Premier Christy Clark introduces UBC president Santa Ono (right) as the province's advisor on innovation

BC VIEWS: Politicians can’t direct innovation

Ottawa has more than 140 programs to encourage innovation, and B.C. is getting on the bandwagon

The core of the new federal budget is an “Innovation and Skills Plan” to encourage business investment and jobs in Canada.

This is the second budget of the Justin Trudeau government, which means the second year of borrowing and spending billions for “infrastructure” with little to show for it so far. I have no argument with skills training, a must in our fast-changing economy. But what about this “innovation” business, and is it really the business of governments?

According to the latest Trudeau budget, innovation will help move Canada beyond reliance on our “rich natural resources,” and of course “grow the middle class.”

One of the headings is “Program Simplification,” which tells you where this is all going wrong.

“The Government of Canada’s vast array of innovation programs makes it difficult for business to find and secure the support they need,” it says. The more than 140 existing programs will be reviewed.

Yes, Ottawa has been trying for a long time to move us beyond “hewers of wood and drawers of water,” to use the decades-old cliché. Stephen Harper gave us a $400 million “Venture Capital Action Plan,” seed money to attract private capital to startups.

Trudeau doubled down last year with $800 million to create “clusters” of universities, business and government to spawn the next Silicon Valley. This year, Ottawa has dedicated $950 million to grow “superclusters,” which Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains assures us are “job magnets.”

Alas, Canada sucks at innovation, and producing entrepreneurs. Everything from our auto industry to our environmental movement consists mainly of American branch plants.

We’ve had a few breakout successes, like BlackBerry, but now Canadians mostly laugh at how un-cool they are. And while taxpayers’ money keeps pouring into this “vast array” of programs, business investment in research and commercialization still lags behind.

B.C.’s got innovation fever too. In January, Premier Christy Clark re-launched her “jobs plan,” a flexible beast that isn’t so much about natural gas exports right now as new technology, climate change and yes, innovation.

Clark appointed UBC president Santa Ono as the government’s chief advisor on innovation. He’s got clusters on his mind, no doubt.

NDP leader John Horgan hasn’t shown us much on innovation yet, but give him time. It’s the hot political fashion trend this spring.

Green Party leader Andrew Weaver is clustering as we speak. He launched his “innovation and sustainable enterprise plan” in Vancouver last week, starting with an “emerging economy task force” to start work as soon as a BC Green government takes over.

There will be $20 million a year “to support ideation, mentoring and networking at post-secondary institutions,” $50 million for “business incubators” and “accelerators,” and $70 million over four years “to leverage seed or angel funding.” (No, I don’t know what ideation is either.)

The CBC had an innovation a while back, a show called Dragon’s Den. If you’ve seen it, you know the drill. Angel investors take a hard look at a new product and offer financing for part ownership.

My favourite dragon is Jim Treliving, a no-nonsense ex-RCMP officer who built Boston Pizza into a three-country empire. He doesn’t spew insults like former panelist Kevin O’Leary, he just tells would-be entrepreneurs what in his view works and what doesn’t.

So now politicians assure us they can pick winners, with our money. Here’s Innovation Minister Bains, explaining it to The Globe and Mail last week:

“Innovation is fundamentally about people. And it’s about better outcomes, better communities. It’s finding solutions so that people can live better lives.”

Right.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

PHOTOS: What summer 2020 is like in Revelstoke

Contributors submit their favourite photos from this summer

Celebrate wildflowers next week in Revelstoke

Tourism Revelstoke is hosting a wildflower festival with various activities Aug. 9-16

Body of 21-year-old man found in Okanagan Lake

BC Coroners Service is investigating the circumstances of the man’s death

LETTER: Revelstoke does not need proposed Hay Rd. development

The development calls for 60 housing units

Which streets in Revelstoke have the most crashes?

The data was recently released by ICBC

Airlines dispute Dr. Henry’s claim they ‘very rarely’ give accurate COVID contact tracing info

Air Canada, WestJet say they provide names and contact information

‘We all have anxieties’: B.C.’s top doctor addresses return-to-school fears amid COVID-19

Dr. Bonnie Henry promises school restart plan safe for B.C. kids

West Kelowna wildfire ‘under control’

B.C. Wildfire anticipates no further growth from the three-hectare fire

Abbotsford mom worried about her two kids in Beirut following explosion

Shelley Beyak’s children were abducted by their dad in 2018

Young Canadians, hospitality workers bear the brunt of mental strain in 2020: report

A study by Morneau Shepell points to economic uncertainty in the pandemic as the cause for angst

Dry Lake wildfire now classified as held

Wildfire was burning out of control north of Princeton for three days

Health Canada recalling more than 50 hand sanitizers in evolving list

Organization says to stop using products listed, and to consult a health-care professional

Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen pays nearly $8 million in wages

Figures included in latest Statement of Financial Information

Democracy costs Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen more than $500,000

Remuneration and expenses paid to chair, directors and alternate directors comes to $542,588

Most Read