Five-point Action Plan indicates government may move quickly
December 2, 2002
National Innovation Summit
Better access to risk capital, a stronger emphasis on commercialization, a permanent program for the indirect costs of university research and much altered R&D tax credits emerged as central recommendations stemming from the marathon brain storming session at the National Innovation Summit. For a day and a half, Toronto was home to more than 500 of Canada’s most powerful knowledge creators and managers who assembled to assist the federal government in formulating an innovation strategy for participating effectively and prosperously in the global knowledge economy.
Just two of the specific initiatives that could arise from the Summit announcements could be a one-stop approach to all research funding and the expansion the Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) tax credit program to include some aspects of commercialization.
Diversity, Communities, Cities
The Summit was the culmination of a six-month, $7.5-million “engagement” exercise on innovation and learning that tied together the two planks of a strategy that had been running on parallel tracks. Upon arrival, delegates were presented with a five-point Action Plan on Innovation (see box) and asked to participate in a highly structured series of discussions and plenary sessions that produced 21 priorities for action from a slate of nearly 100 (see chart).
Despite the highly stage-managed nature of the event, there were a few surprise announcements designed to whet the appetite of those anticipating prompt government action. First, the Advisory Council on Science and Technology (ACST) has been re-launched and met with Industry minister Alan Rock on the eve of the summit (see page 4). Secondly, the 10-year timeline for reviewing the regulatory environment pertaining to business has been shortened to 2005. And thirdly, a framework agreement for university research and collaboration was unveiled (see page 5). In the area of skills and learning, the government is establishing a Canadian Learning Institute for research and information which it hopes will be launched with provincial collaboration.
The new initiatives were supposed to be announced by prime minister Jean Chrétien but he was unable to attend due to bad weather in Quebec. His speech was delivered by Human Resources and Development Canada (HRDC) minister Jane Stewart. Both Stewart and Rock stayed for the duration of the event and could be seen in the hallways and corridors engaged in one-on-one discussions with many of the delegates.
Rock also used the Summit to announce that the government would be reviewing the foreign ownership restrictions for telecommunications infrastructure. He directed the House of Commons Industry Committee to quickly hold consultations and issue recommendations by the end of February. The foreign ownership review was one of the few initiatives with a solid timetable, and the immediate task of the government is to establish a process for moving the recommendations forward.
“No one is going to let the enthusiasm wane at this point,” says Michael Fine, executive director of the Innovation Secretariat. “Industry Canada has to decide how to go forward. What’s the strategy? How do we take advantage of this (engagement process). We need sectoral plans, community plans and working groups for more complicated areas like early-stage funding issues.”
Dr Rey Pagtakhan, secretary of state for Science, Research and Development, was unable to attend the summit. But after being fully briefed, he says he’s confident that at least one initiative — indirect costs of university research — could be included in the next Budget. He described the Action Plan for the innovation strategy as “five pillars for Canada’s greatness”.
“I am very encouraged. I can see things in motion on the part of the ministers of Industry and HRDC. We can hope to see fairly immediate action on some of these things identified at the summit,” says Pagtakhan.
Frustration with process
Despite constant frustration with the process throughout the second day, delegates effectively collaborated to scale down the number of recommendations going forward. RE$EARCH MONEY attended the break-out session on Improving Research, Development and Commercialization, but only after lobbying to overturn a decision to exclude media from the sessions.
In each session, large groups were asked to choose the top three recommendations from a list of between 12 and 29. There were 17 recommendations to choose from in the session attended by RE$EARCH MONEY. It didn’t take long before delegates began questioning the wisdom in picking winners and losers among recommendations that had already been distilled from innumerable regional summits, written submissions and industry sector consultations.
One delegate described the process as “typically Canadian”, “fundamentally flawed” and “absolutely faulty thinking” and argued that the Summit should instead focus on building the best environment for innovation to thrive. His group then refused to make a Top 3 selection — a decision several other groups were tempted to follow.
Of the three recommendations that ultimately went forward, one wasn’t even in the original selection of 17. The session unanimously agreed that a recommendation to enable the relationship between universities and the receptor community should be included. Other recommendations were combined in an effort to include as much as possible in the final selection.
Taken as a whole, however, the majority of delegates were cautiously optimistic that the Innovation Summit satisfied an urgent need to proceed on several fronts. One delegate, Precarn Inc president Dr Anthony Eyton, pronounced the event as a success.
“It achieved a fair amount and we had an interesting exchange of views. I support most of the recommendations presented but you can’t support 93. You have to establish some priority,” he says. “The ministers and the senior bureaucrats were the most important part of the audience. We were speaking to them.”
Improving Research, Development & Commercialization
- Enable relationships between people who innovate & universities/colleges/research institutions
- Continue to expand university-based research across all universities by strengthening research infrastructure
- Broaden and deepened mandates of successful programs that support commercialization
- Access to risk capital
- Support commercialization of new health & environmental technologies
Building an Inclusive and Skilled Workforce
- Increase participation levels of underemployed groups
- Provide incentives & programs to increase in-house training carried out by industry, particularly sector councils, sectoral training bodies & apprenticeship programs
- Undertake a comprehensive plan to improve the process for recognizing foreign credentials
- Create a welcoming environment for new immigrants into Canadian communities
Enhancing the Innovation Environment
- Reduce or eliminate capital taxes at the federal & provincial levels
- Improve the function of scientific, research & experimental development (SR&ED) program
- Develop new tax-based instruments to stimulate seed & early stage investments (i.e. tax credits for angel investors)
- Accelerate regulatory reform to 2005
Strengthening the Learning Culture
- Establish a pan-Canadian literacy development system supported by federal/ provincial/territorial governments
- Expand capacity in post-secondary systems by increasing infrastructure, using cost-effective design principles
- Adjust system of student financial assistance to meet changing needs of students
- Integrate innovation-related skills in education curriculums
- Support cluster growth by fostering development of local kernal research institutions & schools
- Collaborate with local stakeholders to prepare long-term community innovation strategies
- Enhance learning capacity of children, youth, adults from rural & Aboriginal communities
- Extend national broadband access into rural & remote areas