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If Trudeau really wants to spur innovation and the economy, he should buy from the little guys

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For years, Canada has sent trade negotiators to Washington to fight “Buy America” policies, so adding a home bias to procurement would be hypocritical. But that fight is lost, at least for now. We know what President Donald Trump thinks about free trade, and former vice-president Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, hasproposed spending US$400 billion on products “made by American workers.” Canada’s free traders should concentrate on erasing barriers between provinces, as there will be no prizes for the virtuous in the international arena.

Some will decry the return of “industrial policy,” an old idea with a poor track record that nonetheless is guiding much of the thinking in China and Europe, where policy-makers realize that new corporate champions will emerge as commerce moves online and the world gets serious about climate change.

But a more aggressive use of procurement shouldn’t be viewed as a make-work scheme. Last month,, an Ottawa-based developer of software that monitors the behaviour of algorithms powered by artificial intelligence, won a contract to educate Transport Canada on how to deploy AI ethically. It’s an emerging field, and one where Canada has a lead thanks to a clutch of companies such as NuEnergy. But to keep that lead, those firms will need some business so they can scale.

“We have no interest in becoming dependent on government,” said Niraj Bhargava, NuEnergy’s chief executive, who has taken advantage of the federal wage subsidy to help survive the recession. “We prefer to revenue-finance the company.”

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