Gov’t seeks public input on science and tech

By: Stephen Chartrand- Specialty News Editor

Science & Tech1For all Brock students who have a passion for science and technology, who think technological innovation and the public understanding of science in Canada as essential, the following information may be of interest to you. The federal government is actively soliciting the Canadian public for ideas on how the government can revise its present policy towards technology and the sciences.

On January 8, Greg Rickford, Minister of State for Science and Technology, announced that Industry Canada was launching a national consultation process as part of the federal government’s efforts to update its Science, Technology, and Innovation Strategy (the original 2007 policy, Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada’s Advantage, can be found online at Industry Canada’s website.

The initiative is seeking input from post-secondary institutions, private-sector research and development companies and the general public. “The views and thoughts of Canadians on … how they perceive science, technology and innovation are crucial in helping us … develop a strategy for harnessing both discovery-driven and applied research to propel further innovation” the Minister said.

According to the discussion paper supplied by Industry Canada, the government is seeking input on three major areas: science and technology education in public and post-secondary institutions; linking research excellence with business innovation; and new policy approaches for assisting entrepreneurial people within the science and technology fields.

The commercial focus of the strategy is due in large part to two recently published reports advising the federal government to address Canada’s “knowledge transfer” problem. According to the Science, Technology and Innovation Council (STIC), established in 2007 as an independent advisory body to parliament, the challenge is “moving knowledge developed in higher education institutions to companies that have the ability to absorb it and translate it into commercially viable products.”

Science & Tech2The Council of Canadian Academies reached a similar conclusion. While Canada ranks high among its international competitors for its research excellence and is well-regarded for fielding highly educated and qualified graduates, “Canada’s business innovation, by contrast, is weak by international standards.” Why has “this research excellence,” the paper asks, “not translated into more business innovation?”

The problem is further compounded when we consider Canada’s exceptionally weak labour productivity growth. According to the CCA, “the growth of labour productivity in Canada’s business sector (which accounts for about 75 per cent of GDP) has [averaged] 0.8 percent per year between 2001 and 2011, and ranking 15th among 20 peer countries in the OECD.” In comparison with 2011 U.S. levels, Canadian labour productivity stands at about 71 per cent today; a decline of more than 20 per cent from the mid-1980s.

Canada’s research strength and entrepreneurial weakness may seem paradoxical; there are, however, a number of complex reasons which might explain this problem.  The North American economy, the authors remind us, is “remarkably integrated;” affecting everything from “domestic competition, the profitability of existing business models, and the particular Canadian attitude to business risk.”

Although the knowledge transfer problem is not entirely due to external constraints supplied by market forces, as Canada’s economic prosperity becomes more dependent on natural resources, information and communications technologies, the environmental sciences, and health-related technologies, it is obvious that Canada needs to improve in its ability of translating research and knowledge potential into business opportunities.

For students interested in submitting ideas to Industry Canada can read the full discussion paper at www.ic.gc.ca/science-tech-innovation-consultation. The deadline for submissions is Feb 7. Responses can be sent to science-tech-innovation-consultation@ic.gc.ca.

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