On the job and ready for action

Navdeep Bains, CPA, CMA, is a cabinet minister with a newly minted portfolio who’s set on turning Canada into an innovation powerhouse. He believes his accounting designation will stand him in good stead.

How do you address a cabinet minister in a telephone conversation? A Google search offers up a few possibilities: minister, sir or salutation plus surname. Yet Canada’s new minister of innovation, science and economic development will have none of that. "Just call me Navdeep Bains," he says, his reputation as a people person evident in his relaxed, friendly tone.

Bains’ formal mandate, laid out as a 12-bullet list in a letter signed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, begins with instructions to restore the long-form census. Bains tackled this item on his first day in office. "I was unhappy when the long form was made optional because it weakened the quality of data, especially in remote areas,"he says. "We need good data to make good decisions."

It’s no accident that "innovation"and "science"have been added to the former industry portfolio. "We need to add value to the resources and industries we have," he says.

But how? For one, Bains plans to update tax policies to spur small businesses to invest in R&D. Next, he’ll make it easier for new ventures to get the strategic advice that can keep them afloat.

"We have world-class incubators that can match new businesses with mentors," he says. "It’s a fantastic opportunity for startups to get help when they need it."Regional development industries will apprise him of new and notable trends, while his office will " ensure their initiatives align with our national goals of added value and diversification."

Boosting the clean-tech sector also ranks high on Bains’ to-do list. "We won’t be prescribing which technologies should drive clean-tech innovation," he says. "We’ll take our cue from what industry tells us."

Bains is confident his financial background will help him make the right calls. "I’m comfortable with numbers and plan to look at funding decisions through a business lens."

A month into his job, Bains says there’s no such thing as a typical day at the office. One day might see him drop in on his Mississauga-Malton, Ont., constituency office, another might have him deliver a keynote speech at a Canadian aerospace summit, while a third might revolve around a briefing on climate change.

As a child, Bains never imagined himself holding a political office, let alone a cabinet position. What he did imagine was making a difference — and working in groups. "In high school I volunteered in soup kitchens and played a lot of basketball, so teamwork is in my DNA," he says. While some might balk at the meetings and negotiations inherent in consensus building, it doesn’t faze Bains. "To achieve anything durable you need buy-in," he maintains. It looks like Bains’ people skills won’t be going to waste.