Canada’s new Minister of Small Business wants Canada to go global

mary ng

In mid-July, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shuffled his cabinet ahead of the 2019 federal election, with mandates that reflected pressing challenges like strained trade relations with the US.

Five new Ministers were added in the cabinet shuffle, among them new Minister of Small Business and Export Promotion Mary Ng. Taking over the portfolio from Bardish Chagger, former Minister of Small Business and Tourism, Ng’s role reflects the government’s new focus on helping Canadian companies export to global markets.

In his mandate letter to the Minister, Trudeau provided background on choosing Ng for the role: she was on the team developing Canada’s intellectual property strategy, and advocated for Markham’s VentureLab to be included in Ontario’s manufacturing supercluster. Speaking with BetaKit, Ng said that the government wanted to modernize the work of the Trade Commissioner Service, which is already operating in 150 countries.

“It’s a real opportunity for us to be able to increase the number of our SMEs [growing] by exporting.”

“They’re the ones who are on the ground, who can help our SMEs understand, do market analysis, they understand where the customers might be, the customers that might be in a certain country, and who the co-investors could be in a country,” Ng said of the government’s renewed focus on exports. “This is a real resource for our Canadian SMEs.”

While Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains is often the government face within the tech community, Ng suggested that their roles are complementary. “SMEs are companies whether they are restaurants and flower shops and retailers, but…I’ve done work with startup companies and Canada is a country of innovators,” said Ng. “So SMEs are all-encompassing; it will include the restaurants and the flower shops, but it will also be a whole lot of our innovators, and I work closely with Minister Bains. It’s going to be great work to be doing together.”

Ng is also overseeing part of the women’s entrepreneurship strategy, an overall $2 billion commitment from the government to increase the number of women entrepreneurs and support women entrepreneurs in the country. While that mandate includes provisions like VCCI funding contigent on firms’ commitment to diversity and more investment capital to women-owned businesses, Ng is specifically overseeing the export aspects of that strategy.

In budget 2018, the government earmarked $250 million over three years to Export Development Canada for financing and insurance solutions to women-owned and women-led businesses that are exporting. In that budget, $10 million was earmarked specifically for women entrepreneurs to access export services.

In late September, Ng announced the launch of the $85 million WES Ecosystem Fund, which is meant to help women entrepreneurs address challenges in exporting. While information on how the program will work is still scarce, the funding is allocated in a national/multi-regional stream ($15 million) and a regional stream ($70 million).

“I want to make sure by the time I’m done, that I am promoting the services and supports that are available to our Canadian businesses so they can access those markets utilizing a service like the trade commissioner service,” said Ng.

Before the cabinet shuffle, the government had already announced several programs related to export, including a $50 million program to give startups matching contributions of up to $100,000 towards export development costs announced in 2016. BDC and Export Development Canada also partnered to provide $50 million to exporting startups over two years in June 2018.

However, the new appointment came during a time of tension between Canada’s largest trading partner, the US, as NAFTA negotiations were underway. BetaKit spoke with Ng before the new USMCA agreement was in place, and asked if the new appointment was in anticipation of further challenges. Ng responded by saying diversification is “always a good thing,” and emphasized the office’s role in educating companies.

“We’ve already negotiated agreements like the one with the European Union and with Asia-Pacific countries, and we want our businesses to be accessing—of course, the United States—but also these international markets,” said Ng. “It’s a real opportunity for me to be working with small businesses to help them grow. Only 11 to 12 percent of SMEs today in Canada are exporting. We know that companies that are exporting pay higher wages, they grow faster, so it’s a real opportunity for us to be able to increase the number of our SMEs [growing] by exporting.”

Feature photo via Twitter.

Jessica Galang

Jessica Galang

Jessica Galang is BetaKit's News Editor. Follow her on Twitter @jessicagalangg or send her pitches to jessica.galang@betakit.com.