Government set to unveil consultation portion of its innovation strategy

Guest Contributor
April 17, 2002

Industry Canada is set to take the consultation phase of its innovation strategy public after several weeks of private discussions with industry. In the coming weeks, a multi-track process will be announced including government participation in events mounted by external organizations representing industry, academia and the non-profit sector. It has been two months since innovation strategy papers were unveiled by Industry Canada and Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC), but government officials contend the roll-out process is on schedule and will accelerate in the weeks ahead, culminating in a national summit late in the year.

“Things are moving. The announcement will confirm (the industry) track but there will be other tracks of interest to the larger public,” says Dr Andrei Sulzenko, Industry Canada’s senior assistant DM. “We’ll be meeting across the country at regional and community events and we’ll participate in other conferences.”

The government consultation process joins two other consultation initiatives that have already been launched. The Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA) is in the midst of a multi-city, cross-country series of TechAction Town Hall meetings to gauge and stimulate community-level innovation. And the Toronto Dominion Bank has formally announced the TD Forum on Canada’s Standard of Living. It will be chaired by Bob Rae, the former premier of Ontario and administered by the Conference Board of Canada. Papers are being solicited from all interested parties, leading to a roundtable discussion in October and the release of findings.

The challenge to government is to pull the various consultation strands together in a way that accurately captures the dominant attitudes towards a future innovation strategy, resulting in a coherent set of principles and guidelines.

“The innovation paper is extremely important. There’s a great deal of interest in areas such as the generation of wealth and how the creation of clusters can help that,” says Maurizio Bevilacqua, the recently appointed secretary of state for science, research and development. “There’s also unleashing the potential of communities, public-private investment and how firms use and commercialize the application of knowledge. Philosophically, focusing on achieving is important for a country.”

Bevilacqua may be new to the secretary of state portfolio, but he gained considerable knowledge of innovation and S&T issues as head of the house standing committee for finance. He notes that the last few annual reports from the committee prominently supported R&D and S&T, including the report released subsequent to September 11 and the economic downturn. He brings those convictions to his new position.

“I have a strong commitment to the Canadian Academies and the whole area of government science. As we move forward, we will hear a lot more about these,” he says, adding that he’s also examining the Federal Innovation Networks of Excellence (FINE) proposal.

FINE represents the best chance for federal S&T in years and has been gaining considerable buy-in at both the bureaucratic and political levels (R$, November 28/01). FINE strategists contend that the program could be the main instrument for changing the way in which federal S&T is conducted, and could eventually comprise 30% of all federally performed S&T. As proposed, projects funded under FINE would represent new money added to existing spending levels.

Before these or any other initiatives are approved and executed, however, the consultation process must be completed, the results synthesized and new programs funded. There are many who fear that the papers released earlier this year, combined with a lengthy period of consultation could result in the same vaguely focused S&T strategy now in place. That strategy went through a similar sequence of stages, only to be homogenized and boiled down to a series of documents that now lie gathering dust on innumerable government shelves. But Sulzenko says this time, things will be different.

“This time, what we’re looking for is a go-forward action plan rather than analysis, adding that he was not involved in the consultation process of 1994-95 leading up to the current strategy. “This strategy will involve all the key players and we’ll develop a go-forward consensus of what needs to be done and by whom.”

Policy makers will also face the challenge of putting back together an innovation strategy that split into two separate but linked documents. The rationale for the split has never been satisfactorily explained, but observers contend that the inability of the two relevant departments to coordinate activities was behind the decision to establish a two-track process. Sulzenko says that there will be joint involvement for some aspects of the consultation process, while others will be separate. But in the end the two components must be made one.

“The two parts will have to be joined and that will broaden the agenda. There should be closure,” he says. “HRDC will be involved in the national summit and we’re working hard and fast on this strategy.”


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