Leverage societal shifts to make Canada a global leader

By: Harry Sharma

This op-ed was originally published in iPolitics on February 15, 2021.

It is essential that we make strategic investments now. Appropriate planning and execution is required.

Canadians are innovating and adapting as health emergencies, global warming and automation change our way of life. The COVID pandemic, for example, has accelerated technology adoption as people have sought to remain connected.

Laudable Canadian resilience aside, the magnitude of these social, economic, and environmental shifts means that decision-makers must prepare and act now if we are to successfully address these challenges and take advantage of the opportunities.

Our research shows that the following five pillars demand our immediate attention.

Technology development and scale-up

Research and development (R&D) activity must be broadened to incorporate a focus on adoption of new or improved technology and scaling-up initiatives to make them commercially viable as quickly as possible. The Conference Board of Canada’s biennial “Innovation Report Card” shows that Canada lags its peers in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) when it comes to turning inventions into innovations.

Financing models to meet capital requirements

While there has been some progress made on embedding criteria such as Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) into financing decision-making models, we must do more. Private and public funders must continue to innovate around how they calculate return on investment for solutions that may not demonstrate upfront financial returns but may mitigate the impacts of the pandemic, climate change and automation through social or environmental contributions.

Infrastructure development for consumer adoption

Countries must continue to enable easy access to novel solutions that respond to the major disruptive forces. For example, suppose the clothing industry adopts new raw materials with smaller carbon footprints. In that case, we must ensure that we use the two points noted above to strategically invest and make it easier for consumers to access the novel products. This will also ensure that those novel products are priced competitively compared to traditional products.

Culture, communities, and skills development

As novel products and services are introduced to meet the challenges resulting from these shifts, we must invest in raising the level of awareness among local communities and leadership. It is important to note that some of the novel solutions will result in job transitions or losses. It is therefore critical for communities to be an integral part of this process.

Regulations and public policies to create an effective marketplace

Governments will need to be proactively engaged with transitioning industries. They must fine-tune regulations and policies to create competitive and fair market practices for novel products.

A holistic approach that looks at the full continuum of innovation will allow us to address the three major shifts underway in Canada. However, it is essential that we make strategic investments now. Appropriate planning and execution is required under each of the five critical pillars.