A Public Policy Forum report, published on Monday, makes a persuasive case that Canada’s comparative weakness in innovation and productivity growth is not so much a matter of any supposed lack of inventiveness, or of deficient economic policies, as of a characteristically Canadian difficulty in making contacts and establishing practical collaborations among innovators and investors.
As the federal budget of March 29 approaches, there is much discussion of the possible revision of the tax credit based on the scientific research and experimental development program, known affectionately (or perhaps not) as “Shred,” which is the subject of the Jenkins report, commissioned by the Conservative government and released in October.
There is a different emphasis in the PPF’s Leading Innovation: Insights from Canadian Regions, a project co-chaired by Kevin Lynch, the vice-chair of the Bank of Montreal and the former clerk of the Privy Council, and David Mitchell, the forum’s CEO. This report is less concerned with the respective roles of business and government, than with discovering ways and means by which “angel” investors, venture capitalists and mentors, on the one hand, and researchers and inventors, on the other, find each other.
Consequently, a recurrent theme of this report is the fairly inexpensive creation of “incubators” and other physical spaces and contexts – “soft infrastructure” – in which such relationships can be hatched. All concerned should encourage networking.
Although Mr. Lynch told The Globe’s editorial board that competitiveness in the global marketplace matters more than geography, the distinctly geographical fact of regional clusters is central to the report – Waterloo, Ont., is the best-known Canadian example – but the document is mainly interested in less obvious instances, with relatively unfulfilled potential: St. John’s, Montreal, York Region, Saskatoon and Calgary.
The participants in the project who met with the editorial board advocated a change in the education system to place more value on innovation. They did not have a developed view of how that would work in primary and secondary education, though Karen Miske of the PPF strikingly spoke about learning to accept failure and to try again – as inventors must do.
Mr. Lynch spoke in a quite heartfelt tone about Canadians being co-operative – in other words, accommodating – but often lacking when it comes to being collaborative, which the authors describe as the creation of “real working arrangements to share risk, obligation and reward.”
In effect, this report takes E.M. Forster’s phrase in his novel Howard’s End, “Only connect,” and adds, “Actually work together, too.”