Thursday, December 11, 2008

Icecats come to Toronto

Finally Toronto is showing true green-ness. It has acquired two odd-looking pint-sized Icecats (Zambonis) which run on battery power. Way cool.

Indoor arenas will benefit the most as it means no more gas fumes filling up the interior where it hangs around over the heads and drifts down into the lungs of kids and adults flying around the ice and sucking it in. It's twice the price of a gas-powered Zamboni, and unfortunately no Canadian manufacturer designed and made it (one of those added-value knowledge economy things the Nordics are so good at and our Federal government has done little to stimulate). It's Finnish. Still, this is a good addition to our city's fleet of green vehicles and one that is highly visible and thus highly influential on the population to act green.

2 comments:

Mark Dowling said...

I don't think the government can really do much to stimulate that kind of activity. Much of it is cultural - Canadians have a fear of failure and would rather have a salaried job or a franchise. Bankruptcy still has a slight taint whereas in the US it's a sign that you're a serious innovator and eventually you'll come good.

There is also the influence of the Canadian Taxpayer Federation and their ilk who don't believe that government can usefully subvent innovation and crucify the government any time they think money has been "thrown away". Look how desperate the conservative tendency is to rid Canada of companies like AECL, which despite a huge capital requirement to build reactors is a hugely R&D based industry which will be largely dismantled if sold off.

The Jim Balsillies of this world often depend on foreign venture capitalists to back them - most Canadians laid off with a package would rather pay down their mortgage than open a start-up.

talk talk talk / Shireen said...

Mark, I wonder about that. I think it's more that banks and people/governments who fund things have a fear of failure than the Canadians with big ideas. Take the Zenn car. It was created and developed by a Canadian, but it's the governments of Ontario and Toronto that are hampering its ability to be used and sold. It's extraordinary that with big government tippy toeing at best towards allowing it on the roads that the manufacturer is still around and persisting in staying here and building cars. On the other hand, if Ontario and Toronto actively promoted it, it would go a long way to creating a real Canadian auto sector.

That's what I was thinking of when I said in my last post that Parliament needs to reimagine the economy. Ever since Chretien slashed innovation funding, it's been an uphill battle to restore it to previous levels, never mind meet the needs of a knowledge economy.

A wise man once told me that only 13% of the population are leaders, ones with vision and drive, and it's up to them to show the sheep the way. The problem we've been having is that our so-called leaders seem to come from the other 87%.

I suppose you're right about bankruptcy, although I do know people who've gone bankrupt and haven't thought less of them.

My only familiarity with the CTF is when I see them interviewed on TV. I often wonder just how much of an influence they have, especially since the time they got Dalton McGuinty to sign that no-new-tax pledge, which got him a lot of votes I'm sure and which he promptly reneged on, yet still managed to coast to another majority. I was quite astounded that the Tories would actually consider rubber stamping the sell off of our Canadarm manufacturer, and I don't get the propensity to dismiss AECL or even the Tory decision to let Chalk River die. Are they nuts?! Again, the future is in knowledge, and I agree governments are the only entities that have the capital to fund certain kinds of innovation. On the other hand, we need our wealthy citizens to step up to the plate too -- they've been lagging far behind their American cousins in this -- as RIM did for the Perimeter Institute, which has quickly become world renowned.

My father has recently lamented the aversion to fund basic science research, yet it's that very research that leads to huge strides in medicine or in physics. It may not have that immediate job payout, but it enriches our society on so many levels both short and long term. It's governments, universities, and granting agencies who fund basic science.

It's said that small businesses are the backbone of the Ontario economy and I've heard of many stories of laid-off Ontarians starting their own business. On the other hand, I heard recently how one person laid off from GM or Ford couldn't conceive of the idea of looking for work, even at another car plant like Toyota or Honda; only idea they had was to wait until they were re-hired by the same company.

Finally, that cultural thing you were speaking of -- it's more that Canadians don't support their own until the Americans tell them so rather than fear of failure, whether in science, innovation, businesses, or cultural industries. Even my own book, one set in Canada, written by a Canadian, about a world-changing story, gets ignored here while outside Canada it gets noticed, even by Texas radio hosts.