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Innovation in Canada
May 15, 2018
2 minutes read

Around the year 2000, there was a push by the Canadian government to get students interested in computer science and engineering. I benefited from these efforts by attending a computer science program at UBC tailored for graduates from non engineering disciplines. As the year 2010 rolled around and US tech giants started to gain their footing, the innovation message in Canada seemed to disappear. The message was replaced by a resounding voice by the government to focus on the resource sector. Two messages pumped into the ears of Canadians by the media were:

“Alberta is the engine that drives Canadian growth.”

“We need to focus more on the skilled trades.”

After the oil price collapsed we realized the folly of these messages. Canada appeared to be moving away from innovation towards the boom and bust resource business. I wanted to find out why the country put so much emphasis on the resource industry after appearing to first commit to the lucrative and competitive knowledge-based economy. I first looked at the OECD data and compared various countries only to find that we were under performing relative to the world Gross domestic spending on R&D. In 2004 Canada diminished spending in R&D and in 2006 federal election resulted in a minority government led by the Conservative Party with Harper becoming the 22nd Prime Minister of Canada.

Canada appears 18th on a 2017 competitive ranking Global Innovation Index 2017 Report.

The lack of innovation may have impacted our wealth. Roughly 60% of computer science graduates leave for the United States after graduation while those who remain are paid poorly.

It is clear to me that Canada is on a track which excludes the competitive knowledge-based economy and we will remain on the resource rails. The rails become increasingly sticky as the expense to compete with the large US and Chinese technology firms becomes prohibitive. The cost of developing AI and machine learning is too high for Canada and we must be resigned to our diminutive world status.


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