The Innovation Imperative

It’s only one week until we have an opportunity to assess the federal government’s embrace of innovation with the tabling of the Liberal administration’s second Budget. After a decade of optimistic talk combined with benign neglect, Canadian innovators will once again be presented with policies and programs ostensibly aimed at making Canada – and Canadian business – more innovative.

The government’s Innovation Agenda has been a long time coming. The 2016 Budget announced a series of studies and reviews of science, innovation, financing and the economy but to date only one — the Advisory Council on Economic Growth — has reported publicly. The science portion of the government’s innovation agenda remains opaque, with no word on when the release of the Fundamental Science Review or the appointment of a chief science advisor will occur.

One of the few concrete innovation-focused funding commitments the Liberals have made — an $800-million, four-year investment in networks and clusters announced in Budget 2016 — appears stuck in development, although speculation on how it will be allocated is beginning to trickle out.

Improving innovation performance is complex but the stakes are high and getting higher. As Peter Nicholson pointed out in a recent paper for Canadian Public Policy, Canada’s historical low innovation equilibrium is being fundamentally disrupted by “the rise of Asia, the revolutionary transformations created by information technology, and the imperative to make growth environmentally sustainable”.

It is therefore imperative that next week’s Budget tackles these forces head on with strategic investments and new policies that aim to transform attitudes, practices and performance throughout the entire innovation ecosystem.

Mark Henderson, Editor