What the September federal election could mean for innovators in Canada

Sebastian Leck
August 18, 2021

After months of anticipation, the Trudeau government finally dropped the writ on Sunday. It’s official: Canada will have a federal election on September 20. The Liberals look like the clear front runners, and most observers believe that it is Trudeau’s election to lose.

However, voters can be unpredictable, as the UK's former Prime Minister David Cameron discovered in his fateful Brexit gamble, and the election will have an impact regardless of the winner. For the innovation community, it will serve as a referendum on the industrial policy of the Liberal government and their economic track record, including the superclusters that have been one of the most ambitious initiatives of the Trudeau era.

As Research Money has reported, the superclusters have invited both intense enthusiasm and criticism. The CEO of the Digital Technology Supercluster, Sue Paish, told me in July that the superclusters are some of the most exciting public policy she has worked on since the human rights policies of the 1970s. “I say that we are in the first five years of a 105-year mandate,” she said. But Research Money’s senior correspondent Mark Lowey has also reported on criticism that the superclusters have not spent federal funding quickly enough to launch projects and meet their GDP and job growth targets. In the case of a Liberal victory, they will have a clear mandate to continue along their current path with confidence.

The election could popularize new ideas about innovation to the public. As correspondent Monte Stewart reported this week, Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole is pushing a new Canadian Advanced Research Agency to fund R&D projects. The idea of a DARPA-like institute is not new, but it is new to see it promoted by the leader of a major political party, especially the cost-cutting Conservative Party. Once discussed only among members of a niche community — the kind of people who read Research Money — the idea has become so mainstream that Boris Johnson’s UK government, US President Joe Biden's administration and now O’Toole are making their own versions of DARPA into political projects.

The election cut other debates short. Bill C-11, a new digital privacy bill, will never pass now that the 43rd Parliament has been dissolved. Nor will Bill C-10, a controversial bill that would have amended the Broadcasting Act. After the new government forms, policy debates in these areas will start anew.

Research Money will be covering each of the party’s innovation platforms and the policy debates surrounding them in the coming weeks. And we’re looking for comments and opinions from you, readers. If you have a news tip, an opinion piece that you’d like to write or see an area that needs more attention, contact us at editor@researchmoneyinc.com. As Canada wrestles with the COVID-19 pandemic and attempts a rapid transition to clean technology, a rigorous debate on innovation has never been more important.


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