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Everybody keeps talking about innovation

Canada’s inefficiencies might have more to do with the nature of the economy than how the government hands out funding


 

Innovation is a hot topic these days. When is it not? Apparently, Canadian businesses are falling behind their counterparts in the rest of the world when it comes to research and development and the answer is for business to develop closer links with universities.

Yesterday the government announced awards for “innovative collaboration between businesses and universities.” These awards come just over two weeks after the government announced they would review the way business-focused research and development was funded in Canada.

While this review will mostly be looking at the private sector, it will also look at funding for university research that has been, or has the potential to be, commercialized. The government does seem to be more concerned with the private sector than post-secondary institutions.

“Canadian business spends less per capita on research and development, innovation and commercialization than most other industrialized countries, despite the Government of Canada investing more than $7 billion annually to encourage business R&D” said Minister of Veteran Affairs Jean-Pierre Blackburn in a press release.

Today’s awards also provide a strong incentive to business to support “innovation.” Winning companies get the “opportunity to hire [a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada] Industrial R&D Fellow for two years, with NSERC supporting the industrial portion of the fellow’s salary.”

It’s not just the federal government talking about research and innovation, the Conference Board of Canada released a report saying that Ontario colleges are “stimulating applied research and development (R&D) and accelerating much-needed innovation.”

Business leaders are also talking about innovation.

On Oct. 13, the day before the federal government announced their review, a business group released their own report calling for greater cooperation between universities and business when it comes to research and development. That group, the Coalition for Action on Innovation in Canada, is headed by former Liberal cabinet minister John Manley, now president of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, and Paul Lucas, the president and CEO of pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline.

With Canada’s changing economy, this focus on innovation from both the government and the private sector does make sense but Canada’s innovation inefficiencies may have more to do with the nature of our economy than the way the government hands out funding or private sector willingness. The large role that natural resources play in our economy and the large number of branch — rather than head — offices in Canada have created a situation where innovation isn’t a priority for business. If this is the case, it’s going to take a lot more than financial reviews and awards to really spur innovation in Canada.


 

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