My thoughts on solving the Canadian "innovation gap"


Okay - pointing out failures and absurdities in a document written on behalf of our political masters is fun, but let me be serious for a moment here...

The "Harper Government" has published a new Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy. The problem that the Strategy is is addressing is that

Canadian firms must invest in R&D to develop innovative ideas, access new markets and bring solutions to challenges in our daily lives.

To this end, the Government has

implemented policy changes to provide a more comprehensive and coordinated suite of business innovation support programs focused on industry needs. We also removed obstacles and barriers to innovation, and addressed gaps in the current program and policy mix.

And yet

We see that while businesses in OECD countries spend an average of 1.63 percent of GDP on R&D, in Canada, the figure was only 1.11 percent in 2006 ($16.5 billion) and this fell to 0.88 percent ($16.2 billion) by 2012. Out of 34 OECD countries, this drop takes us from 16th to 22nd place.

You can almost hear the desperation in the Strategy, the government crying out "We're doing everything you asked for, why isn't it working? What more could you possibly want?"

And that is the problem. The real root problem is not the "science ecosystem" and it probably is not even the "innovation ecosystem" (well, not until the Government decided to screw it up) - it's that Canadian industry refuses to put money into R&D. It's certainly not that money isn't there, it's simply that - for whatever reason - businesses in Canada just won't put money into R&D so that they can take the great science and engineering talent in the country and use it to create long term wealth and benefits to Canadians.

So what is the solution? Well, I would suggest that the solution is not to mollycoddle industry by changing everything so that "innovation" is the responsibility of taxpayer-funded institutions.

Instead, I suggest exactly the opposite. Reset Canadian Federal science to the way it was before Harper et al. came to power. Let the market take over. Force industry to do more R&D, to become more innovative. And if the companies refuse to put money into R&D, well, let them fall by the wayside and let companies with more vision take their places.

Time for some tough love folks.