How Does Canada Stop Losing Its ‘Best Minds’?

Governments shouldn't play fast and loose like businesses can, says this expert. But failing to change carries its own set of risks as well.

 |  Transcript [PDF]

It can sometimes feel like the government is moving at a glacial rate, especially compared to the rapid pace of business. But there are good reasons why that’s exactly what citizens need, says Dan Breznitz, university professor and Munk Chair of Innovation Studies at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, University of Toronto.

“We actually want government to be slower because business goes around breaking things and all the rest, it’s great. But government or policy public policy is responsible for all Canadians. So you don’t want to have complete entrepreneurial behaviour,” adds Breznitz.

Breznitz is known for his expertise on rapid innovation and globalization in industry, and how this is shaped by policy. He has served as an advisor on science, technology, and innovation policies to multinational corporations, governments, and international organizations. That experience gives him insight on what countries should strive for.

“What you do want is changes, and smart changes,” says Breznitz.

“It means taking the main tools that we have now and maybe even eliminating them, taking the money, trying something else because we are failing. And this can be done quite quickly. The best of all worlds and the best countries, if a company comes with an idea and they need support, within a month to four months you already have help.”

Specifically in Canada, Breznitz believes that accelerating our regulatory system would make a big difference.

“We have a federal government but our provinces are a lot stronger than American states, and there is a mismatch of regulations that make it really difficult to sell all around Canada product, and much easier to just sell to the whole United States,” explains Breznitz.

“Add to that the United States, it’s 10 times more of a population, and the population is a lot richer.”

That obstacle can be enough to make Canadian companies doubt whether it’s worthwhile to try to have a presence in the Canadian marketplace, and that keeps homegrown innovations from having a positive impact here.

“We are losing our best companies and our best minds,” says Breznitz.

“What government really needs to do is first equip those agents of innovation with the skills necessary. So through education, through the right financial system, through the right regulatory system, through the right coordination with other actors. And that necessitates an ability by the government to work constantly with the changing partners with sometimes radical ideas and sometimes thinking, because it’s always long term, when those partners do not exist sometimes actually creating them.”

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