Innovation: A Canadian value
May 12, 2016
Innovation is hot topic these days, and for good reason. What is innovation? It's a mindset. Innovation is daring to do things smarter, faster and better. We can debate how to define it, but, more importantly, I see consensus around why innovation matters. The innate desire to improve our quality of life is what makes us human, but it's also what drives the jobs of today and of the future.
We live in a transformative period. International impetus to act on climate change has accelerated the transition to a low-carbon future. The world economy is weak, with tepid demand and persistent volatility in financial markets. Technology continues to change all aspects of our lives. Entire economic sectors are being reshaped by the Internet of Things, additive manufacturing, clean tech and promising new areas such as regenerative medicine and quantum technologies. Finally, there are mounting concerns about rising inequality, within and across nations, with louder calls to leverage technology and innovation for social good.
The key to securing Canada's place in this new industrial age is innovation. It's what defines success in the modern economy, and I believe it needs to be among our defining values as a nation.
Canada is uniquely placed to excel in an economy that is as global as it is digital. We should boast more about our highly educated population, strong public investment in research and development, generous R&D tax incentives, and strong international reputation for scientific research and discovery. With less than 0.5 percent of the world's population, we publish close to 4 percent of publications and scientific papers.
We start some 11,000 net new businesses every year, a credit to our low taxes and strong regulatory environment. Our diverse and welcoming society seeds innovation and entrepreneurship.
At the same time, in my frequent conversations with them, Canadian CEOs of small and large companies in all sectors point out continued challenges around attracting and retaining talent, scaling-up small firms, burdensome regulations and limited access to capital.
Couple this with the fact that in 2012, Canada ranked 22nd among OECD countries for business expenditure on R&D intensity—also the second lowest in G7. Relative to the U.S., our labour productivity gap has widened since the year 2000. We also persistently underachieve when it comes to bringing innovations to market.
Innovation is fundamental to our continued growth and job creation, and it's impossible to predict where and how disruption will happen. It can be in a start-up garage in Vancouver, a mine in Saskatoon or a fishery in Saint John.
We can be certain though that how countries anticipate and respond to disruption will determine whether or not they will be successful in the global economy.
It's clear we need to take some bold steps.
We made a down payment in Budget 2016 with investments such as those in our innovation ecosystem of networks and clusters, in digital infrastructure and in clean tech. In the coming months, I will be building out these and other key areas for action as part of a national innovation agenda.
For example, we have to help our start-ups grow in Canada too—we need those jobs here at home. In particular, Canada can capitalize on the young but rapidly expanding global clean tech market to give our start-ups in this area their best chance to continue to grow.
We must advance our digital economy across all sectors. We need firms to embrace investments in technology like never before, including companies in traditional sectors using new technologies to reach their full potential. This is about infrastructure and also education and skills development for Canadians to succeed in a digital world.
Finally, there must be bold action to cultivate an entrepreneurial and creative society. Can we get to a place where "innovation" is thought of as a core Canadian value? I believe so, if we properly leverage our talent and our diversity.
Government is but one voice in a national effort. Strategic connections among businesses, post-secondary institutions, governments and other innovation stakeholders are critical to transforming today's ideas into the products and services of tomorrow.
To be successful, this will be a whole-of-society initiative, requiring a fundamental shift in thinking.
My job will be to bring to bear a whole-of-government leadership in a national innovation effort that is as central to our country as the railways, social reforms, refugee settlements, trade agreements and environmental protections of proud Canadian governments past.
Around the world, nations face choices on how they organize themselves to collaborate and compete globally.
When I think about the Canada we want in 20 or 30 years, I think of my daughters and the opportunities I want for them. They are the same opportunities every parent wants for their children: a good job, a roof over their heads and a bright future.
It is Canada's time to lead.
The Honourable Navdeep Bains
Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development
Commentary originally appeared in the Toronto Star on Friday May 12, 2016.
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