Ottawa ‘bending over backward’ for foreign tech giants at the expense of homegrown stars, insiders say

The centrepiece of Canada’s innovation strategy is the $950-million “supercluster” initiative. The goal, according to the federal government, is for companies of all sizes, academia and the non-profit sector to collaborate on new technologies, to spur economic growth and create jobs. As part of the Innovation Nation series, the Financial Post is taking an in-depth look at each of the five regional projects, and provide continuing coverage of their progress. You can find all of our coverage here.

Carl Rodrigues recalls being thrilled in August 2017 to have a sitting prime minister visit him at a Toronto hotel to discuss the future of his burgeoning company.

Just one detail was different than what he was hoping for. The visiting prime minister was not Justin Trudeau, but Ireland’s Leo Varadkar, who made a point of making SOTI Inc. one of the few private-sector companies he visited during a summer trip to Canada.

SOTI had written to Trudeau seven months earlier, inviting him to attend the unveiling of its future headquarters in Mississauga, Ont., which will eventually support some 1,100 jobs focused on mobility and the Internet of Things technologies.

But Trudeau declined to visit the potentially important research facility, though he did find the time, in January 2018, to visit several foreign tech juggernauts in Silicon Valley, including Inc. chief executive Jeff Bezos.

Canadian executives roundly consider such mild snubs from the Trudeau government to be a familiar occurrence, saying it points to Ottawa’s ready embrace of foreign tech companies at the expense of domestic firms, making it hard for scrappy young tech firms to find the attention and affordable workers they need to grow to commercial scale.

Rodrigues, the founder and chief executive of SOTI, is broadly supportive of Ottawa’s efforts to spur innovation, but said there is an instinctual, and often contradictory, support of Canadian companies’ multinational rivals that could have real consequences for the country’s broader economy.