Matt Spoke: Now is the time to make Canada a leader in bio-manufacturing

A medical worker shows a vial of the Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by Indonesian state-owned pharmaceutical company Biofarma. Tatan Syuflana/AP Photo.

Over the coming days, The Hub will publish mandate letters for the incoming cabinet ministers that set out a series of bold policy prescriptions that would cumulatively tilt Canadian politics towards a different and better future.

The best antidote to anger and frustration is aspiration and purpose. The campaign has demonstrated how urgently Canada’s body politic needs such a remedy. There’s no time to waste. It’s time to get to work.

Dear Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development,

I am honoured that you have agreed to serve Canadians as the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development.

As you know, our government must have a both a short- and long-term orientation. The immediate priority is to help the country through the COVID-19 pandemic and to catalyse a post-pandemic recovery. Getting Canadian businesses and families to the other end of this crisis is the key to restoring stability and optimism in our economy and society.

Beyond that, though, over the long term, we face many opportunities and challenges including geopolitical instability, aging demographics, climate change, reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, long-term fiscal challenges, low productivity, and slow growth.

Each of these issues could easily consume a government’s attention, focus, and resources. But we do not have the luxury of prioritizing one or some of them. They require similar levels of energy and ambition if we are to lay the foundation for a different and better future for Canadians.

An emphasis on the future is a much-needed antidote to the growing anxiety and pessimism in our country. Even before the pandemic, too many Canadians worried that their children will not have the same opportunities and living standards as them. The pandemic has exacerbated these concerns and cast a pall of uncertainty over our economy and society.

In this context, Canadians have grown skeptical of the ability of government to put aside partisan differences or short-term political advantage and make the hard yet necessary choices to mitigate our long-term challenges and accentuate our opportunities. It is incumbent on us to prove to Canadians that their skepticism and doubt is unwarranted. We must rebuild their trust through our actions and choices.

This principle extends to all aspects of governance. Our government must live up to the highest ethical standards, including openness, honesty, and accountability. I expect you to reflect these values in your work. It is critical that we honour Canadians’ trust in us and the history and dignity of the institutions and roles that we occupy.

Our immediate policy priorities flow from the best ideas and rooted in evidence. I ask that you work with your colleagues to deliver on the following key priorities:

  • Lead the charge to reestablish Canada as a global leader in bio-manufacturing, particularly as it relates to our continued fight with COVID-19, by supporting Canadian scientists, researchers and post-secondary institutions with tools and resources to advance discoveries and commercialize products like vaccines and therapeutics. 
  • Work in close collaboration with the Canada Revenue Agency to determine the effectiveness of federal innovation programs like SR&ED and IRAP, and establish a strategy to streamline these programs with an emphasis on measurable outcomes that directly impact Canada’s economic growth and prosperity.
  • Work with the Minister of Finance and the Superintendent of Financial Institutions to establish a new Open Banking regime in Canada that encourages innovation and competition in our financial services sector, while protecting Canadian consumers from risk and systemic instability.
  • Recognizing the importance of competitive telecommunications pricing and the ubiquity of high speed internet access across the country, evaluate all tools at the federal government’s disposal to encourage innovation and competition in our telecommunications industry.
    • As it relates to rural internet connectivity, work with the minister responsible for rural economic development to establish a strategy that ensures broad affordable access to all Canadian communities before 2030, with an open mind towards new foreign direct investment focused on low-earth-orbit satellite internet.
    • Work with the minister of indigenous services to ensure an equal priority of access to indigenous communities and reserves.
  • Support the Parliamentary Budget Officer in completing a thorough analysis of the effectiveness of Canada’s innovation superclusters initiatives, and take immediate steps to redirect this funding towards industry-led initiatives that prioritize global commercial competitiveness by innovative Canadian companies. 
  • Encourage the growth of Canada’s venture capital sector, and reduce barriers to entry for foreign venture capital investors looking to invest in Canadian companies. 
    • Special tax provisions should be evaluated to incentivize the growth of Canada’s venture capital sector.
    • Tax and immigration policy should be evaluated to ensure there is no undue friction disincentivizing foreign venture capital investors from establishing a presence in Canada and investing in Canadian companies.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of sovereign wealth funds that focus on innovation globally, and assemble an advisory board of industry leaders in the venture capital sector to determine whether this could be a viable strategy for Canada.
  • Recognizing the enormous positive impact immigrants have on our country’s competitiveness, work with the minister of immigration to:
    • Grow and enhance Canada’s Start-up Visa Program to establish Canada as the top destination for ambitious entrepreneurs to start global companies.
    • Grow Canada’s Global Skills Strategy to enable more Canadian employers to bring highly skilled immigrants to Canada on a fast track Visa program.
  • Recognizing the importance of housing affordability near industrial clusters and urban centres across the country, and to maintain Canada’s reputation as an attractive destination for the world’s brightest, work with the minister of infrastructure and communities, as well as provincial and municipal counterparts, to ensure that federal infrastructure funding is tied to commitments to increase the supply of affordable housing through additional density in designated growth centres.
  • As part of Canada’s climate plan:
    • Work with the minister of natural resources, the minister of the environment, and the minister of transport to reduce Canada’s dependence on higher risk domestic modes of transport for oil gas resources (i.e. trains and trucks), and support the development of state of the art pipeline infrastructure that meets Canada’s environmental standards.
    • Recognizing Canada’s relatively small contribution to global carbon emissions, lead the charge to establish Canada as a global leader in clean energy innovation, with an emphasis on technologies that can be exported to help reduce negative environmental practices globally. This should include a particular emphasis on the development of small modular nuclear reactor technology, a field in which Canada is already well positioned to lead.
  • Work with the minister for science and technology to address Canada’s “brain drain”, by specifically evaluating the federal subsidies tied to students’ education in STEM fields. Namely, implement a strategy that disincentivizes Canadian graduates from pursuing opportunities in the U.S., by tying federal education subsidies to requirements of contributing to the Canadian economy for 5 years post-graduation.
  • Work with the minister of Canadian heritage to recognize Canadian ingenuity and entrepreneurship, by celebrating Canadians who exemplify these characteristics. The focus should be on influencing Canadian popular culture to elevate entrepreneurs and celebrate their risk-taking in pursuit of progress. This could include an official recognition of National Entrepreneurs’ Day, and a national campaign to get Canadians excited about innovation in the coming decade.

I know I can count on you to fulfill these responsibilities and help to deliver a different and better future rooted in prosperity and opportunity for all Canadians.

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