And the engine of Canadian resourcefulness is...

And the engine of Canadian resourcefulness is…

Memo to Trudeau: Canada’s resourcefulness engine is in the same province as its resource engine

A man photographs the sculpture Wonderland by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, in downtown Calgary, Alta., on Sunday October 18, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

A man photographs the sculpture Wonderland by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, in downtown Calgary, Alta., on Sunday October 18, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s pledge at Davos last week to change the world’s view of Canada from a country known for its “resources” to one recognized for its “resourcefulness” has come in for some well-deserved criticism. The implied message was that resource extraction is somehow beneath Canada because it requires mere brawn, whereas the country should instead aim to be known for what’s “between our ears.”

Digging stuff out of the ground, of course, is far more complicated than Trudeau made it out to be. And even he seemed to walk back the comment when MPs returned to the Hill this week, with Trudeau declaring—rather convolutedly—that his resourcefulness includes resources: “When we talk about the resourcefulness of Canadians, we include the natural resources sector and the people who work extremely hard to innovate, to create technologies, to build on science, to ensure that while they are working hard we are creating the very best of value to everything we have to offer the world.”

So here’s a question: if resourcefulness is to be the all-encompassing engine of Canadian growth, where will it be grounded? Arguably one of the best ways to gauge a country’s ability to innovate, and hence be resourceful, is to look at patent filings. Thanks to a newly updated OECD patent database, which drills down to the regional level across member nations, we’re able to see exactly how innovative Canadian cities have been.

If the last 15 years or so of patent applications are any indication, Canada’s resourcefulness engine is in the same province as its resource engine. Between 2002 and 2012 Calgary saw the biggest jump in the number of annual patent applications of any area in the country.

Calgary isn’t neccessarily the largest source of new patent applications—that would be Vancouver, followed by Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto. (You can see the top 10 cities for patents and how they’ve changed since 1990 in a chart I made here. All city names refer to their greater metropolitan areas.) What sets Calgary apart, though, is the remarkable increase in the number of patent applications over a time when application growth stumbled or flatlined elsewhere. For instance, going as far back as 2000 the number of patents coming out of Toronto and Montreal remained almost unchanged, despite ups and downs along the way.

Since the OECD data doesn’t break out what types of patents these were in sufficient detail, it’s impossible to say how many applications from Calgary related to the resource sector. And of course, since the database update only brings us to 2012, it doesn’t reflect what’s happened since the oil crash brought Alberta’s energy sector to its knees.

But there’s good reason to think that even after the oil bust, Alberta will punch above its weight in patents. In 2014 the C.D. Howe Institute released an analysis of several decades of patent activity in Canada. When measured on a per capita basis, Alberta and Ontario lead the country in patent applications. In the case of Alberta, it didn’t seem to matter whether oil was booming or not. “Alberta outperforms both the national average and the other Western provinces, suggesting that it is a hub for patenting activity,” the report’s authors note.

patent CD Howe chart


That report should also serve as a warning to Trudeau, however, as he attempts to project a new economic persona for Canada on the world stage. Since the early 2000s, patent applications in all provinces have been on the decline, on a per capita basis.

Maybe it’s a good thing we have all those resources to back us up in case our resourcefulness doesn’t live up to Trudeau’s billing.



And the engine of Canadian resourcefulness is…

  1. Why is that comment such a problem? He’s not saying there is anything wrong with selling resources, rather that we would like to be known for more than that. If it wasn’t true, the dollar wouldn’t have collapsed with the price of oil.

    On another note, perhaps you could write about other measures of resourcefulness that have more credibility. The quality of patents means more than the number. Consider for a moment that resourcefulness is about how we handle the situation we’re in. By definition it I the ability and creativity to cope with difficulties. I think now would be a great time for resourcefulness, no?

  2. Does anyone else sense the Irony in someone like Justin Trudeau talking about what’s between one’s ears?

    He had better be careful…..he really set himself up with that line. the previous Prime Minister had more intellect in his baby finger that the current PM has in his entire cabinet.

    • No, the only irony is that your talking about what’s between anyone ears.

      • Don’t like the truth eh, J. Edwards.

        Face it….even you know that Harper had more brains than trudeau could ever hope for. Justin looks like a white lab rat in comparison.

