Innovation Roundtable

August 24, 2016—Montreal, QC
Across all Action Areas
Hosted by Austin Hill and Janie Béïque

Area of Focus

1) Entrepreneurial and creative society; 2) Global science excellence; 3) World-leading clusters and partnerships; 4) Growing companies and accelerating clean growth; 5) Compete in a digital world; 6) Ease of doing business.

Highlights

To improve our capacity for innovation and promote Canada abroad, the government must encourage continuous learning by forging stronger and more diverse ties among all innovation players, and facilitate immigration for specialized workers and foreign students trained in Canada. The Aboriginal population and individuals from economically weaker areas should be better represented at the university level to increase the number of graduates in Canada, which has been dropping for years.

Any innovation policy should take into account the circumstances and priorities of the provinces. Priority should also be given to measures to help medium-sized enterprises, which are not sufficiently integrated into the innovation ecosystem. Over the past ten years, a lack of wealth has been created by the sharp drop in the number of medium-sized enterprises.

Creating new research structures is not necessary—the federal government should increase its support for the nine existing research consortiums in Quebec, among others, and also provide the financial means to strengthen ties among all research and innovation players by fostering mobility among universities, businesses and NGOs, as well as government agencies. The government should also be a technological showcase.

Canada is playing digital catch-up and lacks competence. Access to high-speed Internet in rural areas is key. The government should put in place a digital strategy that anticipates future trends, such as Europe's 5G, which will be available in 2020.

Summary of Discussion

The countries with the strongest innovation support labour and talent mobility in research environments within the innovation ecosystem (e.g., South Korea, Japan, Germany, the United States and Israel).

The Government of Canada should match its measures to those of the provinces and to their priorities. There are many cooperative programs in universities, but few to bring people from businesses to universities. All the government's actions should be consistent and ensure continuity across political cycles, as the objective cannot be achieved in the short term. Canada must remain nimble in a context where things are changing very quickly.

Knowledge institutions, including research centres, should be structured like the College Centres for Technology Transfer. It is important that the government invest in a balanced manner over the long term by involving all stakeholders in the innovation system—all must have a mandate to become innovation drivers. In addition, all the organizations should be held accountable for innovation to justify every dollar of investment. A number of existing clusters in Quebec are excellent models on which to build.

Big data, genomics, food processing and artificial intelligence are cross-cutting sectors that offer many opportunities but lack the (financial) fuel needed for their deployment.

Key Implementation Considerations/Challenges

Entrepreneurship: All university undergraduate students now have access to entrepreneurship courses, so the impact of this measure will be felt four to five years from now. However, the government could fund entrepreneurship clubs in the universities and encourage business to participate. A broader vision of entrepreneurship is also needed to include social innovation projects.

Qualified workers: The machinery of government should be more flexible, particularly as regards continuous learning in the workplace and less so in school. There is also a need for campaigns to promote manufacturing sector careers and skills. Facilitating the retention of foreign talent trained in our universities should be a priority.

Digital Internet: The government should promote the demonstration of new technologies in a simulated environment and collaboration with partners that operate existing infrastructure, such as CANARIE. Rural areas must have access to high-speed Internet to be competitive. Digital diagnostics and factories should be encouraged.

Regulation: The government should alter its regulatory system to make it more flexible and modernize it to make businesses more competitive. It should also enact more concrete environmental regulations to create markets in the clean-technology sector.

Marketing: In Quebec, we have a history of developing plans where investment in research and infrastructure is prioritized, but a marketing strategy is needed. Broadening tax credits with rigorous criteria for marketing where returns on investment are possible or providing direct assistance. Do not forget small and medium enterprises (SME)s in the eligibility criteria.

Provisioning: Apply measures like the Buy America Act; broadening the Industrial and Technological Benefits Policy to include not only the defence sector, but others as well; ensure that calls for tenders invite innovative solutions (such as new technologies, materials and applications); and force the inclusion of SMEs and other important parts of the ecosystem.

Top Ideas/Outcomes

Talent and succession: Increase the number of immigrants, but focus on qualified workers. Raise awareness of innovation success stories and foster talent mobility measures of varying duration among the various innovation research environments (such as the Programme de stages Accélération Québec FRQ—Mitacs).

Universities: They should be better funded, because international competition is fierce when it comes to attracting high-calibre professors who want to make a difference and help young people innovate. Supporting universities and other research centres in acquiring the infrastructure that could be among the entrepreneurial community. Industrial partnership chairs are a model that should be extended to all research fields, but the concept of eligible partners should also be broadened beyond the industrial environment to include agencies, nongovernmental organizations, etc.

Industries: Canada could issue calls for tenders to define industries where it should invest, as it does with universities through the Canada First Research Excellence Fund. Through its actions, the government must encourage industry cooperation.

Partnerships: The government should fund associations to coach SMEs through adopting a culture of innovation and increase awareness of government programs. The government should give priority to funding the structures that are innovative and integrated into the ecosystem. It should also allow access to the data it holds.

Intellectual property: Adopt an approach that fosters the development and marketing of discoveries.

Clusters: The government must be flexible in its actions, supporting today's strong sectors while investing in riskier sectors and promising technology. To improve dialogue and innovative developments among the clusters, the government could fund training.

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