Welcome to our special issue on innovation, aligned with the symposium, Innovation Nation, organized by Policy Options/IRPP and the BMO Financial Group, and hosted by the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Ontario, on September 16.

To begin, we asked our pollster, Nik Nanos, to find out if Canadians thought research and development was important to Canada’s future prosperity. Fully half of the respondents in our Nanos/Policy Options poll thought it was very important. “It’s pretty clear that R&D is critical,” he says, and there’s no doubt the public sees it that way.

Tom Jenkins, Executive Chairman and Chief Strategy Officer of OpenText and Chair of the federal Expert Panel on Government Support to Research and Development, shares his thoughts on Canada’s R&D challenges just ahead of his report’s release. “Competition is the fundamental motivation for innovation in a rational organization,” he writes. And Canada’s highly regulated economy limits competition in “large, critical segments of the economy.”

Kevin Lynch and Munir A. Sheikh propose an equation, that an innovation dividend equals strong productivity growth. “Why are we so complacent on such a pressing issue?” they ask. “Where is our sense of urgency, our collective understanding of the consequences for our future competitiveness and living standards of sustained underperformance in productivity and innovation?” Those are good questions, particularly for Canada’s private sector, where Canada ranks 14th in the OECD. McGill University Principal Heather Munroe-Blum notes that in spite of a massive $20 billion federal investment in university research since 1997, Canada’s GERD (gross expenditure on R&D) has actually dropped, because Canadian companies don’t invest in R&D to the extent their competitors do.

Our own Jeremy Leonard has another view, that “the science-push approach to innovation has failed to meet its objectives,” and he urges governments to “focus their attention on the long-neglected demand side of innovation.”

John Stewart looks at Canada’s innovation puzzle, and finds that Canada lags behind most OECD countries in building a national public research infrastructure. “What assets do we have in our publicly funded research establishments?” he asks.

International business professor Charles McMillan, who was senior policy adviser to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, argues that innovation in supply chain management in Canada’s Pacific and Atlantic trade gateways is essential to the prosperity of Canada as a trading nation. Global supply chains, he writes, “are now a corporate imperative for strategy-making.”

Shannon Wells and Geordie Hungerford argue that high-growth companies hold the key to our future success. “High-growth companies — “gazelles” — represent only a small proportion of all firms,” they write, “but are of vastly disproportionate importance in terms of innovation, job creation and long-term growth potential.”

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Sara Diamond and Linda Lewis make the case that Canada’s “poor innovation record has been hampered by a reluctance to acknowledge design as a key component to innovation.” Design, they conclude, needs to become part of “the innovation paradigm.” As they point out, Apple’s success is largely a function of its popular designs, on everything from the iPod to the iPad. Marielle Piché and Kevin Goheen call for centralized access to public R&D funding in Canada. She’s a former senior executive with the National Research Council, and he’s an authority on securing tax credits for business R&D.

John Manley and Ross Laver join the conversation from the perspective of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives. As they point out, there are many steps from the eureka moment to the market place. Gary Polonksy shares his experience as the start-up president of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.

Looking at the innovation puzzle from the perspective of the pharmaceutical industry, Rx&D President Russell Williams writes that “the international competition for research investment is fierce, and with the rise of technology and communication, research is now highly portable.” Although the pharma sector is Canada’s second largest investor of R&D at $1.5 billion a year, he notes that is still “only almost 1 percent of the $100 billion spent globally each year on pharmaceutical research.”

Our Book Excerpt this month features Jonathan Kay’s Among the Truthers. The Tea Party movement and their friends were on the trail of Barack Obama’s birth certificate, trying to prove he wasn’t born in the US and thus ineligible to be president. In a review, Adam Daifallah gives the book a strong thumbs-up.

On a personal note, we’re sorry to be losing our Associate Editor, Sarah Fortin, who is moving on to new horizons. During the nearly nine years we worked together, she was responsible for the commissioning and editing of French-language articles, and in recent years took the lead on our summer issue (this year the thematic was agri-food policy). Sarah created a strong network of francophone writers, and always set remarkably high professional standards. While we’ll miss her, we’re very happy for her. Bonne chance, Sarah! Et mille fois merci!

Photo: Shutterstock

L. Ian MacDonald
L. Ian MacDonald is a former editor-in-chief of Policy Options (2002-12) and is currently an editor and publisher of Policy Magazine.

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