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

 

Just Posted

Pitching a plateau trail between Skidegate and Queen Charlotte

Taking the “high way” between Skidegate and Queen Charlotte may never be… Continue reading

Islands leaders optimistic about restored ferry sailings

BC Ferries won’t run an evening walk-on ferry to Sandspit, but local… Continue reading

Fishing Haida Gwaii: Naked as a coho, happy as a fish jump

By Darrell Oike Haawa for all the fish caught this week. It… Continue reading

Sandspit looks set to try public school bus

Sandspit high school students may soon get to and from the Alliford… Continue reading

Committee to advise on potential merger of Masset schools

Haida Gwaii school trustees will get advice from a special public committee… Continue reading

Haida animator wins first festival award for The Mountain of SG̱aana

Cruising to fish one morning on the Silver Shadow, a bored skipper… Continue reading

New B.C. acute care centre opens for young patients, expectant mothers

Facility aims to make B.C. Children’s Hospital visits more comfortable

Search ramps up for B.C. woman after dog, car found near Ashcroft

Jenny Lynn Larocque’s vehicle and dog were found in Venables Valley, but there is no sign of her

Police officer hit by car, stabbed in Edmonton attack back on job

Const. Mike Chernyk, 48, returned to work Thursday

UBC medical students learn to care for Indigenous people

Students in health-related studies to take course, workshop to help better serve Aboriginal people

Dorsett has 2 goals, assist in Canucks’ 4-2 win over Sabres

‘It was a real good hockey game by our group,’ Canucks coach Travis Green said.

Berry disappointed: Bear tries to eat fake fruit on woman’s door wreath

A Winnipeg woman has taken her berry-embellished wreath down, after a hungry bear visited her porch

Man in custody linked police search near Salmon Arm

Police have not connected arrest to search at Salmon River Road property

B.C. search groups mobilize for missing mushroom picker

Searchers from across the province look for Frances Brown who has been missing since Oct. 14.

Most Read