New Innovation Minister's background in trade, foreign affairs will help him

Shruti Shekar
·Telecom & Tech Reporter
·5-min read
Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs Francois-Philippe Champagne speaks to media at a cabinet retreat in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada September 14, 2020.  REUTERS/Blair Gable
The new Innovation Minister, Francois-Philippe Champagne, will have many files to take over but his personality will help him, say experts. Image credit: Reuters

The newly appointed Innovation, Science, and Economic Minister François-Philippe Champagne’s “smart and dynamic” personality and previous background in trade and foreign affairs set him up well for his new portfolio, industry leaders say.

Champagne, who was previously Canada’s trade minister, foreign affairs minister, and infrastructure minister, was sworn in during Canada’s first-ever virtual cabinet shuffle ceremony on Tuesday. The ceremony was held after his predecessor, Navdeep Bains, announced he would not be running in the next federal election so he can spend more time with his family.

Bains has been in politics for the past 16 years and has been innovation minister since 2015.

Rohinton Medhora, president of the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), said in an interview that Champagne’s knowledge in international work and business prepares him for some of the major files that fall under the innovation minister’s agenda.

“Champagne, in particular, with trade and then foreign affairs, in between infrastructure, has all the ingredients it takes to lead the issues that Canada face,” he said. “He’s an extremely smart and dynamic individual. He has a very capable bureaucracy to brief him and back him up and so as transitions go, I hope this is one of the smoother ones.”

Navdeep Bains, Canada's Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, speaks Wednesday, April 25, 2018, on Lake Union in Seattle at a news conference announcing that a partnership between Harbour Air and Kenmore Air will start offering direct one-hour seaplane flights between downtown Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia, beginning Thursday. Officials said Microsoft President Brad Smith was a key proponent of bridging the 120-mile gap between the two cities, which is commonly referred to as the Cascadia Innovation Corridor. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Navdeep Bains announced he is not running in the next election and is stepping down as Innovation Minister. Image credit: Associated Press

Medhora said it was sad to see Bains leave because he was a “fixture for five years.”

“He was considered to be decent. If you’ve dealt with him he was a decent, thoughtful person. He was immersed in this file, the way very few other ministers have the luxury of being, which is to say being in it for five years on a very complex, technical file, he had mastered what is a massive bureaucracy,” he said.

Among various objectives during his time as minister, Bains made efforts to reduce mid-range phone plans by 25 per cent within two years, launched the Digital Charter in 2019 and subsequently introduced the proposed Digital Charter Implementation Act to modernize Canada’s privacy laws.

Bains has been involved in the decision regarding whether Huawei should be banned from participating in the 5G network development in Canada. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he worked with Canadian companies to manufacture personal protective equipment. He was also involved in launching the Canadian Supercluster Initiative to help local tech companies leverage their skills through research and development.

Champagne’ foreign relations background will help with taxing big tech

Dwayne Winseck, a media industry researcher at Carleton University in Ottawa, echoed Medhora’s sentiments about Bains. He added that Champagne’s relationships with foreign counterparts might help push the agenda to tax big tech companies, an effort that Bains tried to do.

“I wonder with his position, up until now was the federal Minister of Foreign Affairs, might give him those contacts at the international level to work hand in glove with his counterparts, across the E.U. in the U.S. basically across the OECD countries to bring home things like the promised digital tax,” he said.

Ben Bergen, executive director of the Council of Canadian Innovators, said in an interview that Champagne’s ability to negotiate terms for the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) was an indication of how his communication skills will benefit him.

“Especially with the CPTPP he really took into account the concerns around tech and making sure that voice was heard in part of those negotiations,” he said. “So in terms of stakeholder engagement perspective, I think he’ll do a fantastic job.”

Bergen also highlighted Champagne’s experience as vice-president and senior counsel of ABB Group, a technology firm that operates in more than 100 countries.

“I think this will help frame the minister’s ability to understand the significance and importance of the innovation economy and the fact that intellectual property and data are really at the centre of that,” he said.

John Lawford, executive director and general counsel of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, said in an interview he was confident that Champagne will do a great job in the role but was concerned about his relationship-building skills with those in the business community.

“Because of the role that I play, I’m concerned that he has industry-friendly tendencies. In previous roles, he has something of a business background and probably will feel at ease in dealing with large telco’s CEOs,” he said.

However, Lawford added that Champagne has been known to be a “mover and a shaker and gets stuff done,” which will likely benefit many of the telecom files that were under Bains.

“If nothing else, having a decisive and clear message from ISED going forward, if that’s possible on telecom files, to me is the most important,” he said.

A Rogers spokesperson said in an email the company thanked Bains for his service and that it was looking forward to working with Champagne.

“As the pandemic has shown, it is critical that we encourage investment in network technology, the backbone of the Canadian economy,” the spokesperson said.

A Bell spokesperson relayed similar statements as Rogers in an email.

Yahoo Finance Canada reached out to Telus for a statement on the ministerial changes but did not get a response in time for publication.