The association that represents many of Canada’s top technology companies says pouring cash into national security efforts at the expense of on-going technology projects would be an “irresponsible” move.

Gaylen Duncan, president and CEO of the Information Technology Association of Canada, which represents 1,300 IT companies in Canada, made the comments during a press conference in Ottawa Monday. To better detail its position, ITAC also released a 25-page document outlining what efforts it says Canada must undertake in order to stay technologically competitive on a global scale.

Although the ITAC document was scheduled for an October release before the Sept. 11 attacks, Duncan said the issue of IT innovation is perhaps more important now than ever.

Duncan said Canada’s place among the world’s most innovative nations is already slipping, versus both the United States and other Western nations. Cutting back or eliminating such projects as the National Broadband Network or Government On-line would only impede economic growth at a time when such activity is badly needed.

“Innovation is what’s driving the economy right now. And we’re not ranked number one,” he added.

“Security is important, but so is the future of the country,” Duncan said. “There is a balance that has to be attained.”

ITAC is not asking for the federal government to launch new projects, he said, but rather is encouraging it to proceed with initiatives already underway. Those recommendations include:

– Spending $100 million over the next five years in technology education and to address the dwindling of Canada’s skilled workforce

– Improve access to start-up and investment capital

– Stay the course on the proposed efforts to create a broadband network linking Canadian communities and the Government On-line effort, designed to improve online service delivery

– As well, ITAC is calling on the government to help it “brand” Canada as a tech-savvy nation, one that is attractive to potential investors.

The association is also encouraging companies to adopt productivity-enhancing technology more quickly, calling on the public and private sector to improve their overall management practices, and asking Ottawa to cut combined provincial/federal business taxes from the current rate of 43 per cent to at least 30 per cent by 2004.

Barry Oxby, partner at Sierra Systems in Calgary and a 20-year IT veteran, said he concurs with ITAC’s recommendations, and said more money for education, improving access to investment funds and tax reform should be considered priority items. He would even like to see ITAC add an item to the list – namely, finding a way to keep skilled Canadians from flocking to U.S.-based research and development centres based in Canada.

“Obviously national security is important,” said Oxby. “But I think as a country we need to focus on our productivity. Technology has improved our standard of living over the past 10 years.”

He said Canada’s lukewarm technology effort dates back well before the Sept. 11 attacks, and needs to be addressed in a timely fashion.

“We have some pockets of leadership and innovation, but on the whole we tend to be followers more than leaders.”