Canada's nascent tech startup lobby group has recruited a millennial Liberal political staffer as its first executive director.
The Council of Canadian Innovators has hired Benjamin Bergen, 31, previously an executive assistant to Liberal MP and Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland and before that an adviser to former Ontario transportation minister Glen Murray. Mr. Bergen managed Ms. Freeland's election campaign last year in the University-Rosedale riding. He ran as a candidate in the 2010 Toronto municipal election while studying political science and economics at the University of Toronto. He started at the CCI on March 1.
CCI chairman Jim Balsillie said in an e-mail that the CCI "is Canada's business council for the 21st century so our priority was to find a smart and sophisticated leader who is not stuck in old-fashioned 20th century thinking and peddling the same policies that have failed us over the last 30 years. Ben represents the generation that is driving Canada's future prosperity. He understands the challenges and is genuinely committed to working with our CEOs and with senior public sector officials to help Canadian companies scale up globally."
The CCI got its start last fall after Mr. Balsillie, the former Research In Motion co-CEO, exhorted a gathering of startup CEOs organized by OMERS Ventures CEO John Ruffolo to do a better job of working the halls of government. The group, led by Mr. Balsillie and Mr. Ruffolo and made up of about 40 chiefs of emerging Canadian tech firms, met in December with three Liberal government cabinet ministers, including Ms. Freeland and Navdeep Bains of Innovation, Science and Economic Development. During the meeting, they asked the government to back down on an election pledge to increase taxation of stock options.
Mr. Bergen's first order of business is to work the stock option file. "That's definitely one area where we're focused," he said in an interview. It's not clear whether the government will back off its pledge when it releases its first budget next week.
He will also be pushing on behalf of his members for changes to the foreign worker program so startups have an easier time recruiting top-flight talent from abroad. "I think [the CCI] is something that Canada really needs," Mr. Bergen said.
Members of the innovation lobby group say they expect Mr. Bains to kick off a lengthy public consultation to help shape the government's innovation agenda. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has indicated his government is keen to help promote the growth of Canada's technology sector but has yet to outline his plans to do so.
In an e-mail last week to the council's members, Mr. Ruffolo said Mr. Bergen "understands the inner workings of government and has an extensive network among senior public sector officials that will be to the benefit of our organization."
Mr. Bergen said he wasn't covered by federal lobbying restrictions because he has only worked for Ms. Freeland at her constituency office since she joined the cabinet. He said she provided him with a reference.