Canada trailing in science-based innovation

Governments and industry share responsibility to increase investment in innovation

Canada has fallen behind many of its global competitors when it comes to science-based innovation in its key economic sectors, says a federal advisory panel.

The greatest failure has been “in private-sector investment in research and development,” said a new report from the Science Technology Innovation Council (STIC). “Despite ongoing efforts to improve Canada’s lagging business innovation performance, it has continued to deteriorate.”

Canada is now 26th in private-sector research investment and at barely a third of the level of the top five performing countries, the STIC noted. “Canada’s most profound and urgent ST&I challenge lies in increasing the number of firms that embrace and effectively manages innovation as a competitiveness and growth strategy.

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“Maintaining and enhancing excellence requires that our investments keep pace with those of competitor countries,” the report continued.

Canada has an $8-billion-a-year trade deficit in processed foods and beverages.

Serge Buy, CEO of the Agriculture Institute of Canada, said the report provides a snapshot of Canada’s status. The AIC has developed a new agri-food research policy that it’s promoting to government and industry.

“If Canada is to regain its leadership in agricultural research, AIC’s agricultural research policy is a good first step,” he said. “Our policy includes many concrete steps that can be taken, some of which are similar to STIC’s recommendations.”

The STIC report should provide plenty of fodder for Science Minister Kirsty Duncan and Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains. “Addressing Canada’s business innovation performance gap is critical to this country’s future. Canada must increase the number of firms that embrace and effectively manage innovation as a competitiveness and growth strategy.

“At the same time, Canada cannot afford to be complacent about its knowledge and talent advantages,” the report pointed out. “Canada must keep pace with other countries that have been increasing their support for R&D at a faster rate.”

The report said government and industry share the responsibility to reverse the decline. “While success requires that all players pursue excellence in their respective roles, at the same time all players must work more closely together, as a system, to effect change.”

The report urges private companies to increase their investment in research and development. “Given the strategic importance of Canada’s natural resources industry, this should be an area of ST&I leadership for Canada. Increased research and development investment must be accompanied by enhanced investments in other knowledge assets.”

It calls on governments to provide more direct support to high-risk, high-reward business research and development. “The approach should be strategic, focused on fostering innovation in large firms and in high-growth SMEs with the potential to grow into significant players.”

It also said Canada must increase the number of large, innovative firms to enhance future competitiveness and job growth, as larger firms are often more productive and tend to invest and to export more than smaller firms.”

Business also has to become less risk averse and more ambitious, the report states. “Canada’s venture capital industry can support this by more aggressively backing high-potential Canadian firms with innovative ideas and mentoring them through the innovation process.”

Educational institutions “should work more closely with industry to develop curricula that better integrate science and technology knowledge with a broader set of business, entrepreneurship and commercialization skills and that nurture creativity, intelligent risk taking and ambition.”

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