Playing hockey is a passion for many kids. And more than a few parents have been the target of lobbying efforts by children wanting expensive graphite hockey sticks. While a shiny new Bauer Supreme One95 might be nice, what’s required is practice, practice and more practice. Sidney Crosby with a cheap wooden stick will still play better hockey than a beginner wielding an expensive one.
So it is with Canada’s economy. The endless bawling about low productivity and research spending usually targets the government, as if it’s up to Ottawa or the provinces to make us more productive. We are collectively whining for an expensive hockey stick. It’s time we take more responsibility, both as individuals and as companies. If we’re not happy with our productivity, we need to change our attitudes.
The government’s job is to ensure a foundation on which an innovative, creative economy can be built. But we can’t simply wait for politicians to magically make us more innovative with a more generous tax credit or other policy carrot. Ottawa’s multibillion-dollar Scientific Research and Experimental Development tax credit has not been successful, and the Conservative government appears ready to take the axe to it in Thursday’s budget.
New ideas are born only through creativity and innovation; it’s these ideas that will unleash wealth-building potential and prosperity. Yet, there’s a problem. Canada is like a frog placed in a pot of cool water. But the global economy is rapidly heating up the water; if we don’t take action, we’ll end up like the complacent frog that stays in the pot and meets a terrible fate. Too many Canadians have fallen into the rut of waiting for government policy to turn down the heat. And that’s a losing strategy.
It’s possible for Canadians, and the businesses that employ them, to become more creative. But it takes serious practice and enormous effort. Innovation flows from this, and it’s not limited to the self-employed entrepreneur. Every employee in every occupation can benefit from becoming more creative and, if we all do it together, we can become the most innovative economy on the planet.
Canadians need to become more outward looking and cosmopolitan and visible on the world stage. We need to become more comfortable with risk, while learning the difference between risky and reckless. We need to learn that a green economy actually has much in common with the business doctrine of the bottom line.
We also need to learn that ideas don’t flourish in isolation: They emerge in greatest force when we’re in community with each other, rubbing ideas together. This was one of the major conclusions of the Public Policy Forum report Leading Innovation: Insights from Canadian Regions. Canadians are actually pretty clever, but it appears we’re not that great at collaboration. The report recommends more incubators and places to pull ideas together.
It’s up to Canadians to jump out of the pot. Yes, a good public policy structure is helpful, especially on reducing red tape. But not even the most generous government tax credit can make us creative, and we fool ourselves if we think it can.
Like the kid whining for an expensive hockey stick, we have to grow up and do the hard work ourselves. A creative and innovative economy is the key to prospering in a rapidly changing global economy, but it takes practice, determination and personal responsibility. We think Canadians are up to the challenge.
Robert Roach is vice-president of research at the Canada West Foundation. Todd Hirsch is a Calgary-based senior economist at ATB Financial. They are co-authors of The Boiling Frog Dilemma .