Prime Minister Trudeau Discusses Canada’s Tech Future at Go North

Google held its second annual Go North conference, bringing together some of the brightest minds in Canada to speak on AI, entrepreneurship and how to build a better country.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was among the speakers, and he took to the stage with the chairman of Alphabet, Eric Schmidt. Alphabet is the parent company of Google and other smaller subsidiaries, including Sidewalk Labs and DeepMind, both of whom had representatives present to speak as well.

The 45-minute discussion revolved around politics and Canada’s space in developing individual cities as well as the entire country to become a destination for talent and innovation. The main topic of conversation was to look at Canada’s AI model as a source for global innovation. Prime Minister Trudeau and Schmidt spoke like old friends, trading laughs and often coming back to the differences between the U.S. and Canada.

Schmidt began by casting a wide net, questioning the Prime Minister on what exactly he was trying to accomplish with his leadership of Canada. Trudeau began by noting that the pace of change in the country is both as fast as it has ever been, and the slowest it will ever be when compared to the future.

“There are really only two choices: try to fight the change and resist and hold on to what we have,” said Trudeau. “Or decide to go with it, get in front of it and help shape the way things are going to go.”

The Prime Minister went on to explain that there are distinct benefits from following that second option. By driving benefits, the country will reap the rewards and minimize any kind of big disruption. On top of this, Canada has a lot to offer to the conversation in terms of its talents, policies and general outlook on the future, so there is no reason the country should be left out of the conversation.

PM Trudeau and Alphabet Chairman Eric Schmidt on stage.
PM Trudeau and Alphabet Chairman Eric Schmidt on stage.

The conversation shifted to immigration, a point where Schmidt complimented Canada, pointing to a recent move by the government to welcome one million new immigrants over the next three years.

“There’s something about Canada—some say it’s the weather, but it’s more than that,” said Trudeau. “We developed a society where it was important to be there for our neighbours. This developed an identity that created an openness to others.”

Immigration would be a key theme throughout the conversation, even as Schmidt steered the discussion towards the Waterloo-Toronto corridor and the fact that it is home to the most startups outside of Silicon Valley. Trudeau wasted no time saying that the corridor is home to amazing talent and educational opportunities—but something had to change.

“Well, quite frankly, it’s recognizing that we’re tired of watching Google poach away our best graduates,” said Trudeau to laughter and applause. “This corridor for talent and growth potential means that instead of losing our brains to go down south, we’re actually seeing a lot of people come to Canada and invest.”

“As to what that corridor will give, I think I’m as excited as anyone else to say that we’re not entirely sure,” he added “But I know that investing in Canadians and asking them to challenge each other and the world is really exciting.”

Schmidt went on to thank Canada for inventing the future of AI and machine learning, saying the companies controlled by Alphabet now use it throughout their entire businesses to drive success.

“Put it on the record that Google owes Canada,” joked Trudeau.

The conversation moved to the recent announcement by Toronto and every level of government that Sidewalk Labs would be working with the city to develop Quayside, a smart waterfront neighbourhood. Trudeau noted that the waterfront project provides an amazing opportunity to innovate with the ability to turn an almost “blank-canvas” into something that the world will look to for inspiration. City-growing has happened very organically, so this project provides a great chance to see what can be done differently.

“I think there’s an opportunity here to reinvent the wheel in a way that has a lot of people thinking differently. We’re happy that Sidewalk labs is doing this,” said Trudeau.

Schmidt finished the conversation by looking to the future and praising Canada’s ability to welcome in innovation and positive change.

“Mr. Prime Minister, you grew up in a time that would leave many people cynical, yet you have emerged with extraordinary optimism,” said Schmidt. “I do a lot of this with leaders around the world, and there is no leader who can articulate a vision of innovation and growth like you.”

Go North  continues throughout the day and will feature more speakers discussing the future of innovation and technology in Canada and the world.