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The good and the bad of Canada’s digital success story

Nov 16, 2016

Tom Jenkins

Canada is winning the digital race – for now.

Tom Jenkins, Chairman of the Board of OpenText, outlined the good and the bad of Canada’s digital success to Ivey HBA students at the 10th annual Thomas d’Aquino Lecture on Leadership, hosted by the Ian O. Ihnatowycz Institute for Leadership.

He began his talk with the good.

“It’s a very unCanadian thing to say, but we’re winning,” Jenkins says. “And digital is absolutely the most important thing to win.”

The proof? Weeks ago, multinational firm Thomson Reuters embraced its roots and moved back to its home in Toronto. General Motors has declared the heart of its research in autonomous cars will be in Canada. One of only six worldwide locations for Google is in Waterloo.

The Waterloo-Toronto corridor is the second largest information communications technology (ICT) cluster in North America, next only to Silicon Valley, Jenkins said. In Waterloo, 2,000 start-ups have been created in just the last five years.

“We get up to bat and we hit home runs,” he said. “There’s only 35 million of us. For us to have so many digital companies – it’s amazing.”

Although we’re doing well in the early stages of the digital race, Jenkins said, it’s not time to sit back and rest.

And then came the bad.

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The implications of ever-changing technology

What began as an uplifting discussion on Canada’s leadership in the digital world quickly turned into the sober realization that technology is changing quickly. Is Canada prepared?

Jenkins spoke about the implications of rapidly-changing technology in five major public policy issues facing Canada.

Productivity and innovation

  • Jenkins was straightforward with HBA students – “We’re educating you about jobs that are disappearing.” He warned them that there will be massive unemployment in some sectors as machines begin to replace jobs. Certain roles, such as truck drivers, Uber drivers, even bankers and lawyers, could all be eliminated in the next 10 years.


  • There’s a lot of talk about building better infrastructure: safer roads, bridges, and railways. But with the impact of the sharing economy and driverless vehicles, do we need to invest in this kind of infrastructure? Or should we look more towards spending money on digital infrastructure?

Information and security

  • Digital security needs to be treated with the utmost importance. Data is a global currency, Jenkins said, and must be protected.

Governance and machines

  • Brain development hadn’t changed in hundreds of thousands of years, until now, Jenkins said. Growing up with machines has younger generations concentrating on the integration of information rather than just the storage of data. We need to adapt to fit younger generations’ strengths and needs.

Talent and education

  • Our education system, designed before our reliance on computers and the Internet, needs to be updated. Jenkins also called for less memory-based tests, since Millennials don’t learn through memorization.

As part of the d’Aquino Lecture, Jenkins also spoke in Ottawa to more than 130 CEOs and leaders from the public, private and not-for-profit sectors, as well as ambassadors, deputy ministers, senators, academics, and The Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin, Chief Justice of Canada. 

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