Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains has hired tech entrepreneur Nathon Gunn as his top innovation adviser as the minister's office develops a broad strategy to help industries confront rapid technological change in all sectors, from renewable energy to manufacturing.
The co-founder of startups Bitcasters Inc., Social Game Universe and LightningPlatform.com will be playing a senior advisory role in the Liberal government's aim to create jobs by helping companies innovate amid technological disruption and a shifting global economy. The Liberal budget plan said the government wanted to "redesign and redefine how it supports innovation and growth."
The government's innovation agenda is expected to cover a range of policies, legislation and programs from training to intellectual property. No sector will be excluded from the agenda being led by Mr. Bains' office, including agriculture, health sciences, and resource development. A central question will be how automation and the sharing economy are disrupting traditional business.
"We have to recognize the power of the innovation that's going on in new and disruptive technologies," Mr. Gunn said in an interview. "A lot of our economic strength comes from our established businesses, our established economies, but if we don't look at how we can help those companies evolve and continue to innovate, then we would not be doing our job."
Companies, experts and industry groups will be lining up to meet with Mr. Gunn to lobby for their ideas. Mr. Gunn, 42, started in Mr. Bains' office less than two weeks ago and said he will begin consulting with industry and sector stakeholders for feedback. He's planning to have some proposals in place before next year's federal budget.
"Everything is touched by the transitions we're going through, the economic transitions in the world as a result of innovation. There's almost nothing that isn't being touched and therefore there's almost nothing we're not looking at," Mr. Gunn said, adding that the scope of the innovation agenda is still being developed.
So-called "smart manufacturing", where manufacturers use the most sophisticated robots and technologies, would be considered in the strategy, as well as the future of work amid increased automation and a global marketplace for services online.
"The nature of work is very different. Very few people will have a job now that is for one company or a series of longer-term jobs," said Sara Diamond, technology researcher and president of OCAD University.
She said there would also be implications for regulations, as some industries now avoid the patent system to get products to market more quickly, and technology could further disrupt some regulated industries.
"Some of the transformations happening within fintech are moving more quickly than regulatory bodies are able to manage," Dr. Diamond said, referring to competitive pressures from online banking.
Mr. Gunn, who in the late 1990s created Bitcast, one of the world's first video upload sites, has recently worked on mentoring and supporting entrepreneurs through startup accelerator Singularity University.
He previously worked on former Prime Minister Paul Martin's leadership bid and election campaign, and before that on Internet strategy and grassroots technology for Al Gore. Mr. Gunn said he took the new job because wanted to help address challenges facing companies and entrepreneurs.
Mr. Gunn said the exponential pace of technological change requires "the ability to iterate and develop models much more quickly than we traditionally have in government."
Iain Klugman, head of Communitech, a Kitchener, Ont.-based group that assists tech startups, said the traditional distinction between tech companies and non-tech companies is becoming less clear. He said the economy would benefit from immigration fast-tracking that helps companies hire the best talent available.
"Companies can only grow as fast as they can either sell stuff or hire people. When you are constrained, then you are not fully realizing the potential growth of the company. Hiring people is an issue," he said.
Kevin Ford, chief executive of Ottawa-based Calian Group Ltd., which has an aerospace and defence segment, said there's room for technological innovation in defence, adding he would like to see Canadian companies involved in the defence sector from concept to implementation.
"It's awesome for Canadian jobs," Mr. Ford said. "It's just continuing to ensure that Canadian industrial base … is in the game and not just joining in in the third period. That's what I'm trying to avoid. I want to be in the game before it starts."