Kim Allen, FEC, P.Eng.
Chief Executive Officer
Kim Allen, FEC, P.Eng.
Canadian Prosperity and Our Capacity for Innovation
Engineers Canada has been closely watching how the Canadian federal government is addressing the country’s global presence and role in research and development and innovation. The engineering profession believes that the federal government, working alongside businesses, academia and other stakeholders, is a valuable and necessary contributor to improving research and development (R&D) and innovation in Canada.
In my last message, I wrote about needing consistent investment from the federal government in R&D and innovation in order to achieve a sustainable economy that is accessible, reliable and globally competitive. Engineers Canada applauded the federal government’s intent through this year’s budget and speech from the throne to promote enrolment in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs as well as a tuition tax credit to recognize fees paid to professional associations for licensure, which will ensure continued fostering of qualified talent in Canada. In addition, more funding for emerging and key technologies will ensure we stay on the path to create the right environment for economic development that will ultimately lead to improved quality of life.
Engineers Canada actively and regularly contributes to discussions with policy makers on important issues for the engineering profession, such as R&D and innovation. We were asked to contribute recommendations to the Expert Review Panel on Research Development, and we are pleased that many of our recommendations were taken into consideration in their final report, Innovation Canada: A Call to Action, released this past October.
Engineers Canada’s recommendations are to direct programs to specific R&D areas; streamline the delivery of existing programs; remove barriers to commercialization and technology transfer within program requirements; continue to advance foreign qualifications recognition; and put measures in place to maximize talent and knowledge inputs.1
The creation and findings of the expert panel is one example of the recognition that R&D and innovation can no longer be viewed as a natural by-product of doing business in Canada, but must be supported, cultivated and made a priority by government, universities, the business sector and professional associations in order to flourish. The Canadian Science Policy Conference held in Ottawa in November brought together many great minds to discuss various aspects of innovation as it relates to science policy.
However, it is obvious that talking alone is not going to fix our problems. Despite an increase in funding since the 1990s in university-based research, our innovation continues to lag very far behind other OECD countries. According to Kevin Lynch in his paper “Desperately Seeking a More Innovative Canada,”2 university research investments as a proportion of GDP are now higher in Canada than in all other G7 countries, including the United States. However, we rank 15th among all OECD countries in terms of R&D expenditures as a percentage of GDP.
Canada’s challenge and where we fall short right now is a lack of focus on commercialization – bringing our research talents and innovations to market. Commercialization is taking the great ideas created in labs and research facilities and putting them to use: getting investments and creating patents for new products and services, forming new businesses and updating ways of doing existing business, creating jobs and developing new places to do business. Innovation carried all the way through the commercialization process to market is necessary if we are to achieve our nation’s goals. All of this leads to competitiveness in the global market and means more prosperity for Canadians.
As per Engineers Canada’s recommendations, streamlining existing programs will stimulate private sector investment in R&D by reducing the time and effort it takes to navigate the funding and incentive processes. Eliminating barriers to securing intellectual property to engineering-related research, design and development could facilitate the commercialization of Canada’s R&D work. Federal policy needs mechanisms put in place to allow for better intellectual property rights.
We can spend more time talking about the “brain drain”, the loss of Canadian talent to the United States and Europe, but if we continue to let things remain status quo in terms of innovation, our brightest minds are naturally going to choose to go where they will be supported in fulfilling their R&D work and are able to bring their products to market.
We must be globally competitive in order to continue to enjoy the prosperity we have now. Investing in R&D fosters a growing economy, creates strong employment opportunities, in turn increasing our standard of living as a nation. The success of our country is linked to our capacity to be innovative, and we must develop this in order to maintain our current quality of life in Canada.
In closing, I would like to wish everyone a happy and innovative 2012!
1. Details of our recommendations can be found in our February 2011 report: Putting the Pieces Together: A Response to the Review of Federal Support to Research and Development.
2. Lynch, Kevin G. “Desperately Seeking A More Innovative Canada.” The Canada We Want in 2020: Towards a strategic policy roadmap for the federal government. Canada 2020. November 2011.