Industry minister Dr David Emerson is on a national speaking tour, essentially delivering the same speech across Canada extolling the virtues of a knowledge-based economy and his plans for innovation and S&T. It’s a solid speech, but a minor change in two versions he delivered in Atlantic Canada is bewildering.
It’s widely acknowledged that private sector R&D spending in Canada could be much higher. Describing it as “mediocre by international standards” is fair comment. But in Halifax and St John’s, Emerson added the following line — “Actually, it’s beyond mediocre, it’s embarrassing”.
Such bald criticism of industrial R&D performance appears out of place. It’s also just a little disingenuous, considering the government’s performance in areas for which it’s solely responsible.
Consider the Liberal track record on government S&T. Since attaining power in 1993, this government has been repeatedly warned about the state of federal S&T infrastructure. Numerous proposals have been made to government only to be turned aside resulting in a serious erosion of S&T capacity. Federal labs can’t fulfill their role in Canada’s evolving innovation system.
The aerospace industry is a case in point. The National Research Council’s Institute for Aerospace Research is woefully underfunded and its ability to conduct essential R&D in support of the sector is being compromised. The same can be said of other NRC institutes and science-based departments. If investments aren’t made soon, the industry’s chances of sustaining its successes of the past are slim to none. Now that’s embarrassing.