Government’s role in fostering more R&D and other odds and ends

A few quick answers to the questions I received about my column in the TJ.

1. Am I a Liberal partisan?

Nope. I criticized the Libs self-sufficiency agenda and have even taken a few jabs at the Frank McKenna team over the years.   You will also note I have been quite critical of the current Liberal stance on shale gas.  The point here is that the Tory prosperity plan launched in 2001-2002 had a 10 year life span so we are getting data now to see just how successful that initiative and all its sub-efforts have been.  The key point here is that governments have learned in recent years to put out targets but have not learned that you need a credible plan to get from point A to point B.   If KIA decided one day to move up to fourth among luxury auto manufacturers but provided no details on how it would get there you would be suspicious.

One day I made positive comments about Premier Dexter in Nova Scotia and got an email from that province suggesting I was an NDP partisan.   It’s the nature of the beast that partisans look at the world through a partisan lens and believe that everyone else sees the world as they do.  This is an incorrect assumption.

PS – I like partisans.  The political process works better when there are true believers fighting for their causes.  It just makes things a bit more messy.

 

2. Why is it always about government?  Doesn’t the private sector lead the way in R&D?  Wasn’t it foolish to say that NB would rise to fourth among the 10 provinces because the government says so?

This is a bit complicated.  Governments across North America are large funders of R&D – just not in New Brunswick.   The private sector funding of research within the higher education sector is quite low but in NB it is higher than the provincial government ($7.2 million for business enterprises but only $3.3 million for the provincial government).  Business enterprises provided $44 million worth of R&D dollars within the higher education sector in Nova Scotia – six times more than in New Brunswick.  See Question 3 below for a partial answer to this differential.

It is true that government can influence the trajectory of R&D spending.  Look at Quebec.  It put the largest tax incentives in place for R&D spending and now has among the highest levels of R&D among the 10 provinces.  It also puts a lot of taxpayer dollars into R&D.

 

3. The reason NB is so low for higher education R&D is the lack of a medical school.

This is a good point.  Although with the satellite medical schools in SJ and Moncton we were told they would be catalysts for more life and health sciences research.  Haven’t seen too much on that front yet.

 

4. The government shouldn’t be in the R&D business at all.  It should be funding schools and paving roads.

Lots of folks hold that view.  Problem is that across North America governments are big funders of R&D – particularly early stage research.  If we are not in the game (which we really aren’t) you shouldn’t be surprised when folks in the R&D game say New Brunswick is missing out.

 

5. Can’t you find anything positive to say?

Good question.  I will say this.  I think the people coming up with all these fancy strategies and targets are sincere and have good intentions.  But you know what they say about the road to hell….

 

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4 Responses to Government’s role in fostering more R&D and other odds and ends

  1. Chris Baker says:

    David –

    As always, you provide balanced and insightful comment on the economic development issues of the day.

    Yours,

    Chris

  2. anonymoose says:

    Liberal partisan, eh?

    Maybe you should make a little summary page with the nastiest thing you’ve said about each of the last regimes, you’ve given each some well deserved criticism.

  3. 4themargins says:

    Hi David,

    This is an interesting post for me because this is the business I am in. I manage an applied research facility at UNB. We are essentially a privately funded facility under the UNB umbrella. Hopefully I can contribute some “where the rubber meets the road” information. The research we do is more applied than fundamental so I am biased and my experience is likely different from some of the folks doing fundamental stuff. It’s tougher for those folks to get funding but I am not sure that many of them bother to try really hard to go out and get it.

    #1 don’t know, don’t care. I don’t think any of the parties have a real R&D strategy.

    #2 Regardless of political ideology the truth is simply that you need both Industry and gov to play their role. After all this is Canada and everyone has their hand out for something wether you like it or not. Well funded and progressive research is usually funded by both. Sadly, in NB there are very few forward looking OEM’s that do this type of work. We go outside of NB to get our private sector funding. We do cool stuff and the companies we work with don’t care that we are not in their geographical area. Once we have the private funding the gov funding becomes easier to get.

    #3 BS! As a matter of fact there is some world class biomedical R&D as well as world class MRI R&D going on here. Those folks just pull up their socks and go get the funding outside of NB. Again, they do cool stuff so folks want to work with them. Besides, there are many other things to do R&D on. Medical is certainly one of the most lucrative ones but it’s certainly not the only one.

    #4 David, I agree with you 100%. like it or not it is the truth…

    #5 NBIF is a positive. The new 80 Million allotted for R&D support is a positive. Universities are putting more emphasis on teaching about entrepreneurship which is also positive. But the list is not all that long to be honest.

  4. 4themargin,

    I appreciate your input. The Stats Canada data is abstract. Your experiences and insight add texture and context.

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