It’s time to start expecting more from innovation

By Mark Mann

Managing Editor, RE$EARCH MONEY

Whatever conclusions one draws from the recent federal election, one takeaway at least is very clear: in the eyes of voters, climate change policy finally became a key test for Canada’s parties. 30 per cent of Canadians put it in their top three issues, according to an Ipsos poll, and the topic earned even greater airtime in the debates.

Unfortunately, the fresh emphasis on climate change adaptation and mitigation did not translate to more discussion of support for science, technology and innovation (STI), according to reporting by R$ correspondent Mark Henderson. Except the Greens, the parties were conspicuously quiet on funding and policy issues for STI, perhaps failing to recognize the strong link between bolstering the innovation economy and fulfilling our greater social and environmental ambitions, like responding effectively to the climate crisis.

The relative absence of STI from the parties’ platforms illustrates that we need to expand our definition of what innovation can achieve. A recent OECD policy paper on sustainable development states that “Innovation is seen not only as a way to support growth and job creation, but also to address a wide range of social and environmental challenges that are reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations.”

Good innovation policies can promote both the economic and environmental outcomes that Canadians want. This month, R$ contributor Mark Lowey reported on a newly implemented regulation in B.C. that’s incentivizing greater energy efficiencies in building construction. The product of a multi-year collaboration between stakeholders and different levels of government, the new BC Energy Step Code gives builders more freedom to pursue cost-effective solutions and incorporate leading-edge technologies to achieve greater overall energy performance. The Vancouver Economic Commission reports that the regulation will create a local market of $3.3-billion for high-efficiency building products between 2019 and 2032, along with hundreds of new jobs.

Canada’s transition to a knowledge economy offers an opportunity to draw even more benefit from innovation than we habitually expect. The federal government’s new $755-million Social Finance Fund will not only generate up to $2 billion in economic activity, but will also empower the social sector to scale their solutions beyond what has been possible in the past with grants and donations alone.

Investing in social innovation isn’t just a feel-good enterprise, however; as McConnell Foundation president Stephen Huddart observes in his Q&A with RE$EARCH MONEY, “The financial sector is recognizing that it has in many cases mis-priced the risks that we’re facing from things like climate change.” There’s a growing awareness that our economic, social and environmental concerns are all entwined and require collaborative solutions—now we need more policies that recognize the central role of science, technology and innovation in achieving those solutions.