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.