OTTAWA – New Brunswick placed last in the country with a “D-” in the latest Conference Board of Canada innovation report card, and it also scored low on the global ranking along with most other Canadian provinces.
All provinces apart from Ontario (“B”) and Quebec (“C”) finished in the “D-range.” Even though most provinces finished with similar marks, a Conference Board official told Huddle the prescriptions for improvement will vary across the country.
“It’s a pretty mixed picture across the country,” said Paul Preston, the Board’s Director of Science, Technology and Innovation Policy. “You need to know the context within each province [to provide recommendations], it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution,”
Unlike the larger provinces with higher populations, mature industries and diversified economies, Preston says Atlantic Canadian provinces are more resource-reliant and have smaller economies, companies and populations. New Brunswick is especially facing “massive pressure” from the U.S. when it comes to forestry products.
The ranking is based on 10 indicators divided into three categories: innovation capacity, innovation activity and innovation results.
All four Atlantic provinces earned “D-” grades in the report card that compares Canada, the 10 provinces, and 15 peer countries. The Atlantic provinces performed poorly on business research and development (R&D), and researchers engaged in R&D activities, including those in business, higher education and government. They also scored low on patents.
New Brunswick was the only jurisdiction that earned only “Cs” and “Ds”, indicating weakness in all sides of innovation performance. Preston said although the data looks dismal, there have actually been improvements.
“Certainly around things like venture capital investment, it’s been weak in Atlantic Canada for a long time,” he said. “But there’s a flip side, it’s improving and quickly improving especially in Nova Scotia, and drastically so in New Brunswick.”
It will take a few years before the impact of that inflow will be felt by the eco-system, Preston said. But whether businesses get funding through government or venture capital, he said they need to spend it on R&D and innovation.
“In New Brunswick, as a percentage of GDP, business R&D has actually improved a bit since the last report (from 0.22 per cent to 0.31 per cent), but the other jurisdictions around the world are improving faster,” said Preston. “It’s about doing more of it, get businesses to spend money on innovation, but get them to scale up quicker than they are. So, more capital would help.”
Preston noted that many federal- and provincial-backed innovation funding programs have been announced in the last year. In addition, the clusters set up by Opportunities NB, shipbuilding work at Irving companies, “great” academic institutions and a good ecosystem will help the province improve. However, the timing of many of those announcements means they weren’t included in this year’s innovation report card, he said.
Innovation is even more important today, especially as more trade agreements are set to come into play, he said.
“We need to innovate because we compete on global markets. We can’t just rely on our commodities and resources, because we don’t control commodity prices, we don’t control the exchange rate [of the dollar].”
Nova Scotia led the Atlantic provinces although it also scored an overall “D-“, followed by Newfoundland and Labrador, and P.E.I.
Overall, Canada earned a “C” on innovation and ranked 12th out of 16 international peers, a three-spot drop since the previous report.
“Canada has improved as a whole, especially on venture capital,” Preston said. “The problem is other countries are improving faster on their indicators, so we continue to slip. Not that we’re not improving, but other countries are improving faster.”
The next innovation report card is expected in 2020.