British Columbia

Trudeau to promote Canadian tech, lure foreign investment at Microsoft summit

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to pitch major multinational companies on benefits of investing in Canada's technology sector on Wednesday.

Prime Minister expected to pitch the Canadian advantage to CEOs meeting near Seattle

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses a gathering during the opening of Microsoft's new location in Vancouver on June 17, 2016. (Jonathon Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be promoting the benefits of investing in Canada's technology sector on Wednesday, when he joins top business leaders inside the closed-door Microsoft CEO Summit in Redmond, Wash. 

Trudeau's visit comes as U.S. President Donald Trump's administration poses both challenges and opportunities for Canada's high-tech industry.

Trump's "America First" rhetoric and his plans to slash corporate taxes could mean more investment flows south of the border, but his restrictive approach to immigration could draw talent north, experts say.

Trudeau is the first sitting head of government or state to be invited to address the annual gathering of CEOs, his office said.

Trudeau will be the first sitting head of government to address the Microsoft CEO Summit. (Ted S. Warren/Associated Press)

"The prime minister's participation in the summit is an important opportunity to encourage innovation, promote investment in the technology sector, and draw global talent to Canada," said press secretary Andree-Lyne Halle in a statement.

"It is an ideal venue to remind decision makers and investors that Canada is recognized as a world leader in research and development in many areas like artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and 3D programming." 

150 CEOs attending

The summit, under the theme "The CEO Agenda: Navigating Change," will bring together more than 150 executives to Redmond, just outside of Seattle.

Trudeau will discuss what Canada has to offer and hear their perspectives, ideas and advice, Halle said.

The event is closed to media and Microsoft declined to make a representative available for an interview. Trudeau has no media availability other than a photo opportunity prior to a meeting with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday.

Werner Antweiler, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business, said the prime minister's main goal at the summit should be to "put Canada on the map." 

Trudeau needs to promote Canada's standard of living and ease of immigration, qualities that make the country an attractive place for global talent as well as investment, Antweiler said.

After Trump signed an executive order barring citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries in January, dozens of Canada's technology CEOs signed a letter asking Canada to offer immediate entry visas to those affected. The American order was struck down by the courts and a second, similar order is now being challenged.

Canada's 'America First' advantage

"Trump says 'America First' but then he's putting America last when it comes to attracting talent from abroad," said Antweiler. 

"A lot of people from Europe, from Asia, from the Middle East, are going to look at the United States and say, 'Well, wait a minute, am I feeling comfortable moving there when there is a government that is quite hostile to certain types of immigration?'"

Paul Preston, director of science, technology and innovation policy at the Conference Board of Canada, said in order to attract more global investment, Canada must give incentives to its businesses to spend more on research and development.

"Compared to other developed nations, we spend a lot less," he said. "The more we can continue to attract investment from other places around the world and encourage our businesses to spend on R&D, then we'll start to push the envelope and create more globally competitive ideas and companies."

Link in the chain

The summit is an opportunity for Canadian companies to become part of supply chains for the firms involved in the meeting, said John Reid, CEO of the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance, an industry group.

"Once you sell to a large company, it opens up the doors to other marketplaces," he said.

Namir Anani, CEO of the Information and Communications Technology Council, said attracting international companies to Canada not only creates jobs but creates the ecosystem for future entrepreneurs to connect with local markets.

For example, General Motors added 1,000 jobs in Oshawa to create autonomous cars, allowing an entrepreneur developing an innovative battery system the opportunity to pitch to GM and access international markets, he said.

Benjamin Bergen, executive director of the Council of Canadian Innovators, said his industry group's focus was making sure that domestic companies can scale up and grow in Canada. 

"If foreign investment dollars are flowing, let's make sure that our domestic firms are still able to hire talent here in Canada as well and be able to compete with multinationals."