Where smart industrial policy goes to die

As I observed earlier this week, Globe and Mail columnist Rita Trichur recently wrote “Canada is the land where smart industrial policy goes to die.”

The same day, as if in response, there was an opinion piece in the Globe by Dan Breznitz and Daniel Trefler, “Canada needs a real innovation strategy – now”.

We do need a real innovation strategy. Desperately.

Too often, it feels like Canada’s “innovation policy” consists of throwing government funds at high profile companies to help pay for something that the company would do anyway, or giving money to a firm that is dying to help preserve some semblance of life-support for a hand full of jobs.

Dan Breznitz is a professor and the Munk Chair of Innovation Studies, in the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy; Daniel Trefler is the Douglas and Ruth Grant Chair in Competitiveness and Prosperity at University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

Why do we want innovation?

We want innovation because it is the driver of improved living standards. Furthermore, for rich countries such as Canada, it is the only way to create and sustain high-paying jobs. But high-paying jobs for whom? Which takes us to our second question.

What kind of society do we want? As Canadians we want a healthy society built on an economy that generates good jobs for all, rather than extremely high-paying jobs for the few. This is essential to remember since too often in Canada when we talk about innovation, we mean the Silicon Valley model, the ultimate inequality-generating machine. The end point for any discussion of Canadian innovation policy must be good jobs for all.

Four years ago, Dan Breznitz spoke at The 2017 Canadian Telecom Summit and his keynote address is worth watching.

I encourage you to read the opinion piece in the Globe.

With Canada on the cusp of a long-overdue policy statement on the use of Huawei equipment in Canada’s networks, the major carriers have already made alternate arrangements. We may need to consider how to deal with smaller rural players using Huawei equipment to provide broadband service in otherwise unserved areas. But far more fundamentally, Canada needs a strategy to deal with the potential loss of Huawei as a funder of industrial and academic research.

What would happen to the human and intellectual capital at Huawei’s Canadian labs and on so many university campuses? What should we do?

As Canada’s new government gets organized, hopefully it will recognize that we’re long overdue for some innovation on Canada’s innovation policy. Canada doesn’t need to be considered the land where smart industrial policy goes to die.

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