Accelerating innovation for jobs and growth

June 5, 2017

When my father left India for Canada in the 1970s, he had five dollars in his pocket and no friends or family here. But he was an ambitious risk taker. He worked three jobs, while my mother worked the overnight shift at a cookie factory. Their hard work eventually allowed my father to start his own cabinetry business.  

Canada owes its success to the optimism, ambition and risk taking of everyday Canadians like my parents, who worked hard for a better life for themselves and their children.

These attributes are more vital than ever, especially in a world of slow growth where the path to a better life for Canadians is through innovation. The need to drive economic growth through innovation is urgent given that globalization and technology are reshaping how Canadians live and work.

That's why the 2017 federal budget put forward an innovation and skills plan. The goal is to build a resilient economy that nurtures the creation of new industries and encourages traditional industries to compete based on innovation.

This plan will result in more well-paying jobs that strengthen the middle class. It will also equip Canadians with the skills to adapt to a changing job market and prepare for the jobs of the future.

The federal government views innovation as a system that's composed of the interconnected relationships among post-secondary institutions, start-up companies, large businesses, investors and governments. Collectively, they innovate by turning the fruits of research—ideas, discoveries and inventions—into products or services that can brought to the marketplace, scaled up and sold globally.

In Canada, key gaps along this continuum exist that are being addressed through the federal innovation and skills plan. Some of these gaps include weak links between post-secondary institutions and industry; insufficient access to capital, especially for late-stage growth companies; and lack of access to key talent that would enable homegrown companies to compete globally.

The result is that fewer high-value jobs are created, or remain in Canada once they are.

The good news is that Canada already has the building blocks for an economy driven by innovation. Our workforce is one of the most educated and highly skilled in the world. Our researchers are world leaders in turning their work into discoveries and inventions. And Canada has an enviable rate of entrepreneurs who start their own businesses.

We also have a thriving venture capital market. In fact, the amount of venture capital raised in Canada last year reached levels not seen in nearly two decades.

Canada also has competitive corporate tax rates and generous tax incentives for companies investing in research and development.

Even with these advantages, targeted efforts are needed to encourage more purposeful collaboration that would accelerate the pace of innovation, especially in high-growth areas where Canada already has a globally competitive advantage.

These sectors include advanced manufacturing, agri-food, clean technology, clean resources, health and biosciences, and digital technology.

That's why the federal government is investing nearly $1 billion to jumpstart innovation through the launch of a nationwide application process to select up to five superclusters.

These dense areas of business activity where innovation happens attract large and small companies that collaborate with post-secondary institutions to bring promising solutions to market. As engines of job creation and growth, business-led superclusters have enormous potential to energize the development of regions, sectors and new technologies.

The companies and business opportunities that are created from these partnerships equip Canadians with the advanced, specialized and in-demand skills they need for the middle-class jobs of the future.

Because this initiative is a significant public investment on a scale that has rarely been seen in this country, Canadians expect to see proposals that will maximize economic benefits to them. Indeed, the federal government expects its investment to be matched dollar for dollar by the business-led partnerships that apply under this program.

The best proposals will:

  • Develop strategies for companies to grow globally and compete internationally in their areas of focus;
  • Translate the government's investment into the creation and growth of new companies;
  • Attract private sector investment in research and development to bring new products or processes to market;
  • Create well-paying jobs that are resilient and long term; and
  • Establish a strategy to protect and advance intellectual property that is so critical to wealth creation in a knowledge economy.

The superclusters initiative will transition Canada to a high-value economy that competes globally based on the most innovative solutions and a highly skilled workforce. That's how Canadians will develop the skills for the well-paying jobs of today and tomorrow.

The Honourable Navdeep Bains
Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development

Commentary originally appeared in the The Hill Times on Monday June 5, 2017.

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