Innovation players hoping for signs in Throne Speech need to look elsewhere for indication of government’s STI plans

Mark Henderson
November 24, 2021

It was expected that the social and economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the escalating climate crisis and Indigenous rights could combine to push science, technology and innovation (STI) to the margins of the Speech from the Throne. The November 23rd speech – the first delivered by Governor General Mary Simon – included just a single mention of innovation and made zero references to science or research and development, leaving STI tea-readers bereft.

Economic development, when it was mentioned, was linked to health and the green economy. 

Beneath the rhetoric and government talking points, however, STI was silently but firmly embedded, such as in the Speech’s assertion that Canadians “want to be leaders in producing the world’s cleanest steel, aluminum, building products, cars, and planes. Not only do we have the raw materials and energy to do that, most importantly, we have skilled, hard-working Canadians to power these industries.”

STI also underpins many of the challenges the Speech embraced: achieving a “100 percent net-zero electricity future"; “investing in public transit and mandating the sale of zero emissions vehicles"; “action to prevent and prepare for floods, wildfires, droughts, coastline erosion, and other extreme weather worsened by climate change”; and “increasing our engagement with international partners, coalitions, and organizations”.

Given the ongoing impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the role of science and research in successfully combatting its spread, the Throne Speech can only be seen as a lost opportunity, says Paul Dufour, veteran S&T policymaker and senior fellow at the University of Ottawa’s Institute for Science, Society and Policy. 

“We just came through an incredible crisis and a response that has relied heavily on science and research. And there’s the talk about how we need to continue those investments but there’s no mention anywhere in the speech,” says Dufour. “The research community writ large will be disappointed in this.”

Dufour also says the Throne Speech opted to remain silent on Canada’s need to establish and strengthen science STI partnerships with other levels of government and engagement with key countries. Nor were there any references to the need for continued investment in research and skills.

“This is magical thinking at its worst,” he says. “Where is artificial intelligence, quantum and future foresight. There’s no sign in the speech whatsoever. . . .  And where is the focus on the next generation of our research and talent pool? . . . It’s kind of bizarre.”

Looking Elsewhere

To gain a concrete sense of the role STI plays in the government’s future plans, one must look to recent government policy documents, a raft of new reports, party campaign platforms stemming from September’s election, and a joint US-Canada statement on STI cooperation released following the recent US-Canada-Mexico summit, which shed considerable light on how federally funded and performed STI will evolve in the coming years.

Party Platforms

The Liberal Party platform contains a host of new and existing measures designed to boost the output and impact of STI. Chief among them is a renewed commitment to creating a DARPA-like program that acts as a “public-private bridge” for the development of Canadian technologies. Other commitments include:

  • 1,000 new Canada Research Chairs
  • Reform of the Scientific Research and Experimental Development Program (SR&ED) tax credit program to “reduce red tape and the need for consultants.”
  • $1.75 billion in new funding for the aerospace sector via the Strategic Innovation Fund’s Net Zero Accelerator program
  • A Low-Carbon Building Materials Innovation Hub
  • A new fund providing $75-million annually to assist colleges and universities with research commercialization
  • A $100 million-a-year fund for research into potential vaccines for high-impact diseases
  • Further progress on previously announced investments in the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy, the National Quantum Strategy, the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research and the National Research Council’s Photonics Fabrication Centre

Given the minority status of the Liberal government, the campaign commitments of the New Democratic Party – the government’s most likely partner for implementing new legislation and programs – take on added significance. For its part, the NDP has pledged to:

  • Create a centre of excellence for R&D of zero-emission vehicles;
  • Restore the Automotive Innovation Fund;
  • Support startups by assisting with scaling, training and commercializing new technologies;
  • Boost cleantech research with new funding and incentives;
  • Make post-secondary education part of the public education system; 
  • Invest in Indigenous-led science; and,
  • Create iCanada, a one-stop shop to help attract investors to Canada.

Senate Prosperity Action Group 

The Liberal government may also choose to adopt recommendations contained in a new report from a Senate committee led by Peter Harder. The report contains a set of recommendations designed to address productivity and competitiveness challenges in a post-Covid-19 environment, including the development of a national economic growth strategy, a revamp of industrial regulations, and the creation of a Prosperity Council led by the federal government.

Summit STI Statement

The joint Canada-US summit statement contains even more evidence that the government plans to increasingly deploy STI to enhance inclusivity in bilateral R&D activities, despite concern over the Biden administration’s Buy American policy. The statement urges the two nations to strengthen STI cooperation and develop and adopt a science and technology roadmap to 2050 to guide the process and begin negotiations toward an STI agreement to position Canada and the U.S. as leaders in the digital economy.

“We are working to define a bilateral ST&I agreement that is intended to amplify our ST&I cooperation and help us work together to address the most pressing science-based priorities faced by our two countries,” the statement reads. “Officials are engaged in discussions to drive this work forward, with a view to concluding an agreement at the earliest possible opportunity.”

The statement also included four calls to action for researchers on both sides of the border:

  1. Expand collaborations on research and development projects in areas of mutual interest and benefit;
  2. Support efforts to integrate stakeholders from both countries into key research initiatives and in the global value chain for emerging technologies, and to foster matchmaking at selected events and initiatives;
  3. Share information and STI best practices at the governmental, academic and industry levels; and,
  4. Build linkages between science and innovation agencies to explore how best to support STI and foster partnerships between academia, government institutions, and industry with a view to converting advanced research into critical applications.

Many of these recent reports (see below) emphasize Canada’s strong research capacity, particularly in its post-secondary institutions. The challenge is to build and retain a competitive advantage in key advanced technologies and research areas underpinning the green economy and introduce measures to prevent the outflow of hard-earned intellectual property to other nations that profit on these achievements.  Given the nature of the global economy and growing presence of transnational corporations, this may be Canada’s greatest future challenge of all.

Recent Reports

Restart, recover, and reimagine prosperity for all Canadians

A report from the Industry Strategy Council – November, 2020

Rising to the Challenges of New Global Realities: Forging a New Path for Sustainable, Inclusive and Shared Prosperity in Canada

Senate Prosperity Action Group - October, 2021

Building a Nation of Innovators

Multi-Year Innovation and Skills Plan from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada – February, 2019

Joint statement to Leaders from the United States’ Director of the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy and Canada’s Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry” – November 18, 2021

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