Canada’s Federal Government Determined to be a Force for Innovation


Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau piques the interest of many across the globe. The eldest son of Canada’s 15th Prime Minister, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, became one of the nation’s youngest leaders in November 2015. On a mission to prove that he offers more than just a name, Justin Trudeau historically formed Canada’s first gender balanced ministerial cabinet and marched alongside the LGBT community at Pride parades across the country.


Alongside this new-found direction, it became apparent in the early stages of Trudeau’s leadership that Canada was to be known not just for its resources, but for its resourcefulness. This was a powerful message coming from the leader of a country that has relied heavily on oil, lumber, and manufacturing industries to support its economy. This modern approach introduced innovation and technology as the key pillars to a prosperous future for Canada.


Prime Minister of Canada and Star Wars enthusiast Justin Trudeau strikes his best Jedi pose at Electronic Arts Vancouver’s Capture Lab.Three months into Trudeau’s term the Entertainment Software Association of Canada (ESAC) sat face-to-face with the newly-minted Prime Minister. A direct meeting so early in his career was a clear indication that the Canadian video game industry was considered a significant contributor to the resourcefulness of the country. With the industry generating $3.7 billion of Canada’s annual GDP, its meteoric growth had created challenges in recruiting experienced workers.  ESAC advocated for immediate fixes to Canada’s immigration system to ensure that cutting-edge companies developing innovative video games in Canada can compete with the world through streamlined access to highly skilled talent from abroad.


Meanwhile, Canada’s “Industry Department,” led by newcomer Navdeep Bains, was rebranded as the new department of “Innovation, Science and Economic Development.” With a mandate to elevate innovation as a means to grow the Canadian economy, Minister Bains and his Science Minister Kirsty Duncan quickly immersed themselves in industries that could deliver results with a boost from government.


Shortly after its meeting with the PM, ESAC testified to the Parliamentary Committee on Human Resources & Skills Development tasked to address the concerns regarding Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker program. ESAC expressed that the program was ill-equipped for tech and creative industries’ evolving needs and provided a recommendation for a dual strategy to address skills shortages.


Firstly, for tech industries to continue to grow, their capacity to hire, support, and train junior employees depends on a solid and experienced core team. Foreign workers could help to continuously “upskill” current Canadian talent through mentoring and by importing best practices from industry leaders. ESAC posited that Canada should open its border to pursue and attract the best and the brightest talent from across the globe to support its growing tech needs.


Secondly, ESAC proposed a longer-term solution to Canada’s skills shortage in the form of better training for the next generation of tech and creative workers. This could mean increased investment in coding programs for K-12 education as well as other programs designed to prepare Canadians with the necessary skills for the careers of tomorrow.


Trudeau’s Cabinet heeded these recommendations. The PM himself visited Ubisoft in Montreal and Electronic Arts in Vancouver whileESAC welcomes more than 250 people, including 22 members of Parliament, to its annual Parliamentary Day in Ottawa in February. The event showcased the industry’s latest consumer offerings and demonstrated its commitment to skills development and technological innovation through engaging booths and presentations. Minister Bains worked with ministers for immigration and human resources on solutions to Canada’s tech skills shortages. ESAC partnered with like-minded organizations to push for concrete action, and for the first time in many years, the federal government listened. Senior ministers highlighted the association’s recommendations in speeches and promised imminent action.


By March 2017, the federal budget included several measures to advance skills training in Canada. Industry partners, like Kids Code Jeunesse in Montreal, became the beneficiaries of new funds designed to help teachers integrate computational thinking and basic coding skills in the curriculum.


In June 2017, the federal government took action and implemented the Global Talent Stream of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, cutting the process down to two-weeks for applications for work permits and, when necessary, temporary resident visas.


These new measures became pillars of the government’s innovation agenda. Combined with new funds for a digital industry supercluster on the west coast and an artificial intelligence supercluster in central Canada, the federal government has positioned Canada as a desirable location for foreign investment and skilled workers to relocate, as well as a country determined to succeed in the technological arms race that is sweeping the globe.


ESAC’s Beyond Entertainment event in the fall of 2017 showcased the central role that the video game industry is playing in the innovation economy. The attendance by Minister Bains as well as his comments at the event underscored that the video game industry’s narrative was successful in garnering attention and action by the government. By positioning itself as a forthright partner to the Canadian government in the first Trudeau mandate, ESAC developed positive relationships that are bearing fruit.



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