Federal Election 2011: Innovation and Canada’s Future

Giuseppina D’Agostino is the Director and Founder of IP Osgoode, and a Professor at Osgoode Hall Law School.

In the Canadian Federal Election yesterday, Canadians voted for change in Ottawa.  Stephen Harper as Prime Minister and his Conservative Party now have a clear majority in Parliament, giving them a strong mandate to lead and implement their policies.  For the first time in history, the New Democratic Party, with Jack Layton at its head, is the official opposition, a clear upset for the Liberals and the Bloc Québecois who lost significant seats – the Bloc was all but obliterated.  And for the first time in history, the Green Party gained official party status with one seat in Parliament via the election of its leader, Elizabeth May.

IP Osgoode canvassed each of the party’s platforms on digital issues, which perhaps now give an indication of Canada’s future on issues such as usage-based billing for Internet services and copyright reform.  Canadians are clearly tech-savvy and tech-involved.  Election analysts excitedly watched Twitter and Facebook and compared what they saw with more traditional polling and anticipated Jack Layton’s popularity and the Bloc’s demise.  But missing from all this talk of technology is any talk of a platform for Canadian “innovation”.  Innovation is a driver to economic growth and Canada’s success in the global economy.

What would it mean for Canada to have a platform on innovation?  Tony Chapman, Founder & CEO of Capital C, talks about what is missing in a video, featuring leading thinkers, for the Globe and Mail.  He states that Canada needs to have a “’military’ approach to innovation”, which means “identifying the parts of the economy we want to own … focusing our public sector funds, the research dollars we are giving to universities and our private sector tax credits to say these are the markets … where we want you to file patents, launch products, services … and have Canada lead and no longer follow.”  Canada needs to have an environment “where future thinkers can create and launch.”

The United Kingdom has a policy on innovation.  As an example, the Lambert Review of Business-University Collaboration, a 142-page report (includes appendices) published in December 2003, identified the problem in the UK:

The biggest challenge identified in this Review lies on the demand side. Compared with other countries, British business is not research intensive, and its record of investment in R&D in recent years has been unimpressive. UK business research is concentrated in a narrow range of industrial sectors, and in a small number of large companies. All this helps to explain the productivity gap between the UK and other comparable economies.

Sound familiar?  This could be a description of Canada in May 2011.  Yet in Canada, the most significant mention of innovation as a policy objective appears to be restricted to a single page (page 29) in Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada’s Advantage: Progress Report 2009 where the government congratulated itself on Canada’s “state-of-the-art research equipment and facilities” so that “visiting researchers have access to the leading-edge tools and facilities they need to conduct world-class research and technology development that will generate benefits for Canadians.”  The government also stated that in its 2007 Budget it provided the Canadian Foundation for Innovation with “$510 million to further strengthen the research capacity of Canada’s universities, colleges, research hospitals and not-for-profit research institutions.”  There is no mention as to the sectors to which that funding was directed, other than to say that it created new jobs.

Let’s hope that the new, more stable Parliament has the vision and will to institute lasting and meaningful change for Canada and her place in the world.  One of the changes that Canada needs is a policy on innovation: a framework for making decisions on where to direct public funding to support research and industry, and a larger context to anchor tailored, policy decisions, which include intellectual property and technology initiatives, on issues like the Internet and copyright law reform.

We can get there as Canada has the talent and boasts a proven track record across various areas of creativity, in the arts, sciences and technology sectors. It’s now up to our new Parliament to lead the way.

  1. It did lead to a majority of seats in the House of Commons, but is 39.6 % of the popular vote really a “strong” mandate? As opposed to just a regular mandate?

    If Canadians voted to support party policies, it would mean that more than 60% of voters endorsed non-Conservative policies on 2011-05-02.

  2. Agreed. But unfortunately, by Canadian standards, any majorirty is a “strong” mandate compared to the minority government that has been there for the past five years. You make a good point about the electoral system, but attempts to reform the system have not seemed to go anywhere. The question in my mind is what is the Harper government going to do with its majority mandate?

  3. Before we get too carried away there are some facts to consider. The left received 30% of the votes cast and the right received 39%. That leaves a little more than 30% which is still occupied by the middle ground. But wait, it gets worse. These percentages are only from the votes cast. Well only 61% of voters cast their votes. This leaves 39% of voters who couldn’t care enough to cast a vote.

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