Spokespeople for Ottawa’s Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC) and the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA) sounded hopeful the day after the election that they would have a good chance of finding a friendly audience once Stephen Harper and his new cabinet take office. The associations asked parties during the campaign to consider a variety of priorities. These included a mandate to drive commercialization, boost IT investment, solve a projected skills shortage and increase the role of women in IT.
“It’s positive in the short term,” Barry Gander, CATA’s executive director, said of the Harper victory. “Hopefully, there won’t be great instability, which is ultimately one of the main issues. It’s getting projects moving ahead and out of the morass of criticism. All the parties have a view they need to work together to move agendas forward, and we’re looking forward to that.”
Talks with Industry Canada and other departments were delayed or curtailed following the election call last year, Gander said, as “people were waiting for the new approval chart” before making decisions. CATA’s primary focus will be on steps the government can take with respect to direct business-to-business marketing and exports, he said.
“There were a number of good business people elected. They have an understanding of what business needs are,” he said.
ITAC president Bernard Courtois singled out James Rajotte, MP for Edmonton-Leduc, as an example of a Tory who understands the issues of concern to the high-tech industry. However the reality of another minority government will require co-operation from all parties, he added.
“What we’re talking about is not a particularly partisan or a political theme. They’re a fundamentally economic theme,” he said. “Even with the NDP there was a recognition of the support needed for science and skills development and tax support for investment.”
It’s possible, however, that in three to four years the industry wouldn’t be able to tell there was a change in government, said Jack Carr, an economics professor at the University of Toronto.
“In terms of what they offered as an economic package, both Conservatives and the Liberals were very similar,” he said.
Buying into a procurement auditor
Among its major promises, the Conservative Party said it will appoint a procurement auditor, whose mandate will be to ensure fairness and transparency in the procurement process and to address vendor complaints. The Conservatives have also said that contracting rules need amending to ensure that the procurement process is free from political interference. Small vendors, including those located outside the National Capital Region, will receive due consideration when bidding on federal government contracts, according to the Conservative platform.
The idea of another watchdog could create an unnecessary extra layer into a system that is already constrained, said Gordon Kyle, a director with Partnering and Procurement Inc. based in Halifax.
“It’s all about giving everybody that should have one an opportunity to bid and not predefining the companies or capabilities in such a way that you favour anybody or disfavour anyone,” he said. “There are tradeoffs in that, though. You can end up erring on the side of fairness and making it difficult to get good solutions. Or you can err on the side of what appears to be good value and make it impossible for newcomers to enter the bidding.”
Courtois welcomed any moves that will give Canadians a clearer picture of how Ottawa spends its money.
“We’re an industry that sells a lot to government, so there are all kinds of activities we’re looking for in the area of transparency,” he said. “I have to say, though, the Liberal government had certainly proposed a lot of reforms from the standpoint of accountability and controls and checking. What we’re looking at now is more a change in political mindset.”
It’s a mindset that has changed a lot amid ad spending scandals and increased scrutiny following the Gomery inquiry, Kyle added.
“It used to be a trough. Now it’s no longer a trough. In fact it’s the opposite – there’s so much paranoia,” he said.