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How will Ottawa spur innovation in Canada? Here’s 15 ideas Trudeau’s cabinet is almost certain to consider

Finance Minister Bill Morneau, right, watches as Chairman of the Advisory Council Dominic Barton speaks at a news conference in Ottawa, Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016.

OTTAWA — As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet try to deliver on their promised “Innovation Agenda,” they will have plenty of policy options from plenty of sources.

Two sources, though, are worthy of close attention for the extra attention they are likely to get at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet table.

One source is the blue-chip panel appointed by Finance Minister Bill Morneau, the Advisory Council on Economic Growth.

The council’s latest report, out earlier this month, had a special 36-page chapter on innovation with five broad recommendations:

  • Government should help create and smooth “innovation marketplaces.”
  • Create addition pools of capital that entrepreneurs can use to fund new ideas.
  • Change government procurement models to reward innovators.
  • Review existing federal innovation programs. Throw out ones that are not working, double down on the ones that are working.
  • Overhaul immigration policy to attract innovators.
  • The other source is a Liberal-friendly think tank, Canada 2020. That think tank’s founder is Tom Pitfield, the spouse of Liberal Party president Anna Gainey, both of whom vacationed with the Trudeaus on the Aga Khan’s Bahamas island.

    Canada 2020 commissioned two talented Western University professors, Mike Moffatt and Hannah Rasmussen, to consider innovation in a Canadian context and make some recommendations. Their 180-page paper on the topic was published earlier this month. Here are 10 ideas they recommend:

  • Create a new Parliamentary Coherence Office that will flag government regulations or policies that contradict each other.
  • Ottawa should lead a massive effort on “open data,” so that all federally funded research is easily accessible. It should also lead the way to help municipalities into the new “open data” future.
  • Too many firms complain they can’t find talented employees. To help with that, ban non-compete agreements, improve inter-city transit and task StatsCan with looking into the problem.
  • Find new ways that young firms can get financing, not by increasing federal handouts but by overhauling some regulations to create more incentives for banks to help entrepreneurs start new businesses.
  • Get moving on the creation of a infrastructure bank that includes equity from both the public and private sectors.
  • The federal government should set up cash prizes for firms, non-profits, and others that help achieve federal objectives on everything from climate change to First Nations infrastructure. Think of it as Canada’s version of the XPrize.
  • Feds somehow have to get the province to push numeracy and math skills as a top priority in our provincial education systems.
  • Federal research dollars should support the creation of “cluster research centres” and establish clear rules on how clusters ought to create and account for contributions to the local and national economy.
  • Reform immigration to attract those with skills that can help an export-oriented economy, i.e. more software programmers, rather than those who may crowd out domestic production and domestic jobs, i.e. a pharmacist.
  • Establish “innovation accords” with Canada’s existing industrial sectors, each one tailored to a specific sector, with measurable goals and actions.
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