        • How embarrassing for Harper then to have been so soundly defeated by someone as stupid as Trudeau.

  3. I like the two new skyscrapers there. People made a big deal about someone in MB paying for the block airport sculptures, but this skyscraper is the real deal, your perspective of it changes from different angles at its base. Our history is being resourceful. You take the Scottish Enlightenment brainpan, and you place it in our geography and climate, and you get innovation. Here, AB is last:
    Which is sad. 120 years ago, a migration of Americans came to SK and AB, and those provinces were unable to resist being stupid. Back then, farmers were dumb. I see a lot of the NDP in B.Sanders. I’m really not sure the history of the USA socialist movement, but in Canada the NDP fails because it doesn’t defend freedom and quality of life on this world with a sword. Too much technology and you lose, too little technology and you lose. You need the University minds and for people to get graduate degrees. There is no reason why that chart that measures the rise in oil prices, can’t reflect new Masters and Doctorate degrees in AB.
    I’m planning on using a jamming peripheral to keep WMD info from being hacked. As it stands, the 75% AB small biz grant might be useful. But a real innovation will be perhaps safe magnetic particles injected in our brain blood and imaged. This can keep crazy people out of WMD positions (such as future AB Premiers as diseases are partly Provincial in a few ways including chicken numbers). A real innovation is to remake our democracy to have utilitarian people in positions of power and able to vote on the chain of command. It requires the same kind of resourcefulness that Canada has demonstrated throughout history, but now requires taxes to fund education.

  4. How much of these applications were retained. Fair enough I can file thousands of patent, but until they are approved they are not patents.
    Also, if you look at the amount of patent distributed per capita, Ontario is by VERY VERY far the first province of all in 2012, fallowed by Alberta and Quebec. While in 2000, the province of Quebec was the first by VERY VERY far. This is due to the cyclic nature of innovation, Oil prices were high between 2002-2012 so oil companies funded R-D alot, while manufacturing was hit hard between 2002-2012 so R-D was dryer in this period.
    Then, this doesn’t consider the origin of the applicant. A company or person in New-Brunswick will apply in Calgary for his patent if the patent office in Calgary is specialized in his application. Same goes for a company branch in B-C that have their offices in Calgary.
    My last concern is that innovations don’t require patents. Even if they are a good tool, many companies won’t go through the harsh process of patents or can’t go through the patent process. Patents are one perspective of innovation for the promotion and protection of ideas.
    My conclusion, your article is rubbish and you should correct the many flaws in it.

  5. Kirby: “…from a country known for its “resources” to one recognized for its “resourcefulness””

    Actually he never said “from”, he never said anything about forgetting our resources or anything else. He did say we were resourceful. Something that has been overlooked for the last 10 years.

    Kirby: “Digging stuff out of the ground, of course, is far more complicated than Trudeau made it out to be.”

    And what were these statements that said the “Digging stuff out of the ground” was uncomplicated? He made no statements at all on this.

    Kirby: “…with Trudeau declaring—rather convolutedly—that his resourcefulness includes resources”

    Why is this convoluted? You just said the same thing in your previous sentence!

    Kirby: “So here’s a question: if resourcefulness is to be the all-encompassing engine of Canadian growth, where will it be grounded?”

    Pretty crappy question unless you want the government to dictate the answer.

    Kirby should toughen up his thin skin and perhaps admit that there IS more to Canada than resource extraction. I’m glad Trudeau has recognized this truth.

    • I, on the other hand, am glad Trudeau is proving the truth he’s just not very deep.

      • Great Walls…here’s the fun part.

        Trudeau KNOWS people know he’s not too bright, but he is bright enough to know that people don’t care he’s not too bright.

        There is a kind of genius in that type of idiocy.

  6. About 20 years ago, the Western Development Museum in Saskatchewan created the Made in Saskatchewan exhibition – the research showed an abundance of products and technology invented in SK including the first ATM.

  7. I am very dubious of this analysis. What is being measured here is NOT patents being filed or awarded. Rather it is PCT applications which most high-tech companies do not bother with. Most high-tech startups file US patents (their main market) and leave it there without bothering with the PCT application for world-wide priority approval, which if granted requires extensive maintenance fees to each country.