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politics insider

Globe and Mail reporter Sean Silcoff.The Globe and Mail

Canada's emerging tech superstar Shopify Inc. hired its first lobbyist as it aims to ensure the Trudeau government's evolving innovation agenda delivers meaningful changes that benefit the country's flourishing startup scene.

The Ottawa e-commerce company has tapped Alexandra Clark to serve as its director of policy and government. Ms. Clark was previously corporate affairs director with Microsoft in Vancouver and a senior consultant for lobbying agency Global Public Affairs. She also has political experience with (no surprise) the Liberal Party, having held a series of roles with the party and office of the Leader of the Opposition when Michael Ignatieff was party leader, including director of logistics during the 2011 election campaign. Like many of her Shopify colleagues, the 27-year-old Alexandra Clark is young but accomplished. She previously served as corporate affairs director for Microsoft and as a senior consultant for Global Public Affairs in B.C.

With the Trudeau government presenting itself as an innovation-friendly administration, "it's important for us at Shopify to start building those relationships with government and building that trust," Ms. Clark said. "We really want to lend a voice for something that's bigger than Shopify and start that conversation … We need 12 Shopifys, so for us it's more about getting to the table and playing that role of trusted adviser more than a hard lobbying approach."

Shopify chief operating officer Harley Finkelstein said: "Now more than ever, Canadian tech companies are lending their voice and expertise to help attract talent and foster innovation. This means engaging in conversations with government as early as possible. That's why we hired [Ms. Clark] … to facilitate these conversations."

Shopify's move also responds to an urgent call last fall by ex-Research in Motion chief Jim Balsillie and OMERS Ventures chief John Ruffolo that Canada's emerging tech stars need to become more active on the lobbying front. The two argued Canada's up-and-coming tech companies they wouldn't get what they needed from government unless they asked. That quickly led to the formation of the Council of Canadian Innovators, a lobby group representing some of Canada's most successful startups. The group met with three federal cabinet ministers in December to lay out what they'd like to see in the Trudeau government's innovation agenda.

The country's startups already claimed their first victory when the government backed down on a pledge to increase taxation of stock option gains after young tech companies said it would hurt their ability to attract employees. Next on the agenda is pressing for changes to the excessively bureaucratic immigration system so companies don't have to wait six months or more to hire in-demand foreign talent to come here, as is currently the case.

Ms. Clark identified "access to talent" as the top issue on her agenda as well: "It's an issue where we can have a long-term vision … creating an environment for technology innovation to succeed in Canada." She said Shopify CEO Tobi Lutke recently told her "I want us to get to a point through working with government that when people come to Canada, they feel like they're walking into the future."

Ms. Clark joins her sister Atlee Clark, who is Shopify's San Francisco-based director of apps and developer relations. The two are daughters of veteran Ottawa political broadcaster Tom Clark.