Prime Minister Harper, why no Minister of Innovation?

harper1Stephen Harper just shuffled his cabinet and — surprising no one — he did not place any increased focus on our digital economy, or on Canadian innovation or productivity. This is another missed opportunity.

Canada has, at time of writing, 51 positions in our Canadian Ministry, including that of the Prime Minister. (The full list is here; the just-announced cabinet shuffle changed some names and a few specifics.) And reflecting our agrarian, resource and food-production history, we have ministers for Agriculture and Agri-Food, the Canadian Wheat Board, Minister of State (Agriculture), Fisheries and Oceans, and Natural Resources.

A number of other ministers have a role in these areas, but this rough list is sufficient for my point: we have five ministerial positions for an industry segment that, in total, contributes approximately $29 billion to our GDP. (According to Industry Canada figures from 2011, “GDP in the Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Hunting sector increased…to $29.1 billion in 2011.”)

So, five positions responsible for $29 billion in GDP.

Let’s compare that to the ICT (Information and Communications Technology) sector. In 2012, it contributed $62.3 billion to Canada’s GDP, according to a report from Canadian Government Executive. Or, to use Industry Canada’s figures, in 2011 ICT was responsible for $155 billion in national revenue.

Two ministers can be said to be responsible for this vast economic sector: the Minister of Industry and the Minister of State (Science and Technology). While Treasury Board is often associated with technology implementation, this is not part of the government’s official description of the position: “The Treasury Board is responsible for accountability and ethics, financial, personnel and administrative management, comptrollership, approving regulations and most Orders-in-Council.”

So, two (maybe three) ministerial positions for $62 billion in GDP. See the disparity?

And if we look at results delivered within those positions, the picture becomes dimmer. In 2009, then Industry Minister Tony Clement promised to deliver a national ICT action plan within a year. It never arrived. On August 28, 2012, Christian Paradis said: “I will launch a Canadian-made digital economy strategy by the end of the year.” Seven months after the end of 2012, there is still no plan.

Our list of ministers is reflective of our history: we put people in charge of critical areas that define us as a nation. To this point, we also have ministers of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, the Atlantic Gateway, La Francophonie, Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, and others. And we should have those positions; these are important concerns that do reflect our nation.

At the same time, ICT is a huge sector of our economy, twice the size of Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Hunting combined. So why aren’t we concentrating on it? While I am pleased that James Moore was named Industry Minister, taking over from Christian Paradis, if he operates within the same framework of expectations and mandate then nothing will improve.

Again, we put people in charge of critical areas that define us. ICT is the defining industry of the future, worldwide. Other countries understand that. The Harper government has failed to deliver a national ICT strategy — despite repeated promises to do so — and today Harper missed an opportunity to put innovation on the national agenda.

Mr. Harper, if you want Canada to truly be a leader in the economy of the future, put someone in charge of innovation specifically and make him or her responsible for improving our sliding international ICT standing.

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Comments

  1. As a Canadian attempting to bring my fellow Canadian start ups to the Global market I find it incredible no Innovation Minister exists. First mission of such a minister would be to complete the funding cycle, with all the R&D we spend we need to educate and fund the GO TO MARKET (GTM) piece!
    I run an accelerator team from Austria and we are trying to get Canadian firms established in Europe…..its a tough job with little GTM help!
    Lets get the right staff in Ottawa to bring Canadian Innovation to the planet!

  2. It seems that the Harper government is happy to make weapon “parts” for America, no innovation needed. Great points about the disparity between GDP in different sectors.

  3. Thank you, Steve and Rob. It’s a critical discussion and, to Steve’s point, I have heard similar statements from others trying to work with the government, or to get the government to work with them.

    I understand that there are a thousand important issues any government could tackle on any day, but ICT and our digital economy are issues for next year and the next decade. It’s an investment in our economic prosperity, and it’s tough to think of a more Conservative cause than that.

    • I thought your piece was excellent Peter, and re-tweeted and commented in our Telecom Dispatch enewsletter at http://www.foxgroup.ca.

      As a senior telecom consultant and analyst and successful entrepreneur who has advised and worked with Industry Canada, CRTC and other government organizations over the past twenty plus years, our challenge has been to help educate politicians and the government bureaucrats of what the possible economic, business and political benefits would be in paying attention to innovation and the digital economy.

      Maybe if we work together and give them a ‘cheat sheet’ with the magic bullets in easy to understand language from their viewpoints, it may help. They certainly don’t seem to understand how to see how and why innovation and the digital economy effects or benefits all of us as small and medium or enterprise business viewpoints. Keep on writing these excellent articles. I am sure it could help!

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