In Review: Innovation & Opportunity in Canada

The Honourable Navdeep Bains is the Vice-Chair of Global Investment Banking for CIBC, responsible for strengthening all Capital Markets and Commercial Banking with a particular focus on Innovation, Sustainability, and Industrial sectors. He was one of the longest serving federal Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, where he introduced the most comprehensive innovation and skills plan for Canada in over three decades. On March 9, Mr. Bains invested an hour with our members in a Town Hall session, where he explored the inner workings of government, world issues and Canadian innovation with candor.


As we have witnessed with industry’s shift to retool and support the PPE drive during the pandemic, Canadian businesses are innovative, nimble, and capable of remarkable things. Prior to the pandemic, 1% of Canada’s PPE was sourced locally. We aggressively pivoted to help companies retool to build PPE and in under 4 months, we went from 1% sourcing PPE from Canada to 50%. This was the most significant mobilization effort since WWII – demonstrating that if we are focused as a country and if government works closely with industry, we can accomplish big things.

There are many reasons to be optimistic that companies can grow and scale in Canada – but the future for industry will be volatile and uncomfortable for a while due to economic and international factors. To navigate, business leaders must stick to their fundamentals, pivot when needed, and remain optimistic about doing business in Canada because Canadian ingenuity and entrepreneurship is world-class.


Macro trends are in the favour of business. Due to the global challenges we are facing – a decrease in global GDP tied to war in Europe, off-the-charts commodity prices (ie. oil and gas), and inflation – the government will be more sensitive to additional costs attributed to regulatory changes or tax policies. Measures that result in supporting companies through technology and reducing red tape will be front and centre. Government will be looking at economic and innovation policies that counter inflation by supporting businesses to become more productive and competitive.

Another focus will be eliminating internal trade barriers that exist and cost the economy roughly $80B CAD. If we can eliminate these barriers alone, our GDP could increase approximately 3.8%.


The government of Canada spends $9B per year on procurement, outside of defense spending. Redefining procurement purchasing as we have done for PPE during the pandemic by inserting the same kind of vigor into other areas would result in a lot of additional support for Canadian companies. If we want to bolster productivity and innovation, we must invest in our companies by leveraging our purchasing power at the federal level.  


There are so many big events happening at once, and it can be very heavy and daunting – sadly, this will not change. Mentally prepare yourself for these events that you cannot control, and be agile enough to adjust your business plan, which requires establishing strong leadership. If you realize your business model has changed, do not defend the status quo: use technology to change or rethink your business. This is a function of leadership and management, and we will see true leadership emerge in organizations that understand that.