I was a bit taken aback by all the outrage over the New Brunswick government’s investment in JOI Scientific. The company was developing a green energy technology. Now I have no insight into the technology and no particular comment on whether or not NB Power or RDC should have provided funding. However, IMO, if the outrage over this R&D investment was applied to all government funding for R&D projects, public investment in R&D would grind to a halt.
Investing in R&D is completely different than investing in a firm expansion. If you traced the funding under the NB Health Research Foundation or the Atlantic Innovation Fund or any other government agency that funds research, you would find many projects that did not lead to any new intellectual property (IP).
I am not suggesting JOI should not have been reported. On the contrary I think there should be full and open disclosure of public investments – in companies, in R&D, in university R&D, etc. – the good, the bad and the ugly. My only caveat is that the reporting, and the subsequent commentary by experts, should be clear with the public that government (or in this case government and NB Power) knew going in there was a risk this investment would not bear fruit, by definition.
Canada is criticized in some circles for spending too little on R&D as a share of GDP.
Think about the millions lost on tidal energy research in the Bay of Fundy by Nova Scotia and the federal government. Was that a tragedy? Are there experts expressing their outrage as with JOI?
Again, I don’t have any first hand knowledge of the JOI project, technology and everything that happened.
But in general I think we need to be clear with the public about the difference between an investment in a company to expand in New Brunswick versus an investment in a company to do further research into a new technology.