Canada Loses the R&D War; Canadians Become Poorer

It's always been a bugbear of mine how little Canada invests in R&D, from research doctors going to the NIH for decent grants (yes, an AMERICAN institution funds CANADIAN research cause Canada's government is cheap) to the Chretien government slashing space research by 2/3 if memory serves right. I wrote to my MP about that because space research has all sorts of trickle-down effects on stuff from our knowledge economy to our standard of living (think velcro). He ignored me.

Our private sector is worse, for it prefers to ride on the coat-tails of American R&D and doesn't realise that our low rate of productivity isn't just about a poor work ethic, but also about the corporations' lack of constantly innovating how we work, providing good tools, upgrading skills, and so on, all of which increase our efficiency and effectiveness. Only Canadians can do that for Canadian workers.

Canadian leaders don't seem to have shaken off the old idea that Canadians hew wood and draw water to export to the US for them to refine into usable products to export back to us (cause what? we're incapable of refining raw goods or coming up with our own ideas?!). This idea is old, tired, and no longer applicable in the era of the knowledge economy. That's why ranchers in Alberta were hard-hit by the shut border -- they had practiced this concept by exporting live cattle (and jobs) for the US to process into meat products. I couldn't believe that for years they had been so ridiculous and only the shut borders had finally woken them up to the shocking idea that Canadians can process meat too.

The scary part in all this is that history has shown that those countries that keep up with economic revolutions, like the industrial revolution, are ones whose citizens benefit the most and have the highest standard of living. Those countries that do not, stagnate, and its people become poorer. Kind of like what's happening in Canada now.

We are a well-educated people who are dying to learn more, innovate more, and grow our country. But we need the support of our government and our corporations. The Toronto Star yesterday had a page one story on how, just as an innovative network of researchers are breaking through to developing vaccines for all sorts of illnesses, the Liberals have decided not to renew their funding. Typical. Take our researchers to the point where real results are just about to happen, pull the plug, and let other countries profit by either receiving the researchers into their bosoms or by developing the vaccines and getting the patents before us. A great way to lose money and long-term jobs to others. The biggest irony: Paul Martin buddies up to Bono to crow about how he's helping Africa, then takes a step back from that noble goal by no longer funding AIDS vaccine research.

Paul Wells at Maclean's today blogged on this issue. He noted Canada, for all our government's fine words, has remained at 15th place for money spent on R&D. Worse, as of 2003, our Gross Expenditure on Research and Development, measured as a fraction of GDP is at 1.85%, a fall from a high of 2.0% in 2001. Contrast that with the EU, who's having conniptions at their low rate of 1.93%, which they want to increase to 2.2% by 2010 to keep a competitive advantage over China and India, which are increasing at leaps and bounds; the US at 2.59%; Japan at 3.15%; and Sweden, Finland and Israel at or over 4%.

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