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In order to be competitive, first you have to compete.

The average industrialized nation – defined here by membership in the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation – has increased research and development spending by 15 per cent since 2001 as a share of GDP.

Our country, which was well below the OECD average to begin with, has tumbled by the same proportion, to just over 1.7 per cent of total output.

Canada clearly needs a wake-up call. A new report from the Council of Canadian Academies, a federally funded body that examines science policy, provides it.

First, the good news: We have top-class research infrastructure and loads of great scientists. They accounted for 3.8 per cent of global research publications between 2009 and 2014 (only eight nations did better).

The problem is other countries are cashing in on Canada’s research. We have the ideas, but commercializing them is left to places with more capital and larger populations.

As well, our research efforts remain too concentrated, both geographically and by sector, the report says. And our companies and investors are too risk-averse. A historical reliance on resources has dulled us to the demands of the tech economy, where the nimble and daring rule.

Worryingly, Ottawa has tried a number of things to close the gap, but to no great success. The current federal government is more ambitious in this area than the last, but the report says further incentives must be found to spur industry to spend more on research and development in Canada.

This is particularly true for renewable energy, into which China and others are throwing billions. Canada can and should be a world leader in green technology. Because what will we do after the fossil fuels run out?

On top of everything else, talented scientists are eager to come to Canada from the United States and elsewhere, as evidenced by the recent crop of Canada 150 Research Chairs. It would be inexcusable not to capitalize on the moment and start reversing a troubling trend.

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