TORONTO – One of the former heads of BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion has been appointed to lead a federal agency dedicated to the growth of clean technology companies in Canada.
Jim Balsillie will become chair of Sustainable Development Technology Canada under a five-year agreement with the federal agency, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver announced on Tuesday.
The move follows Balsillie’s exit from the Waterloo, Ont.-based smartphone maker in March 2012.
In his new role, Balsillie will take over the responsibilities of outgoing chair Juergen Puetter, the president of Aeolis Wind Power, and support projects that develop new technologies that promote sustainable development.
“Being competitive means many things. It means being agile and efficient. It means being adaptable and lean,” Balsillie told reporters at the announcement.
“Increasingly, it also means satisfying public expectations of social and environmental responsibility.”
The agency, which was established in 2001, received $325 million as part of this year’s federal budget to draw more attention to projects that address climate change and the environment.
“I know SDTC has a strong track record of delivering economic and environmental results for the government of Canada,” said Balsillie.
“Recent studies have shown revenues by Canadian clean tech companies could climb as high as $62 billion by 2020, creating as many 126,000 jobs in the process.”
In 2010, Balsillie was appointed to the United Nations Secretary General’s High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability.
But he is most known for his instrumental role in the growth of Research In Motion during its rise to prominence.
At the age of 33, the energetic Harvard graduate invested $250,000 of his own money into the company by re-mortgaging his house and shared the chief executive position with RIM founder Mike Lazaridis.
Balsillie then became a vocal supporter of early incarnations of the BlackBerry by handing them out for free at technology conferences and mingling with Wall Street investors to drum up interest.
Oliver called Balsillie a “Canadian visionary” for his work within the Waterloo tech community, and for founding the Balsillie School of International Affairs, a private, local research centre for global governance.
When asked about his position on the Alberta oil sands, Balsillie said he was still “new to the file” and would be focusing on helping green companies commercialize.
Oliver, however, was quick to defend the oil sands. The minister said he saw the SDTC as “integral” to the government’s energy objectives.
“Science and technology has been critical in diminishing the environmental footprint (in the oil sands),” he said.
“We have reduced the per barrel emissions by 26 per cent in the previous 10 years.”