Matt Spoke: Project Arrow is doomed to fail

We need entrepreneurs, not politicians, to kickstart innovation in Canada
An electric vehicle is charged in Ottawa on Wednesday, July 13, 2022. Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press.

Last week was a big week at the Canadian Auto Show. Standing on stage were representatives from the Automotive Parts Manufacturers Association of Canada (APMA) as well senior ministers of both the Federal and Ontario governments.

What was the big reveal? Project Arrow—a collaboration among dozens of Canadian automotive parts companies to bring to market a Canadian-made commercialized electric vehicle

And in true Canadian fashion, the bill is being picked up by the Canadian and Ontario taxpayers.

Knowing nothing else other than the above, I’ll make a strong prediction that this will ultimately fail enormously—but only after billions of dollars get wasted.

The chosen name for the project is curious. Arrow is no doubt a reference to the legendary Avro Arrow, Canada’s homemade fighter jet that was ultimately cancelled in 1959. It doesn’t take much more than a quick glance on Google to discover that the fate of the Avro Arrow was the result of government mismanagement, overspending, and failure to meet commercial expectations to design a viable aircraft for export. 

Project Arrow has all the necessary ingredients to follow the Avro Arrow to the bottom of Lake Ontario.

In the aviation industry, the day of the Avro Arrow’s cancellation in1959 is known as “Black Friday”. Almost 20,000 people lost their jobs that day, and the industry was thrown back a decade in its international relevance; arguably still being felt today in our non-competitive aerospace industry. 

Misguided government efforts to direct innovation based on their own hopes, ideologies, and policy agendas are always doomed to fail. If we want to get serious about building an innovative Canadian future we can be proud of, our governments at all levels need to realize that they’re the obstacles, not the solutions. 

It may be a valid policy agenda to build Canada’s competitiveness in the growing electric vehicle market, but the question still remains on where we have a competitive advantage. And the most likely person to answer that question is an insightful entrepreneur looking for a market opportunity, not a federal “innovation bureaucrat”. 

It’s worth noting that I’m a tech entrepreneur and a natural optimist. I believe that Canada has the potential for a bright future powered by technology, and I hope that we’ll breed enough creative and entrepreneurial minds to take us to that promised land. 

I wish I woke up to the news of a Canadian entrepreneur building an electric vehicle company (maybe focused on the unique challenges of operating EVs in winter climates). And I wish that that Canadian entrepreneur would’ve been backed by diligent and intelligent investors with track records of backing successful ventures. 

But no, I woke up in today’s Canada. One where our most exciting tech announcements are being made by federal and provincial ministers rather than entrepreneurs. 

This is not the path to the future. At least not the one I want to live in.

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