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Low business innovation pulling down Canada’s S&T performance

Total research spending also lagging that of competitor countries, says latest STIC report.

BY LÉO CHARBONNEAU | DEC 01 2015

The latest report of the Science, Technology and Innovation Council, released Nov. 27, paints a fairly gloomy portrait of the state of innovation, science and technology (S&T) in Canada. This is the fourth report by the council, which was created in 2007 to advise the federal government on Canada’s S&T and innovation performance relative to that of other countries.

In the area of business innovation, the State of the Nation 2014 report declares categorically that Canada is simply not globally competitive. The press release accompanying the report says, “Canada’s poor business innovation performance represents the country’s most profound and urgent science, technology and innovation challenge.”

This can be seen most tellingly in terms of business expenditures on research and development, or BERD. Canadian companies’ BERD as a share of gross domestic product is considerably lower than in many other advanced economies, the report notes. Canada’s ranking on BERD intensity fell from 18th in 2006 to 26th in 2013. From 2007 to 2014, Canada’s overall investment in business R&D dropped by more than $1 billion.

In the areas of “knowledge” and “talent,” Canada is performing better, but “we cannot be complacent,” said STIC member Amit Chakma, president of Western University. The country still produces “star” researchers, 96 of whom are among the top 1 percent of the most cited in their respective fields. On the other hand, higher-education expenditures on R&D and total funding of R&D activities in Canada remain essentially flat and are starting to lag compared to those of other countries. “Maintaining and enhancing excellence requires that our investments keep pace with those of our global competitors,” said Dr. Chakma.

Canada did make significant progress in one area: between 2006 and 2012, the country more than doubled the number of science and engineering doctoral degrees granted per 100,000 population, from 4.6 to 9.6.

The STIC report is usually released in the spring but was delayed this year. The current STIC panel has 19 members from government, industry and academia, including three current university presidents and two past-presidents.

STIC’s first state of the nation report, released in spring 2009, characterized Canada as a mid-level performer, with a high level of university research compared to other countries but low private-sector R&D spending. The second report, in 2011, showed Canada’s innovation performance had remained unchanged or declined on several measures. The 2013 report concluded that Canada “continues to tread water” and needs to “aim higher.”

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