Can Ottawa Do Innovation?

Alex Usher, Higher Education Strategy Associates, Feb 27, 2017
Commentary by Stephen Downes

This post discusses a National Post article which asserts that Canada has failed at innovation for 100 years and questions whether Trudeau can fix that (presumably via financial transfers to industry, which was the previous government's strategy). I question the original assertion that Canada is not innovative. Alex Usher says Canada copies U.S. innovations, but in fact, the opposite is the case; American companies are more likely to copy Canadian innovations. The measures cited are mostly based on private sector spending (on R&D, on software). We've seen that giving the private sector more money won't actually increased their R&D spending. Innovation simply doesn't happen in branch plants.

In Canada most innovation is created by new companies and based on homegrown R&D from the ground up, and these are usually spin-offs from public sector investment like government and universities. Usher suggests that the locus of innovation should be the provinces, and not the federal government. But innovation is currently based both in the provinces (for universities) and the federal government (through military, through federal science, and through procurement). Of these, only federal science could be relocated to the provinces, but only four provinces have the resources to sustain them, which would actually create more, not less, centralization.

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