Brian Gallant

Brian Gallant

After being elected Premier of New Brunswick, Brian Gallant gave himself the job of Minister of Innovation within his cabinet, and today he’s continuing that focus in a new role.

After being out of office for almost a year, Gallant last month was named a special adviser to the President of Toronto-based Ryerson University, focusing on innovation, cybersecurity and law. He was also selected as an entrepreneur-in-residence specializing in government relations at the Ryerson accelerator, the DMZ.

In a phone interview last week, the former premier said he’s continuing to work with new technology because of his own desire to learn and because of the importance of innovation.

“As I was leaving politics, I had to decide what I wanted to do with my life,” said Gallant, who was only 36 when he left the premier’s office. “I wanted to continue to learn and help to make an impact on the world. One thing that came to mind that is absolutely crucial to society, to the country, to the planet, is innovation. That is such an important topic and my prediction is it will be an exponentially more important topic going forward.”

 In his new role, Gallant will work with startups at the DMZ, the university’s tech incubator that the former premier describes as “one of the best incubators in the world”. His job is to teach the founders how to work with government and how public policy is formed, though he added he’s learning as much as he’s teaching.

“I sought out this opportunity within Ryerson [because] I want to learn about innovation,” he said. “I was amazed at the work that they’re doing. It has a polytechnical past so it still has that can-do, roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-things-done attitude throughout the whole university.”

One area Gallant is focusing on is cybersecurity, an area in which he does have some experience, at least from a policy perspective. It was during his tenure as premier that New Brunswick designated cybersecurity one of the pillars of the province’s economic strategy. He looks forward to working with the Rogers Cybersecurity Catalyst, a Brampton, Ont.-based group owned by Ryerson.

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“We were very proud of our government’s work to help foster that cluster but I want to be clear that there were a lot of great things already happening,” he said, referring to his experience in New Brunswick. “We just used the government’s ‘power of convening’ and with that we were able to build up the cluster and learn about what they needed.”

He said it’s easy to under-estimate how helpful governments can be simply with their ability to get all parties – academia, the civil service, business – in the same room and work together to grow an industry.

Having spent time in Toronto and other cities in his new role, Gallant says he’s struck by the range of programs available in large cities. For example, if a young Torontonian wants to start a business in the fashion space, he or she has a range of fashion-specific accelerators to apply to.

But he adds that there are advantages to starting companies in small jurisdictions like New Brunswick.

“New Brunswick is small, but if your startup is going to need to contact a government official and a tycoon, you’re usually not able to do that in Toronto,” he said “The small nature of our region can present some challenge but it also presents opportunities and we just have to amp those up.

“If you want to meet with the mayor of Toronto, it might be difficult – lots of other people are in front of you. But if you need to meet the mayor of Saint John, you’ll probably run into him walking down the street.”