Canada’s IT leaders debate pre-election platform

Two of Canada’s leading information and communications technology (ICT) associations agree that if and when a summer federal election is called, party platforms need to spend less time duking it out on past issues and focus more on high tech’s role in Canada’s future.

Canadians would like

to see party leaders debate issues beside the Gomery inquiry, like strengthening the security sector and creating a telecom infrastructure that provides for the future, said Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA) president John Reid Tuesday.

“There’s far too much looking in the rearview mirror and not enough attention paid to looking out the front window and seeing where you want to drive to,” said Reid.

Likewise, Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS) past president Greg Lane said party platforms should be more constructive rather than destructive. “Rather than bashing each other about what they’re doing wrong, what’s your platform on a go-forward basis?” said Lane, also Microsoft Canada director of federal region. “I don’t think that any one of us are particularly interested in looking in the rearview mirror and trying to figure out what they’re going to do.”

CATA last month released its “pre-election platform” to Industry Canada Minister David Emerson at a dinner hosted by Mauril Belanger, MP, Ottawa, Vanier and David McGuinty, MP, Ottawa, South. Reid said CATA would like to shift the debate to the core planks of its high-tech platform, which include enhancements to Canada’s SR&ED Tax Credit program, ensuring government procurement is linked to Canada’s innovation agenda and expanding the role of Canada’s Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

Overall, CATA gives Paul Martin’s government a mixed review in terms of its performance in these areas. While Reid applauds the Martin government’s work on the aforementioned tax credit program, he criticizes its use of procurement to strengthen Canada’s innovation agenda. “There’s widespread disappointment on their creativity and insight in developing that aspect of Canada’s investment client,” said Reid.

The federal government has control over approximately $15-billion worth of procurements annually, according to Reid. The Liberal party and the Public Works and Government Services department have not adopted the notion that procurement is one of the key drivers in creation of small and medium businesses, he added. “They’re reducing the number of suppliers and they’re imposing cost penalties on the vendor community,” said Reid. “They have missed the mark totally when it comes to government as a driver of innovation in terms of their own purchasing power.”

Similarly, Lane is also critical of the government’s procurement practices as well as use of technology as a client. “If you want to communicate that technology is important then use it,” said Lane. “If they believe ICT is important make the words and the music match.”

Lane, however, points to other countries like Ireland where the government has made a clear decision to promote and enhance working life through taxation privileges for certain industries like the technology sector. “It’s unbelievable how Ireland has turned that country around by government taking a proactive step relative to the kind of jobs they want to have in their country,” said Lane.

Investment in education and tax incentives to make Canada an attractive place to work and live are examples of how the federal government can increase its support for ICT workers, added Lane. “By enlarge ICT workers are clean jobs and well paying. Why wouldn’t the government be more actively supporting the kinds of things that would be advantage working in Canada?” said Reid. “It’s going to become more and more challenging to keep good ICT jobs in Canada and ICT workers in Canada.”

While the government has made some proactive steps in the advanced security sector in terms of policy evolution, Reid said more work has to be done to bridge technologies and applications to make this happen. “I think we’ve shown very good leadership in the Internet area with the spam task force and some of the legislative underpinnings,” said Reid.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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