The Ontario government must slash red tape, work with successful startup companies to help them grow and sell innovations from our health-care system around the world if it wants to take the province's economy to the next level, Premier Kathleen Wynne's business adviser says.
Ed Clark laid out this sweeping prescription for Ontario's economic future Thursday, in one of his first major speeches since assuming the position earlier this year.
In a lunch-time address to the Toronto Region Board of Trade, he warned that Ontario risks becoming complacent if it doesn't step up its economic game.
"Other jurisdictions are also grappling with slow economic growth, aging populations, growing inequality, anemic growth in productivity and an increasingly competitive environment to attract new jobs and investments," he told the mostly Bay Street audience at the King Edward Hotel. "But I'd add one specific Ontario challenge to this list. In word: complacency. We are largely content with where we stand … But standing still today risks falling behind in the coming years."
Mr. Clark, the former chief executive of Toronto-Dominion Bank, was first brought in to advise Ms. Wynne in 2014 on getting more money out of the province's Crown corporations. That led to the privatization of Hydro One, which began this month with an initial public offering of 15 per cent.
Last spring, Ms. Wynne added more responsibilities to Mr. Clark's portfolio, asking him to help craft economic-development policy. It's a thorny problem for the province, which has seen sluggish growth in recent years amid the decline of the manufacturing sector.
Mr. Clark said Thursday that Ontario has done a good job of embracing the modern knowledge-based, high-tech economy, but has to get better.
"We produce lots of new companies, more than anyone else in the world, in the high-tech innovation space. They then sell out when they move up. So we've got to figure out why is it that they're selling out? Why don't they keep growing?" he said.
Similarly, he said, Ontario could do a better job of attracting top companies – whether accounting firms or corporate head offices – to set up shop in the province.
Step 1 would be to get rid of some of the province's 380,000 rules and regulations on business to speed things up for companies, Mr. Clark said. But he said the province should intervene when it can to help out the most successful companies. One way to do this would be for the province to bring companies together to share research and help each other become more productive.
"We've got to have businesses and government working together," he said. "Around the world, there are a number of what are called 'brain clusters,' where businesses get together and they say 'Why don't we share basic research – in digital manufacturing or polymars or different things because we know these are going to be the foundations in the next growth of firms.'"
Another economic opportunity, Mr. Clark said, is to take innovations in Ontario's health-care and education systems and partner with private companies to sell them around the world. He cited regenerative medicine as one area where the province has made strides and could make money off selling these advances.
"We have incredible hospitals that are at the forefront of health research," Mr. Clark said. "I say: open them up, link them more closely to the private sector, turn them into exporters."
Mr. Clark pointed to Boston as an example of a place that has successfully built a thriving research economy around its numerous education and health-care institutions.