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A dismal report card

The Conference Board of Canada has reviewed the level of innovation, or lack thereof, in this country and does not like what it sees.


May 1, 2013  


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The Conference Board of Canada has reviewed the level of innovation, or lack thereof, in this country and does not like what it sees.

How else can you explain the D-grade it gave on the recently released 2012 Innovation Report Card, part of an” assessment that examines “Canada’s quality of life compared with that of its peer countries.”

The Board’s analysis was based on 21 different indictors and the results were not good: A failing grade as a result of “relative weakness in all three categories of the innovation process — creation, diffusion and transformation.”

It concludes that while “Canada is well supplied with good universities, engineering schools, teaching hospitals and technical institutes and produces science that is well respected around the world,” something is amiss.

The irony is that while this country received an A last year on its Education and Skills Report Card, it is having immense trouble when it comes to creating capital out of an ingenious idea.

“With some exceptions, Canada does not take the steps that other countries take to ensure research can be successfully commercialized and used as a source of advantage for innovative companies seeking global market share,” the Board concluded. “Canadian companies are thus rarely at the leading edge of new technology and too often find themselves a generation or more behind the productivity growth achieved by global industry leaders.

“This does not mean that Canadian inventions are themselves inferior. In fact, Canada produces some great inventions and inventors.”

It lags far behind Switzerland, a country that scored nine “A’s” and ranked first in four indicators and also the U.S., a country the Board describes as a leader in ICT and venture capital investment: “It succeeds in translating new knowledge into business value — garnering A’s or B’s on knowledge-intensive services, aerospace exports, electronics exports and office machinery and equipments exports.”

Among those concerned about the findings is Pat Horgan, vice president of manufacturing, development and operations with IBM Canada Ltd. Speaking at an event marking the first anniversary of the Southern Ontario Smart Computing Innovation Platform or SOSCIP, see story on p. 6, he said it is the hope of IBM that this “game changing investment will improve our competitiveness and advance this country’s innovation legacy on the world stage.”

The innovation is occurring. As an example, over the past 12 months, upwards of 44 different projects that address SOSCIP research themes of water, cities, health, energy and agile computing have received the green light, according to Professor Paul Young, vice president of research and innovation at the University of Toronto and co-chair of the organization.

They include the development of a computerized climate change model that will enable government and environmental agencies to develop policies to protect water resources, a framework to “simulate urban behaviour and test alternatives for policy and design,” and real-time analysis of the human brain to generate new knowledge of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

“True change is only achieved by people working together, people of different talents and strengths,” says Young.

It could be that we end up being simply an exporter of innovative ideas and leave it up to other countries to take them to the next level, which is the direction we appear to be headed unless some sort of new strategy involving private sector firms, investors, researchers and politicians is created.

If that does occur, the Conference Board of Canada should also be involved.