ON
Compete in a Digital World
Hosted by Ilse Treurnicht

Area of Focus

To generate ideas on how Canada can compete effectively in a digital world:

  • Infrastructure: How can we build our digital infrastructure so that we can be globally competitive?
  • Technologies: What do we need to do in research & development (R&D) and market development so that Canada is maximizing the impact of new digital technologies?
  • People: How can we grow globally competitive digital talents and skills in Canada?


Rapidly changing environment and Canada must keep pace. We move too slowly. Quality, access and affordability issues need to be examined to ensure greater opportunities for all Canadians. There is both geographic and social divides which must be addressed.  Demographics are changing, which will increase demand. Access to talent is a key barrier.

Summary of Discussion

Canada's future competitiveness depends on having an ambitious digital economy vision, including making "big bets' on the technologies that leverage assets/capabilities and have the greatest impact on sectoral adjacencies (such as 5g networks, the internet of things, quantum computing, and potentially artificial intelligence). Investments in digital infrastructure present key opportunities with potential for significant economic benefits even greater than traditional infrastructure—it should be invested in and horizontally integrated.

Rapidly changing environment is very challenging for businesses. Digital disruption will impact all sectors. Policies and regulations need to be made with the future in mind to keep pace with innovation. Canadians and Governments can't be afraid of taking risks.

The quest for top talent is a key area that requires immigration reform to make it easier to attract and retain global talent, and educational reform to prepare students for changing business needs. Students should learn how to to code early on and need to have more exposure to workplace learning opportunities as part of their curriculum.

Key Implementation Considerations/Challenges

Procurement: Need to look at procuring from various sources (including innovative Canadian firms), and learn from international models which have proven effective (e.g. Small Business and Innovation Research program in the U.S.).

Immigration: Having timely access to talent is a key barrier for growth businesses to scale up in Canada.  Need to look at immigration policies to make it even easier for graduates to come and remain in Canada, and target foreign graduates in the US and elsewhere.

Infrastructure: Having access to the internet should be treated as an essential services/utility for public good.  Quality, access, and affordability are key factors where government and private sector can play a role to address digital and social divides.  Regulations should be designed to meet the needs of the future, not just those of today. The world is increasingly moving toward wireless.

Technology: Focus on key competitive advantages for Canada, such as advanced computing, fintech (blockchain, digital identification and authentication), cyber security (privacy and security), advanced manufacturing, as well as establishing R&D clusters based on sectors with both horizontal and vertical integration of applications.

Talent: Need to be able to scale up companies to retain and recruit top talent. Need to look at ways to connect recent graduates with companies, and bridge the gap between entry level and desire for experienced workers. Need to make Canada a top choice for recent graduates and global experts to recruit top talent. More flow of talent between industry, academe and the public sector will facilitate collaboration.

Education: We need to ensure that youth are exposed and taught the skills needed for tomorrow, including coding and other advanced digital skills. Need to grow programs which provide students opportunities for real work learning experience and would also allow science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) students the ability to take business and arts classes. Need to integrate arts and humanities students into digital tech firms.

Top Ideas/Outcomes

Governance: Urgently need a digital access strategy which is national, coherent and sustainable to provide leadership. This strategy should have clear benchmarks, targets on data, and metrics with timelines in line with pace of change. This would require input from all levels of government, as well as industry, academia and not-for-profits.

Innovation Program: Establish an Innovation Program to pick the top 100 companies in Canada to invest in/greatest scale potential, and support them in addition to supporting technology.  It could include pre-approving funding from a variety of streamlined government programs through a single window approach.  These top 100 companies could then meet annually to create a Canadian version of "WEF-DAVOS' to create partnerships between top executives.

Procurement: Reform procurement to better adopt innovative solutions and use advanced technologies. Increase ability for startups to compete for request for proposals by providing funding/grants to design and test solutions to problems, and reduce administrative requirements for vendors. Strengthen digital government services (digital communications with citizens and leveraging technology to modernize government programs and operations).

Access to Capital: Increase corporate funding for venture capital and investment in R&D by making corporate venture capital an allowable Science Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) program expense, and provide other incentives through taxation and regulations.

Wireless Access: Need for more free wireless (public parks, community areas, etc.).

Talent: Increase digital literacy in early education by treating coding as Canada's "third official language' to increase the digital literacy of Canadians. Co-op and other experiential learning programs could be spread across post-secondary institutions, and the co-op program model could also be adapted and used for non-students (e.g. displaced workers, or workers looking to re-skill.). Create continuous learning opportunities for workers through career lifecycle. Look at developing programs which would match students with companies and provide them with a one year paid work exchange, or incentives for companies who hire recent PhD graduates. Look at incentives such as partial tuition reimbursement if graduates remain in Canada.

Partnerships: Opportunities for academia and industry to partner to support graduates in developing the business skills necessary to be successful in industry. Need for strategy to create multisector partnerships and link small and medium sized enterprises (SME) with researchers. Foster collaboration between startups and established companies to increase industrial R&D and provide early customer opportunities for young companies.

Immigration: Provide express visa options for high-end global talent and create "talent missions' to help companies attract top talent.

Branding: Need to revamp the "built in Canada" brand. Canada's top talent succeed internationally, but need to receive more recognition within Canada. Need to highlight all the talent we have. ‎Need "innovation champions" to help sell the Canadian story.

Date modified: