What the fallout from the convoy protests tells us about innovation and building resilience

By Sebastian Leck

Sebastian Leck is the managing editor of Research Money.

Almost 30 per cent of Canada’s trade with the U.S. goes through the Ambassador Bridge near Windsor, Ont. — a fact that made it an easy target for convoy protesters opposing vaccine mandates this month. During the six days that protesters blocked traffic from crossing the bridge, they prevented the flow of billions of dollars worth of goods, according to CBC News.

While Windsor police eventually cleared the bridge, it demonstrates that the Canadian economy is highly dependent on supply chains that aren’t always as robust or resilient as they appear. Not all of those goods need to go through the same bridge, and there are alternatives. Monopolistic behaviour maintained the status quo, however: a construction project to build a second bridge, now scheduled to open in 2024, was delayed by lobbying from an American billionaire who profited from tolls on the Ambassador Bridge.

That is exactly the sort of arrangement that prevents innovation and economic development across Canada. An existing player became wealthy and entrenched, nothing changed for decades, and the entire country was worse off. The Canadian government learned a lesson about such complacency during the pandemic, when it found that allowing its homegrown biopharmaceutical industry to atrophy for decades meant Canada was left with little capacity to produce vaccines during a crisis.

Research Money has been grappling with how to build a more resilient and vibrant innovation ecosystem in Canada. Senior correspondent Lindsay Borthwick spoke with CQDM’s President and CEO Diane Gosselin about supporting Canada’s biopharmaceutical industry when big pharma companies rarely do early-stage research within our borders. Senior correspondent Mark Lowey, meanwhile, documented a transformation in the space industry that is lowering barriers to entry and making the sector more democratic.

There are other projects underway: correspondent Monte Stewart covered the launch of an open-science platform OurResearch to provide free access to more than 200 million scientific articles. Scientific journals often act like monopolies by charging thousands of dollars to access publicly-funded research. Efforts to break open those bottlenecks could speed the pace of innovation.

Innovation means taking risks and creating mechanisms that allow for open competition and change. The Ambassador Bridge has demonstrated the dangers of becoming too dependent on any one solution or pathway, especially when a small minority stands to profit from it.

Sebastian Leck is the managing editor of Research Money.