Technology ministers to discuss R&D plans in Quebec

Federal and provincial science and technology ministers are scheduled to meet later this week in Quebec to discuss how best to reclaim Canada’s position as a leading source of innovation.

The Quebec City meeting, to be co-chaired by Industry Minister Brian Tobin and Quebec Finance Minister Pauline Marois, will look at ways to improve Canada’s R&D performance relative to the other member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), said Frederique Tsai, a spokesperson with Tobin’s office in Ottawa.

“They are going to work toward adopting a series of common principles that every (provincial and territorial) government will work within to reach common goals,” Tsai said.

Creating the proper environment for high-tech innovation requires work in three general areas: a competitive tax system, expanded horizontal support programs and human resources initiatives, according to Dave Paterson, Ottawa-based executive director of the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA).

“From the industry’s point of view, the single best thing the government has ever done to encourage R&D in this country is the SR&ED (Scientific Research and Experimental Development) tax credit program (for small and start-up firms). We have been working with the government for the past couple of years to improve the delivery of that program and progress is being made, but it needs to continue,” he said.

“SR&ED focuses on the development end of the R&D spectrum – at the ‘R’ end we also encourage the government to continue to support the academic side by expanding the funding for the granting councils NSERC and SHERC, and also their allies at the Canadian Foundation for Innovation.”

Paterson also said immigration and education are two other crucial aspects in the realm of human resources development.

“The federal government has a very limited role [in education] but they have done some good work by improving the deductibility of tuition fees for students. They should also be focussing their efforts on identifying and attracting skilled immigrants with the talent and education to do innovative things once they get to this country,” he said.

Although reluctant to preview any specific aspects of the upcoming discussions, scheduled for Thursday and Friday, Tsai said the obvious areas that fall under the federal government’s stated innovation agenda include university research and efforts toward creating a positive business climate.

“As stated in the throne speech, making Canada one of the most innovative countries in the world is certainly considered a priority for the Liberal government,” she said.

On the innovation agenda, CATA does have a few concerns, Paterson said.

“The Prime Minister has said that there will be no more tax cuts – we’re not convinced that that’s necessarily the right approach,” he noted.

“But we believe that they are generally heading in the right direction, and we have a reasonably good hope that the innovation agenda – if and when it comes to pass – will be a sound and reasonable approach to stimulating innovation,” Paterson said.

Especially, he added, if sensible economic heads prevail and the Liberals are “precluded from pouring money down the drain on a program for every government department that can correctly spell the word ‘innovation.'”

CATA Alliance is at Details of the SR&ED program are at