Why Canada is bush-league at innovation
This is what it looks like when a country is serious about innovation.
UBC Nobel Prize winner Carl Wieman has been recruited to advise US President Barack Obama on science policy and science education. Prof. Wieman, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2001 for work on Bose-Einstein condensates, has been nominated for the post of associate director of science in the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). If confirmed by the Senate, he will advise the president on matters of science policy and science education.
The OSTP was created in 1976 to “advise the President and others within the Executive Office of the President on the effects of science and technology on domestic and international affairs”:
The mission of the Office of Science and Technology Policy is threefold; first, to provide the President and his senior staff with accurate, relevant, and timely scientific and technical advice on all matters of consequence; second, to ensure that the policies of the Executive Branch are informed by sound science; and third, to ensure that the scientific and technical work of the Executive Branch is properly coordinated so as to provide the greatest benefit to society.
The OSTP has a large, permanent staff to perform policy analysis and provide advice and guidance on science-related issues. It is led by a director and four associate directors, all of whom are respected scientists. The director acts as the president’s “science advisor”, a role that dates back to the 1930s and the Roosevelt administration and Vannevar Bush.
And here? We finally appointed a science advisor to the Prime Minister in 2004. And then eliminated the position in 2008, four years later.
Instead, we have a Science, Technology and Innovation Council, and have had going all the way back to 2007. It meets irregularly and has issued one report. One. In two years.
The US has a similar council, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). It exists in addition to the OSTP. Perhaps because these councils can’t provide the detailed, ongoing policy analysis needed to inform everyday government decisions. Nonetheless, PCAST meets publicly several times a year to discuss science policy issues. PCAST posts all information from its meetings, including the presentations given by committee members. How often does STIC meet? I don’t know, but their website looks half-abandoned. There’s no indication of when they meet or what they discuss.
So then, who is in charge of advising the government for science policy? Gary Goodyear. A junior minister without a science background. A Minister of State who reports to the Minister of Industry, not the Prime Minister. A minister whose portfolio is one of two junior ministries in Industry, the other being Small Business and Tourism.
Science and Technology = Small Business and Tourism.
Maybe, just maybe, this is the reason we’re not doing so well on the whole innovation-thing.
And maybe, just maybe, instead of worrying about money for short-term projects and infrastructure, Canadians should be taking a long hard look at how little we actually care about encouraging innovation. Instead of clamouring for a few more dollars being distributed haphazardly, we should be asking for something akin to a unified strategy – no, even just some actual leadership… Because if you want to build an economy for the future, an economy based on innovative, R&D-based industries, you don’t leave the whole shebang to a chiropractor in a junior ministry. You make it a priority.