Speaker: Investment required for innovation

Politicians and educators are not providing the required leadership to achieve innovation in this country, according to the keynote speaker at the Innovation Summit in Toronto on Wednesday.

“I don’t believe for two seconds that the citizens of Canada even want innovation,” said Bill Buxton a Toronto-based chief scientist with Alias/Wavefront Inc., a 3D graphics technology company. “I don’t think most of us have what it takes.”

Buxton was the keynote speaker at the day-long session, organized by boards of trade, municipal governments and academic institutions. The event included representatives from businesses in the Greater Toronto Area, governments, academic institutions and the federal government, and was held to have groups exchange views on a national innovation strategy.

The Toronto summit was one of 34 input sessions being held across the country. The process will culminate with a national summit to be held in November in Toronto, where all the input and recommendations from the summit will be used to create a national action plan for innovation.

Buxton pointed to Ireland, a country that he says is “basically kicking our butt” in a number of sectors because of policies it has instituted.

“The issue here is that they started to put in place policies that started to build and provide a catalyst for a different kind of behaviour,” he said. “One of the things they are doing that’s different…there’s been zero taxes for people in the arts.”

Buxton criticized various levels of government, accusing them of doing more finger pointing than addressing the important issue of education. While schools are being forced to cut arts programs in order to support and foster math and sciences, this is not sufficient, he said. Buxton used the example of Dr. Frederick Banting, who not only discovered insulin, but was also an accomplished artist who painted with the Group of Seven.

Canadians have been too busy patting themselves on the back for the progress we have made, a practice Buxton said needs to stop.

“The improvement of innovation and our investment in innovation in this country means nothing, except relative to the other jurisdictions against whom we are competing,” he said. “I don’t care how hard you’re working, if you’re not doing things differently and faster than your competitors, you are losing ground. Your quality of life will degrade, your standard of living will go down, and guess what, in both those measures that’s what’s been happening.”

The federal government’s innovation strategy can be found at http://www.innovationstrategy.gc.ca.