The 2017 Canadian federal budget will be officially introduced in the House of Commons on Mar. 22, and it is expected to include a special focus on innovation and technology.
From attracting and keeping talent, progressing Canada as an entrepreneurial state, and increasing investment across the board, the tech industry has lofty goals for 2017. We spoke with several experts and industry insiders to see what they expect to see in the budget on Wednesday.
Talent is key
One of the most-cited skills gaps in Canada is in the IT field, with the Information and Communications Technology Council releasing a report in 2015 saying Canada needed 182,000 workers to fill positions such as systems analysts, consultants, computer and network operators, web technicians, and software engineers by 2019.
Addressing this will undoubtedly be a top priority for the 2017 budget, and the Liberal government has already made moves in this regard. Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains and Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour Patty Hajdu announced a new Global Skills Strategy (GSS) on Mar. 9, which will launch this summer and focus on attracting high-skill talent for fast-growing Canadian companies.
Albert De Luca, a partner and national leader of the global research and development (R&D)/government incentives group at Deloitte, expects more action following the unveiling of the GSS.
“We need to update our immigration system so we can attract top IT talent to Canada, and whether that’s involves a program announcement in this budget or not, it’s pretty clear that it’s at the top of the priorities list going forward,” explains De Luca. “We already have insufficient talent in IT right now, and its critical to the point where we are losing projects to many other countries because of our insufficient talent pool, so we have no choice but to emphasize it.”
Echoing this thought is Ben Bergen, executive director of the Council of Canadian Innovators (CCI), a lobby group meant to advocate on behalf of Canada’s technology sector.
“It takes between 10 to 12 months right now to be able to bring in the talent from a foreign country, but we think that that the Global Skills Strategy is a good first step [to addressing the skills gap],” he tells IT World Canada. “That will help create a two-week turnaround to bring in highly skilled talent. We think that strategy – properly funded by the federal government, which we’re hoping to see in the budget – will help the innovation sector and help it compete globally.”
Putting Canada first
This is the first budget since Donald Trump became president in November 2016, and as Canada’s southern neighbour prepares to adopt more “USA first” business policies, John Reid, president and CEO of the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA Alliance), says Canada should respond with something similar.
“It’s obvious that the US will move towards reducing regulatory overheads as well as corporate and personal tax rates, so we have to be prepared for that and introduce a Canada-first plan,” he tells IT World Canada. “The rules of the game are going to change and we may need to take significant steps to adjust or respond to the pressure of keeping capital in Canada.”
Mark Stevenson, vice president of finance at Kitchener, Ont.-based Igloo Software, stresses that the government needs to move on making Canadian job destinations more attractive than those in the US. He adds that under Donald Trump’s controversial presidency, this may actually become feasible.
“We need a wider and deeper pool of talent – not deeper in terms of ability, but deeper in terms of number of skilled workers available,” he says. “Canada has to compete against the big tech companies in the US, like Google and Facebook and the rest of Silicon Valley, and they make it incredibly tough to bring talent here or keep it here. But the less attractive they look, the better it is for Canada, and the situation in the US right now is making us a more favourable destination.”