PERLEY BLOG: Federal innovation agenda

Tim McCunn

From the perspective of anyone in the innovation eco-system, the 2017 Federal Budget was very heartening, as “Innovation” was indeed the title and theme of the budget.  Some of the highlights worth noting are:

1. Creation of “Innovation Canada” to centralize the many programs across government to seek to foster innovation.  A very good idea because not only will it be more efficient but it will also create more accountability.  Although this proposal sounds bureaucratic, I have long advocated that job one for the Federal Government is to centralize the many programs across the Federal Government not only for efficiency purposes but more importantly for better focus and coordination.

2. Identifying six specific areas:
(i) Advanced manufacturing
(ii) Agri-food
(iii) Clean tech
(iv) Digital tech
(v) Health / bio
(vi) Clean resources

Canada must be strategic in terms of what we focus on: we are a small nation and cannot be all things to everyone.  However, I am not sure what a “supercluster” will look like: if it is simply more quasi-government agencies, I and unsure whether that would have much impact

3. The creation of new funds is interesting:
(i) Impact Canada Fund
(ii) Strategic Innovation Fund

My concern here is government picking winners and / or losers and subsidizing large players like large plan and / or companies.  I am not sure that has been proven to be the best approach.

4. Venture Capital Catalyst Initiative:  In my view is the best federal program on Innovation.  At the end of the day it is always about not only capital by smart capital.  The “fund of funds” approach is the best way for government to participate (as opposed to direct funding of companies and therefore picking winners and losers) and ensuring we have a well-funded eco-system of venture capital firms in Canada.

5. Innovative Solutions Canada: this is the proposal to have the federal government buy from young companies.  Of course government as a customer has always been a great idea.  In practice however it just has not worked.  This project is in the “I will believe it when I see it” category.

After years of almost full neglect, it certainly is pleasing to see Innovation at the top of the federal government’s agenda.  We all need to support this agenda and hope it indeed creates the kind of jobs we hope for our children (it’s too late for me!)

Timothy J. McCunn is is a Partner with Perley-Roberston, Hill & McDougall LLP/s.r.l.