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Dave McKay is CEO of Royal Bank of Canada and Joe Natale is CEO of Rogers Communications

Our technology infrastructure has played a critical role in helping Canadians manage their way through the COVID-19 crisis so far.

Almost 40 per cent of Canada’s work force found ways to work remotely. Two million college and university students finished the school year in digital classrooms. And just about everyone went online to buy at least some of their essential needs and keep their daily lives running.

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Yet tech has an even greater role to play in the future.

Beyond the immediate challenges of recovery – including mitigating further spread of the virus and rebuilding consumer confidence – the pandemic has left a permanent mark on the way Canadians consume and how organizations create value.

We’re more virtual. Digital platforms have woven into the new social fabric of our lives. And our strong tech infrastructure provided the scaffolding underneath our economic activity that allowed consumers to embrace digital in huge numbers.

Simply put, “digital first” is defining our economy.

But for many small and medium-sized businesses, a different story has played out. Too many remain “digital novices” without the ability to market their goods and services online or facilitate e-commerce. A recent joint announcement between Ottawa and Ontario to help small businesses go online is a step in the right direction, but more efforts are needed to bridge this wide digital gap.

At the same time, the pandemic is likely to make the world more fragmented, affecting how our businesses sell their goods, services and ideas to the globe.

Adapting and thriving in this new economic order will require us to lay the foundation to further digitize our economy – with continued investment in our Canadian tech sector, our world-class networks, and the innovative entrepreneurs and talent that drive it forward.

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We have the potential to create the world’s most virtually advanced business sector – a resilient and self-reliant economy backed by “made in Canada” tech infrastructure and assets.

Canadian policy makers and the private sector can together play a greater role to help power a tech-driven recovery that not only leads our country out of recession, but takes us to the top of the global competitiveness table.

The good news is we already have many key elements in place. Looking ahead, we can couple these strong foundational pillars with a tech-obsessed focus that ensures Canada’s economy remains resilient postpandemic and beyond.

Here’s how we can do it:

More risk capital

In recent years, the government has focused efforts in supporting our tech entrepreneurs and researchers through national strategies, leading in areas such as artificial intelligence, augmented reality and advanced manufacturing. Thousands of companies representing close to $200-billion in revenues are part of our growing tech ecosystem, which over the past five years created 160,000 jobs.

We have strong risk-capital investment, but now we need to encourage risk capital from abroad to support Canadian innovators and entrepreneurs. And to support that capital, incentive-based tax policies that take advantage of the new supply chains and services that we’re going to build in a digital world. This innovation will not only support local businesses becoming more digital, it’s the key to solving big world problems – such as the clean tech needed to reduce emissions and combat climate change, or the advancements that can reinvent our healthcare system long after the pandemic is over.

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Strong commitment to next-gen infrastructure

For several years, Canadian regulators have successfully promoted strong private investment, resulting in high-quality connectivity across the country. And Canadian telecom companies have outpaced global peers on infrastructure investment, building world-class networks to support our clear lead in digital adoption. Connectivity is key to thriving in the new economy.

An acceleration of last year’s federal budget commitment to provide high-speed internet to every Canadian household and business is necessary. And so is a strong commitment to 5G and its enormous potential to power our businesses and communities, and fuel entire industries. Now is the moment for Canada to secure the regulatory and investment support to build up this capability to lead the world.

Building it all around talent

None of this will be possible without the talent to make it happen. When it comes to talent, immigration and public education have put us on the map and will move us forward.

But by the end of next year, there’s estimated to be nearly a quarter million unfilled tech positions in Canada. One thing we learned through this pandemic is postal codes don’t matter. Talent can come from everywhere. We must continue to be a top destination for tech talent, and that means supporting immigration policies that can help.

The pandemic also has accelerated the move from a credentials-based economy to a skills-based one, critical to addressing skills shortages and building a more inclusive work force. We must rethink how educators, businesses and students work together – doubling down on work-integrated learning, building personalized online education experiences, and maybe even reimagining the four-year degree.

Canada’s capacity to adapt during the global pandemic will be a source of pride and advantage for years to come. But the lasting legacy will be how well we harness the power of our tech sector to lay the groundwork for collective success.

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With a renewed focus, we’re confident that Canada’s tech infrastructure, capabilities and talent can be the strong foundation needed for a thriving economy of tomorrow.

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