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Rating Canada's IQ.

Rating Canada's IQ Canadians must face some very unpleasant facts: among the industrialized nations of the world we rank as technological illiterates; we have become incompetents in the unfolding scientific civilization.

In an age where innovation, technology and knowledge are the basis of wealth generation, our smugly high standard of living is just that -- too smug and too high. There are no "maybes" here. The question is simply how quickly we will feel the very real effects of not adapting to this new global reality.

Many words have been spoken about the problem. The urgency rang strongly from the National Conference on Technology and Innovation in Toronto last year and was reinforced at the Sommet quebecois de la technologie in Montreal. But that urgency has been muted by other events, such as the recent federal election campaign whose rhetoric was bereft of any debate about science and technology. Nevertheless the problem has not gone away.

Our technological weakness continues to contribute significantly to our economic problem.

The country still has a $300-billion deficit which is increasing by about $30-billion a year. The interest on the debt is strangling government and private initiatives and social programmes are in increasing danger.

Our problem is, in fact, our strength: natural resources have endowed us with an undeservedly high standard of living and made us voracious consumers of the world's technologies. But Canada produces much less than its share of the world's technology and our ability to innovate has atrophied.

In 1987 it is estimated we imported $24-billion worth of manufactured goods more than we exported. That's $460-million every week!

We cut down more trees than any other country yet we import chain saws. We have an elaborate health-care system yet we import stretchers. We import 76% of our machinery, 40% of our electrical products, 80% of our health-care equipment.

In an attempt to balance these deficits, we continue to export relatively raw natural resources, at a time when there is a surplus of virtually every commodity in the world, including food.

Simply put, we are not able to compete because we lack the knowledge to do so effectively.

For a decade Canada has been making about half the effort of her competitors in research and development. The percentage of our gross national product devoted to research and development has stagnated at about 1.3% while our competitors have forged steadily and doggedly to 2, 2.5 and 3% -- and have taken our markets in the process.

These same dismal comparisons apply also to our labour force where we have fewer scientists and engineers per capita by about the same ratio. Our high school students place in the lower ranks of international science tests.

This is an abundance of anecdotal but very frightening evidence. One survey, for example, showed that 95% of Canadians know who Wayne Gretzky is, but only 1% knew who John Polanyi is.

Many people in our society think the sun revolves around the earth. Have you noticed lately many of our service stations are increasingly unable to service the high-tech Japanese and Korean automobiles?

More directly related to our national crisis, 70% of Ontario manufacturing industries do not have even one engineer on staff. So how can they possibly do other than to import products, technologies and the very knowledge needed to put them to use?

The good news is the Canadian scientific and technological infrastructure is able to put matters right if provided with the resources needed -- and patience.

It will take statesmanship and determined political will to do so. The small R&D community we do have is excellent and its success stories are exciting and profitable. It must be vastly expanded.

The annual national spending on R&D must be brought up to the 2.5% competitive level. Our problem is not that we're spending too much on government research (Canada is average among the OECD nations in this category) but rather that Canadian industry spends too little, and is not equipped to spend much more.

Relatively few Canadian companies (about 2%) such as Bell and CAE have been behaving as though they meant to be in business in the year 2000. Others are either the victims of the branch-plant syndrome, which sees R&D performed outside our borders; or they remain viable (for now) in the ageing resource or service industries, importing the technologies they require and adding virtually nothing to our IQ -- our innovation quotient.

New efforts by the provinces and the federal government, which must take the lead, could alleviate our critical problem by doubling -- with considerable finesse -- our R&D spending. For the federal government, this means increasing its spending from about $5-billion per year to about $10-billion.

This will not, of course, make up for the shortfall of about $55-billion over the last 10 years that has resulted in the current shortages of trained men and women, of laboratory equipment and of needed research institutes in areas such as corrosion, marine engineering and northern technology.

We are talking about a shift of about one or two percent of the gross national product from unproductive programmes to science and technology at the same time as we address the current and accumulated deficit problems.

Where is the money to come from?

Increased production resulting from an injection of technology into the system is one element. The correction of abuses in social programmes is another. These are politically delicate issues.

Greatly increased funding is only one necessary element of the solution. The need for a national industrial policy and the development of a science culture are even more crucial.

Canadian industry does not have the infrastructure, the people or the tradition to tackle its part of the problem alone.

Thousands of new technology-based firms must be incubated. Provincial research councils and the National Research Council have effective national services which have helped create thousands of technology-oriented jobs at a cost of about $5,000 each.

We need to encourage and develop new mechanisms and networks involving universities and the national laboratories working with industry. There are some excellent but too few examples of this including initiatives by the federal government, the provinces and the private sector, including several pre-competitive industrial research consortia.

Our crisis is vast and complex. For example, it would be useless to expand industrial development laboratories if the universities have not the resources to provide the engineers and scientists; useless to produce the graduates if there are no jobs for them; useless to establish vigorous applied science programmes without the basic science complement to keep up the national competence.

We've paid lip service to this problem for years but nothing of quantitative significance has been done for a decade, while the deficit grew from $100-billion to $300-billion.

It is time to get back to reality.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Chemical Institute of Canada
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Canada is technologically backward
Author:Kerwin, Larkin
Publication:Canadian Chemical News
Date:May 1, 1989
Words:1133
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