After nearly four years of focusing on the academic end of the research spectrum, the Conservative government is finally turning its attention towards the other end of the innovation continuum — industrial R&D. The shift is welcome and picks up on the momentum that was lost after the Liberal’s commercialization strategy was aborted when the government changed hands (R$, April 28/06).
First up is a $40-million pilot program for small firms to use the government as a first user for innovative products and services (page 5). The Canadian Innovation and Commercialization Program gets to the heart of business needs to test and validate products before entering the global marketplace. It’s an important initiative that, if successful, should be extended and expanded.
Perhaps more important in terms of Canada’s long-term innovation potential is the launch of the federal R&D Review, led by a panel tasked with suggesting improvements for the way government funds industrial R&D and innovation (page 4). Canada currently has a plethora of programs and services that have emerged ad hoc over the past 10 years or so. Improving the focus and delivery of the best of these programs is overdue, not the least of which is the SR&ED tax credit program which hasn’t had a serious revamp since its inception more than 20 years ago.
With some momentum now achieved, it’s critical that the government move innovation to the top of its priority list and reinforce its importance with all Canadians. Without a significant change in culture, benefits won’t be maximized.