Premier Christy Clark introduces UBC president Santa Ono (right) as the province's advisor on innovation

BC VIEWS: Politicians can’t direct innovation

Ottawa has more than 140 programs to encourage innovation, and B.C. is getting on the bandwagon

The core of the new federal budget is an “Innovation and Skills Plan” to encourage business investment and jobs in Canada.

This is the second budget of the Justin Trudeau government, which means the second year of borrowing and spending billions for “infrastructure” with little to show for it so far. I have no argument with skills training, a must in our fast-changing economy. But what about this “innovation” business, and is it really the business of governments?

According to the latest Trudeau budget, innovation will help move Canada beyond reliance on our “rich natural resources,” and of course “grow the middle class.”

One of the headings is “Program Simplification,” which tells you where this is all going wrong.

“The Government of Canada’s vast array of innovation programs makes it difficult for business to find and secure the support they need,” it says. The more than 140 existing programs will be reviewed.

Yes, Ottawa has been trying for a long time to move us beyond “hewers of wood and drawers of water,” to use the decades-old cliché. Stephen Harper gave us a $400 million “Venture Capital Action Plan,” seed money to attract private capital to startups.

Trudeau doubled down last year with $800 million to create “clusters” of universities, business and government to spawn the next Silicon Valley. This year, Ottawa has dedicated $950 million to grow “superclusters,” which Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains assures us are “job magnets.”

Alas, Canada sucks at innovation, and producing entrepreneurs. Everything from our auto industry to our environmental movement consists mainly of American branch plants.

We’ve had a few breakout successes, like BlackBerry, but now Canadians mostly laugh at how un-cool they are. And while taxpayers’ money keeps pouring into this “vast array” of programs, business investment in research and commercialization still lags behind.

B.C.’s got innovation fever too. In January, Premier Christy Clark re-launched her “jobs plan,” a flexible beast that isn’t so much about natural gas exports right now as new technology, climate change and yes, innovation.

Clark appointed UBC president Santa Ono as the government’s chief advisor on innovation. He’s got clusters on his mind, no doubt.

NDP leader John Horgan hasn’t shown us much on innovation yet, but give him time. It’s the hot political fashion trend this spring.

Green Party leader Andrew Weaver is clustering as we speak. He launched his “innovation and sustainable enterprise plan” in Vancouver last week, starting with an “emerging economy task force” to start work as soon as a BC Green government takes over.

There will be $20 million a year “to support ideation, mentoring and networking at post-secondary institutions,” $50 million for “business incubators” and “accelerators,” and $70 million over four years “to leverage seed or angel funding.” (No, I don’t know what ideation is either.)

The CBC had an innovation a while back, a show called Dragon’s Den. If you’ve seen it, you know the drill. Angel investors take a hard look at a new product and offer financing for part ownership.

My favourite dragon is Jim Treliving, a no-nonsense ex-RCMP officer who built Boston Pizza into a three-country empire. He doesn’t spew insults like former panelist Kevin O’Leary, he just tells would-be entrepreneurs what in his view works and what doesn’t.

So now politicians assure us they can pick winners, with our money. Here’s Innovation Minister Bains, explaining it to The Globe and Mail last week:

“Innovation is fundamentally about people. And it’s about better outcomes, better communities. It’s finding solutions so that people can live better lives.”

Right.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

 

Just Posted

Big Brother runner-up, Karen Singbeil, buys longest-running business in Oak Bay.

Willows Park Grocery, operating since 1912, has been bought by Karen Singbeil, of Big Brother fame.

Master fiddler Jeremy Kittel returns to Victoria with his genre-defying trio

The Live Music series at the Upstairs Lounge hosts Jeremy Kittel trio on Oct. 27.

Halloween on the Avenue: pumpkin art, trick-or-treating, live music, and more.

Oak Bay Village businesses prepare for Pumpkin Art on the Avenue and Trick or Treat on the Avenue.

Oak Bay Marina’s Leaderboard keeps fisherman in competition for the biggest catch

‘It’s a fun competition and fishermen love a chance to brag a little bit.’

Oak Bay police introduce bike registry

Stolen bikes quickly returned, charges more likely with registry progam

Big Brother runner-up, Karen Singbeil, buys longest-running business in Oak Bay.

Willows Park Grocery, operating since 1912, has been bought by Karen Singbeil, of Big Brother fame.

Maintenance taking place on Esquimalt Lagoon Bridge this week

Drivers should expect delays between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Justin Timberlake invited back to Super Bowl halftime show

A ‘wardrobe malfunction’ with Janet Jackson caused a national controversy during his last appearance

A scary box office weekend for everyone but Tyler Perry

‘Boo 2! A Madea Halloween’ scared up a healthy $21.7 million in its first weekend in theatres

Even as long-form census data returns, Statcan readies for day without it

Wednesday’s release is expected to show immigrants making up a larger share of the population

Thousands flock to Saanich for home fair

Organizers estimate at least 10,000 people walked through the doors of Saanich’s… Continue reading

Saanich soccer club hosts all-female soccer camp

It was a fall day fit for soccer as women across a… Continue reading

String of collisions in James Bay, downtown Victoria, linked to suspected impaired driver

City man faces up to four MVA charges after vehicles hit, pedestrians almost hit

WATCH: 10,000 signatures gained to stop ‘no pets’ rental policy

Pets OK BC said about 1,700 animals were surrendered to the BC SPCA last year due to housing issues

Most Read