Nothing Else Matters for Quebec Tech if We Can’t Attract Talent
By Pierre-Philippe Lortie, CCI director of government affairs in Quebec
Today, the Quebec government unveiled the province’s research and investment in innovation strategy, known as SQRI to those of us who closely follow innovation and economic development policy.
CCI has been part of the consultations on this policy, calling for the Legault government to prioritize talent attraction as the core focus of a successful innovation agenda. And when the provincial budget set aside $1.3 billion for advancing this five-year strategy, we said this was a good step.
But in Quebec this week, people won’t be talking about the SQRI, because a larger issue is capturing the attention of Quebeckers right now. In recent weeks we have seen huge numbers of people take to the streets to protest Bill 96, the most expansive French language law that we have ever seen.
For more than a year, access to talent has been the top issue for the Council of Canadian Innovators right across Canada, and our members in Quebec are no different.
The tech sector’s lifeblood is highly skilled talent, and we are living in a highly competitive, globalized marketplace for the best and brightest workers. We hear stories every week about domestic companies losing talent to foreign tech giants who are aggressively recruiting and hiring remote workers.
For many of our members, economic immigration has been the most important way to find qualified workers and bring them to Canada. To fuel a company’s growth, what matters is whether somebody can speak the language of data, computer code and innovation. We’ve been engaged in the consultations on Bill 96 and we’ve clearly said that Quebec’s socio-economic attractiveness depends on strengthening the use of French in the workplace, but also on its bilingualism.
CCI’s 28 Quebec member companies are proud to be headquartered in the Belle Province, and building companies that drive economic prosperity. Quebec needs thriving tech companies for the province to be strong in the 21st century.
We’ve heard from innovators that they’re worried about the impacts of Bill 96. If the new law increases the perception that Quebec will be a difficult place to live for anybody who isn’t fluent in French, that will be an added burden for companies trying to recruit skilled workers.
The SQRI released today contains a lot of good ideas, and meaningful funding to support innovation in Quebec. We appreciate the government allocating $22.5 million over five years to support tech companies that want to scale internationally. The SQRI also includes $189 million over five years to increase the supply of skilled talent through upskilling programs. While this may help tech companies in the years to come, it won’t solve the talent crisis today. But if companies can’t recruit skilled workers internationally, and talent gravitates towards Toronto and Vancouver instead, the SQRI funding won’t make a difference.
The Quebec government needs to listen to businesses who are struggling with a talent shortage.