Canada’s focus needs to be on tech products, not research

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By Denzil Doylehigh tech

Canada’s current prime minister seems to have a better understanding of the impact of technology on the country’s economy than most of his predecessors. He is not afraid to refer to key reports like the Jenkins Report and to engage in dialogue with the trade associations that are relevant to the industry. However, he would be well advised to urge his speech writers to be a little more selective in his use of the phrase “R&D.” Like most politicians and bureaucrats, his speeches suggest that if we just do more R&D, our payback from the technology that it creates will be automatic. As a result, they have established goals for R&D in Canadian industry, and they have been critical of Canadian industry when those goals are not met.

What we must do is focus the dialogue more directly on Canada’s share of world trade in technology-based products and services and less on R&D. For example, it would be refreshing to hear the PM make a statement like, “It is unacceptable for a country like Canada to have such a large trade deficit with the rest of the world in technology-based goods and services.” The dialogue will not be easy; the definition of high technology can be vague and so can its value on both a national and international basis. Worse still, there is a strong lobby for the status quo and it is generating lots of R&D dollars, particularly for government laboratories and universities.

These other lobbies have a way of sabotaging the debate. The last time I tried to bring the issue to the attention of policy makers, they were told by their staff that I was a protectionist who should not be listened to.

A trade association whose members are mostly importers took the position that a high-tech trade deficit is good for Canada because it shows that we are importing lots of sophisticated equipment to improve our productivity. (And we wonder why our politicians and policy makers are reluctant to dialogue with such organizations.)

If our policy in the future is to rely primarily on imports for our high-tech products and services and to achieve a balance of trade through the sale of low-tech products and services, then we probably have too many universities in place – not to mention the other elements of high-tech infrastructure. It would be helpful if we got a strong signal from the PM stating that he is more interested in high tech trade than in R&D statistics.

Denzil Doyle’s involvement in Ottawa’s high technology industry goes back to the early 1960s when he established a sales office for Digital Equipment Corporation, a Boston-based firm that had just developed the world’s first minicomputer. The Canadian operation quickly evolved into a multi-faceted subsidiary. When he left the company in 1981, Canadian sales exceeded $160 million and its employment exceeded 1,500. In his next career, Doyle built a consulting and investment company, Doyletech Corporation, that not only helped emerging companies, but built companies of its own. In recognition of his contributions to Canada’s high technology industry, he was awarded an honourary Doctorate of Engineering by Carleton University in 1981 and a membership in the Order of Canada in 1995. 

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