For the first time in three years, the federal government is coming to the table to participate in the the recently revived annual meetings of S&T ministers, raising optimism for a new era of coordination for S&T policy making and an integrated innovation agenda. Industry minister Tony Clement has confirmed his attendance at the June 29-30 event in Quebec City, hosted by Economic Development, Innovation and Export Trade (MEDIE) minister Clement Gignac. Organizers say minister of state for Science Technology Dr Gary Goodyear is also likely attend for at least a portion of the meeting.
For provincial S&T ministers, the decision by the federal government to participate is a welcome development and at least one says the breakthrough won't be used as a platform for seeking more S&T funding.
"This will be a really good opportunity to engage the federal government," says John Milloy who holds dual responsibilities as minister for Research and Innovation (MRI) and Training, Colleges and Universities. "These are tough economic times but this meeting is not a question of more money … We need better alignment between governments and the feds can help map out what's going on across Canada and make all of our dollars stretch further."
Milloy says the ultimate objective of crafting a national strategy which reflects the strengths and needs of all jurisdictions remains as much a priority in 2010 as it did in 2008 at the initial meeting. He adds that the Council of the Federation — created by the provincial premiers in 2003 to enhance collaborative intergovernmental relations — has been tasked with identifying obstacles to innovation and proposing measures to remove them.
Beginning in 2008, provincial ministers with responsibility for S&T met for the first time in years in Stratford ON at the behest of then MRI minister Dr John Wilkinson, who was starting to implement the province's new innovation strategy. It's unclear whether the federal government was invited to the first meeting but a strong consensus emerged that it should be invited for the follow-up meeting held in Edmonton in November/09.
According to Doug Horner, minister of Alberta's ministry of Advanced Education and Technology (AET), the federal government agreed to participate but withdrew just two weeks before the event (R$, December 9/09). (Horner will not be attending the Quebec City meeting and will be represented by his parliamentary assistant Greg Weadick).
A working group comprised primarily of ministerial DMs has been meeting monthly since January to flesh out the agenda of the Quebec City meeting. An official close to the process says the discussions have dealt with more content and made more progress than previous working groups. The topics being developed for the Quebec City meeting are said to be similar to many of the issues raised at Innovation Next: Making Canada More Productive, Competitive and Resilient — the national conference held May 27th in Toronto by the Public Policy Forum.
The most obvious issue is the low level of R&D spending by Canadian business, modified by the growing realization that R&D expenditures are not the be-all and end-all for innovation, particularly in jurisdictions dominated by natural resources.
Performance measures will also be high on the agenda, underlining the need for useful comparative data to provide precise technical measurements between jurisdictions.
MRI's Milloy says good metrics are imperative for determining "where the gaps are". Ontario and British Columbia have recently completed a paper on performance metrics and Milloy says the findings will be presented in Quebec City.