Canadian Leadership on Innovation – An Op-ed by the Honourable Navdeep Bains

The Honourable Navdeep Bains, minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. Photo courtesy of Minister Bain’s office.

The Honourable Navdeep Bains, minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. Photo courtesy of Minister Bain’s office.

Canada needs to innovate if our country is to prosper in the face of profound change. Nowhere is that more true than in the gas and energy sectors.

The impact of low commodity prices over the past two years has created an opportunity for energy producers to focus on innovation as a means of creating jobs and developing markets. Now is the time to develop new technologies that can reduce carbon emissions.

My top priority is to build Canada into a global centre for innovation. It is at the heart of our government’s plan to drive growth across all sectors, create well-paying jobs and improve the lives of all Canadians.

Especially at a time when the Canadian economy needs a boost, innovation opens the country to new business, social and environmental possibilities. It means turning ideas into solutions, science into technologies, skills into jobs and start-up companies into global successes.

Innovation is also urgently needed as the world confronts climate change. Countries at last year’s Paris Climate Conference adopted the first-ever legally binding action plan to reduce emissions and limit global warming. It is an ambitious plan that requires new ideas and solutions.

Canada has a proud history of innovation, and the energy sector is no exception. Emerging technologies that enable more precise drilling hold great promise, as do innovations to limit or capture carbon emissions. Creating renewable natural gas from organic waste and blending it into gas pipelines is another exciting example.

Innovations can come from anywhere, which is why all sectors of society need to be involved, from consumers and civil-society groups to academia, business as well as government.

For example, the government agency Sustainable Development Technology Canada has partnered with the Canadian Gas Association to help fund a demonstration project by Hydrogenics Corp. The goal is to convert excess renewable energy into hydrogen gas, which can then be injected into pipelines and efficiently brought back as needed onto the electricity grid as renewable power.

This collaboration is a fine example of how the gas industry is working with the renewable sector in pursuit of economic as well as environmentally sustainable goals.

Our government will promote more of these partnerships as part of the Innovation Agenda, a plan to create a confident nation of innovators.

“Innovation opens the country to new business, social and environmental possibilities.”

“Innovation opens the country to new business, social and environmental possibilities.”

The plan focuses on six action areas, each of which has potential benefits for the energy industry. First, we want to foster an entrepreneurial and creative society. Young Canadians, in particular, should leave our education system “innovation ready” – ready to spot opportunities, imagine possibilities, discover new ideas, learn and grow.

That is how companies will have the skilled and diverse talent pool needed to compete globally.

Second, we want to foster global science excellence by supporting the best discovery-based research. And we want to turn those discoveries into commercializable technologies by promoting stronger partnerships between the research and business communities. Third, we intend to make significant targeted investments in world-leading innovation networks and clusters. The goal is to position them as global destinations of choice for the very best ideas, talent and capital.

“Canada has a proud history of innovation, and the energy sector is no exception.”

Fourth, we will focus on supporting the start-up and scale-up of companies. In particular, we want to accelerate the adoption of clean technologies, such as renewable energy and more energy-efficient buildings and appliances. Rapid adoption of these technologies will send a clear signal to the world that a green economy and a strong economy go hand in hand.

Fifth, we intend to maximize the benefits of digital technologies to give Canadians a competitive advantage. Providing businesses, research institutions and communities with high-speed Internet access will allow them to do business more easily and efficiently. Improving broadband access to rural communities, where many Canadians who work in the energy sector live, will be a priority.

“Young Canadians should leave our education system “innovation ready” – ready to spot opportunities, imagine possibilities, discover new ideas, learn and grow.”

“Young Canadians should leave our education system “innovation ready” – ready to spot opportunities, imagine possibilities, discover new ideas, learn and grow.”

Finally, our government will make Canada an easier place for companies to do business. Canada already has low corporate tax rates, a strong fiscal position and a welcoming business environment. We also have a skilled and highly educated workforce. Canada has the added advantage of being a culturally diverse society, with many Canadians bringing their knowledge, entrepreneurial skills and ties to other parts of the world.

However, we must ensure that Canadian laws, regulations and standards keep pace with rapid change. The goal is to ensure that the market is favourable to the adoption of new technologies.

The need to act is urgent. Entire industries are being transformed globally by technology as markets and businesses race to adapt. Meanwhile, countries around the world are responding to climate change by moving more quickly to a low-carbon future. Canada must be on the leading edge of these changes. By working together, we can position Canada to be a world leader in conservation as well as innovation.

Navdeep Bains is the federal Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development.