Looking at R&D, again

Nice article in the TJ today about R&D in New Brunswick and the role of an organization called Springboard and its role in commercialization of research.  But what is annoying about these types of articles is that they tell a good story but then try and back it up with out of context statistics. 

So we get a good review of Springboard but we get inference that New Brunswick is doing very well in the area of R&D.

The facts, statistical facts, don’t bear this out.

In 1999, according to Statistics Canada’s report on the provincial distribution of the gross domestic expenditures on research and development, New Brunswick was the location for 0.9% of Canada’s total R&D spending.  In 2006, that figure had increased to 0.9% of Canada’s total R&D spending.  Actually that is not an increase.

In 1999, New Brunswick had the lowest spending on R&D per capita in Canada.  In 2006, New Brunswick has the lowest spending on R&D per capita in Canada.  $363 per person is spent on R&D in New Brunswick (the latest data is for 2006).  The next lowest provincial spend is Saskatchewan at $469 per person.  Ontario companies, governments and institutions spend $1,008 per person.  You can do the math on the difference.

So my problem with articles like this is that they don’t point out the reality that New Brunswick is not making any headway in this area by any comparative measure.  We can find a few great stories – and I love great stories – but policy makers need to decide are they serious about R&D or not.

People say I am sour on this issue.  I was told just last week my writing is too negative.  Look, folks, we can’t get ahead by putting our head in the sand and living in the world of Pollyanna.  In the former governments prosperity plan, they put the gap between per capita spending on R&D between NB and the national average at $350.  That is the average R&D spend nationally is $350 more per capita than in New Brunswick. The Prosperity Plan was going to change all that.  Read it.  I have a copy if you want.  Here is the objective from page 17 of that plan:

NB will join the top four provinces in R&D expenditures per capita by 2012.


Not only are we last in Canada in R&D spending the gap is widening.  In 2006, the gap had risen to $523 per capita.

We need to talk about R&D and we need to share good news stories about innovative new ideas being incubated in New Brunswick.  But we also need to know the facts.

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3 Responses to Looking at R&D, again

  1. Anonymous says:

    Unquestionably, for our economy to support the standard of living we all want, R&D is critical. However, our problem is even more than a lack of spending, it is the effectiveness of the spend. Take a look at this http://www.irpp.org/newsroom/archive/2008/041708e.pdf

  2. That is a recurring argument. I’d like to see a rational and credible effort to boost R&D in New Brunswick. I think Bernard Lord’s objective of making the Top Four provinces for R&D may be a bit too aggressive but I would think we could make serious inroads in this area with some focus.

  3. richard says:

    There was a story in the Globe and Mail this past weekend by Gary Mason on R&D in Canada. The gist of the article was that companies in Canada tended not to invest in R&D as much as their US counterparts, leaving governments with the R&D job. So the problem is national in scope, just worse here in NB. As to why this is the case, well, I guess that is the question that needs answering. Perhaps partly its an over-reliance on raw material exports, and/or a short-term rather than a medium or long-term outlook. Perhaps tax policy also plays a role, although if some companies can carry out lots of R&D work, not sure why taxes could be holding back the others. IRAP seems to have a good track record; perhaps we need more along those lines, but with more effort to harness university research to industry applications.

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