Global News correspondents are sitting down with the new cabinet ministers who will shape policy in this country, to find out where they came from and where they want to take this country. Global National will air their stories in a new series called The Ministers.
OTTAWA – Navdeep Bains knows a good idea when he sees one.
That’s why the new innovation minister took a tour of Shopify, one of the country’s most successful e-commerce companies.
He’s here to learn how Canada’s businesses can do better.
“It’s about punching above your weight, it’s about being ambitious, it’s about being forward-looking, it’s being optimistic. And that’s really the tone set by the prime minister in this government,” he says.
His position used to be called industry minister. Under Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, it’s innovation, science and economic development.
It’s a sign, perhaps, that in tough economic times, Canada has to think outside the box.
For Bains, that includes developments in clean technology, new ideas emerging from Canadian universities, and digital entrepreneurship.
“It’s an exciting time for our country,” he says.
“We have our challenges, the economy is not growing as fast as we would like it grow, but we really feel if we have a strong, ambitious innovation agenda – almost like a culture of innovation – I think that’s very important going forward.”
As Bains works to move the country forward, he finds inspiration in looking back on his own family history.
“My parents came from India in the early 1970… I was born in Toronto, I grew up at Jane and Finch, and spent most of my life in the region of Peel – Brampton and Mississauga.”
His father started a kitchen cabinet company from nothing, and Bains watched it grow into a successful company.
“When my parents came here they struggled a bit, and that forced them out of their comfort zone a bit, and that forced them to work harder and smarter and better,” he says.
But Bains has experienced his own personal challenges. Growing up in two cultures wasn’t always easy.
“I did encounter racism, but I fundamentally believe it made me stronger, because it really forced me to ask some tough questions about myself, about my faith, about who I am, about my identity.”
That identity was forged in the public service, volunteering at soup kitchens and homework clubs in the Toronto suburbs of Brampton and Mississauga.
He entered politics on a whim in 2004. And to his surprise, he won.
“I decided, as they say, put my turban into the ring,” Bains says. He held his Mississauga seat until 2011, when he lost to former Conservative Eve Adams, before winning again last October.
At only 38, Bains represents the new face of Canada in the most diverse cabinets the country has ever seen.
Still, Bains says there is a ways to go.
“Equality of opportunity is still something that we’re striving towards. We’ve come a long way, but we still have our challenges,” he says.
The country he now helps to lead has changed dramatically from the one he grew up in, and Bains hopes the path he helped forge will benefit his two young daughters, Nanki and Kirpa.
“I see the world through their eyes. They really mean the world to me and it’s all about making sure all the hard work my parents went through…and the investments they made in me – I want to make similar investments in my girls,” he says.