The year-end reports have all been issued and the findings for Canada aren’t particularly encouraging. Despite rhetoric to the contrary, Canada’s quest to become an innovation nation is going nowhere fast with the trend lines for key indicators going down rather than up.
In December, reports from Statistics Canada, Battelle, UNESCO and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development show that Canada has made little progress in the past five years in evolving into a knowledge-based society. Rising commodity prices mask a deterioration in industrial R&D, stagnant federal support for S&T and declining productivity relative to the US (which has problems of its own).
While Canada is wrapped in the embrace of its bountiful natural resources, new competitors are sprouting like mushrooms. Emerging nations are embracing innovation as the most effective route to greater health and prosperity, moving rapidly up the value-add chain. Canada may rank #9 globally in R&D spending (see page 4) but a quick glance shows that the countries immediately below us are moving aggressively and rising fast.
It’s only a matter of time before Canada finds itself slipping to second-tier status unless governments craft bold policies and provide adequate resources to implement them. The forthcoming Digital Economy Strategy may signal a long-overdue change in thinking. Canada has many great ideas and innovative mechanisms for stimulating the knowledge-based economy. What’s needed now is greater collaboration, cooperation and a sense of common purpose.