When the newly minted Liberal government was sworn in at Rideau Hall nearly six months ago, attention was focused primarily on the caliber and gender equity make up of the new cabinet. Interestingly enough, little attention was paid to what would become a significant aspect of the new government's agenda -- its commitment to innovation.
More cynical commentators in Ottawa dismissed the newly minted Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development and Minister of Science portfolios as a simple rebrand of pre-existing cabinet posts. In some ways, that was an understandable reaction. After all the new Liberal government was widely criticized by opposition parties for being heavy on style and light on substance.
Many said Minister Bains was simply taking over many of the roles and responsibilities that had long resided at the former Department of Industry. Observers and pundits surmised that by taking the decades old Industry Minister portfolio, and renaming it Innovation, Science and Economic Development, the government was simply trying to broadcast an image of a new economy that was not based on more pipelines and factories. The announcement of a new Minister of Science was likewise dismissed for similar reasons. Following Budget 2016, it is clear that when it comes to the innovation agenda, the government's intentions are substantive.
If Act One of the new government has been all about infrastructure investments, Act Two is clearly going to be about the innovation agenda.
Ministers Bains, Duncan and Chagger will be spearheading the country's first comprehensive innovation strategy. The recent Liberal budget earmarked close to $2 billion for college and university infrastructure as well as an additional $800 million focused on various tech clusters. While this funding is laudable, it does not really signify a truly different approach to innovation in this country. After all, previous governments have dedicated funds towards innovation and have seen great success in this area. Agriculture's work on GMOs or Health Canada's work on mapping the human genome are prime examples. That work will continue to happen under current government.
However, the challenge in the past has always been that the various funding and program buckets have been siloed across government. The Liberals are changing that. This new one-window approach will make it easier for organizations to navigate the system and access the information and funding they need. The government believes that this approach can help expand the pre-existing innovation sector in Canada and subsequently grow jobs and investment.
This innovation strategy will also play a major role in Canada's multilateral and bilateral relations. Until now, Canada has been one of only a few G7 countries without a specific innovation strategy in place. Many other western countries not only have innovation strategies, but are regularly updating them on an annual basis.
By coordinating these efforts, the government hopes that it will be better positioned to take on serious global issues impacting Canada and our allies in areas like climate change, the arctic and cancer research. Further, it could afford us an opportunity to invest in areas where we would be true pioneers, like quantum computing, as opposed to competing in areas that are already dominated by foreign countries.
The government believes that their innovation agenda goes beyond simply increasing funding for specific initiatives. They want to be focused on structural change towards simplification and clarity on the government of Canada's innovation agenda. Liberals believe that this approach is similar to the one they took with the Canada Child Benefit. In that particular case they attempted to take several pre-existing child benefit programs and created a singular, simpler, and in their opinion, more effective benefit. They intend to take that same approach with their innovation strategy. This is their plan to creatively destruct in order to construct something that works better for Canadian entrepreneurs and businesses.
It is too early to tell whether or not the Prime Minister will be successful in this innovation experiment. It is not without its challenges. As has been widely reported, each ministerial mandate letter includes a requirement that the minister be committed to evidence-based policy. History shows that political considerations, particularly in areas such as climate change, often take primacy over scientific evidence. At some point over the next four years, it is very likely that the government's commitment to evidence-based decision making and the innovation agenda will be tested. Investments made in this area may not produce the results that the government hopes for.
It has been said that the art of statesmanship is to foresee the inevitable and to expedite its occurrence. In many ways this new government approach to science and research was inevitable. That said, even if this new experiment is unsuccessful, it has the potential to bring Canada to the forefront of an increasingly competitive global sector -- one that is critical to our country's continued growth.
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