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Clement on Canada and competitiveness Add to ...

Industry Minister Tony Clement was the front man for much of the federal government's response to the hard times faced by Canadians in 2009.

There was a multibillion-dollar bailout of General Motors as well as hundreds of millions for innovation and infrastructure.

But, with most signs pointing toward recovery, the minister is now turning his thoughts to ways of making Canada more competitive and innovative in the future.

What is your overall impression of the state of Canadian industry today compared to a year ago? Is it catching up to the rebound that we have seen in the markets?

We are starting to see that. Obviously the auto sector is back from the brink and we're starting to see some robustness. Having the extra shift at the Toyota plant in Woodstock [Ont.]is a good indication. That's 800 new jobs. GM's commitment to continue with the CAMI plant in Ingersoll [Ont.]is again a good indication. … So I would say, when you look at Canada's industrial base, we were at the edge of disaster. But I would say, although we are not out of the woods yet, certainly we are starting to see some indications that we are starting to rebound.

What sector(s) of Canada's industry do you think will experience the biggest growth over the coming two years? Why?

There's no question that, when you get into the resource extraction sector, because there is worldwide demand for these products, there is automatically going to be a jump when the world starts to recover. … There's a lot of great companies out there in the ICT [information and communications technology]sector and in the telecoms sector that are already turning the page and turning the corner. I see it all as interconnected.

I don't like to talk just about the knowledge-based sector without referring to the manufacturing sector because, the fact of the matter is, when you use the knowledge-based sector appropriately it can actually inform the way that we can manufacture products in a more competitive way.

This year, you announced a $145-million investment in the auto sector aimed mostly at research and development. What effect has that money had? What indications do you have that Canada will be building the cars of the future?

[The week before last]I was able to announce with Magna collaboration between Magna and the National Research Council of Canada on composite materials for various auto parts. And that's something that we can be world leaders in. We have, in my view, the most competitive auto-parts sector and the most forward-thinking auto-parts sector in the world. So it makes sense that our auto-parts leaders are going to be part of creating various parts of automobiles that are going to be the way of the future.

Has there been much uptake on your recent announcement of a $300-million venture-capital fund that will support the growth and expansion of Canada's technology sector? What kinds of businesses do you see particularly benefiting from that?

I am told they are still putting together the potential investments for that fund so we don't have anything to announce yet. … The emphasis is on the ICT sector. [That sector]didn't suffer as much as some other industries but, in my view, in order for us to be competitive in a whole range of other sectors - whether it's manufacturing or minerals extraction or new renewable energy - if you don't have the ICT component, you're not going to be able to be competitive with the world.

If there was one thing you want to achieve in government this year that you believe would help Canada's industrial sector, what would it be?

[Government and universities have]actively engaged in innovation commercialization along with the private sector. Now we've got to connect that to companies that already exist in our private sector to make sure that they can adopt the technology sooner. Because all of the reports that come to me indicate that Canada is fair to middling on adopting new technology and innovation. We're not excellent at it. So this is the topic that I am going to be focusing on over the next year.

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