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Federal business panel urges Ottawa to focus support on high-growth firms

Last Updated Sep 25, 2018 at 5:00 pm EDT

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a discussion at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA – A government-struck panel of industry experts is urging the Trudeau Liberals to create an Own the Podium-style program to help promising companies one day compete internationally — and to end support to those who might only garner participation ribbons.

Own the Podium is a federally funded program that supports elite Canadian athletes and is best known for preparing Team Canada ahead of the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games, during which Canada took home a record medal haul.

Companies that participated in a series of what the Liberals call “economic strategy tables” recommended the creation of a similar approach for businesses. They said in the report released Tuesday that the federal government “can no longer sprinkle fairy dust and hope our entrepreneurs will succeed.”

The report suggests that the government funnel money to firms with the most growth potential so they can scale up operations, while also allowing lower-performing firms to die because it would “free up tax dollars.”

The government’s efforts, it recommended, should target six areas: advanced manufacturing, agri-food, clean technology, health and biosciences, and resources of the future.

The report estimates the right set of policies, including tax conditions that match recent corporate tax rate cuts in the United States, could add $318 billion to the economy by 2030. But the experts warn the government must learn to operate at the speed of business and cut the multiple layers of red tape.

Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains said federal efforts must focus on making regulatory regimes more agile for a shifting landscape — but he warned it will take years for Canadian companies and workers to become more competitive.

“There’s no one silver bullet,” Bains said in an interview.

“This is a multi-year effort that is going to require multiple policies, multiple programs.”

Business leaders from a multitude of sectors, advocacy groups and unions have pressed the Liberals to act quickly on the recommendations. The suggestions also include calls for “better coherence” of government funding programs and for a more-uniform education system focused on skills development — a tall task given the variations between provinces and school boards.

A giant of the online world is looking to help the federal government reshape the Canadian education and skills development system to adjust to changing labour force dynamics.

Sabrina Geremia, country director for Google in Canada, said the company has spoken with the Liberals about the need to make sure public and private sector efforts work in tandem, and ensure nervous workers are able to access the help they need today and in the future to take part in a digital economy.