November 2008

Supply Side

The innovation imperative: Innovation in Canada and in the mining supply sector

By J. Baird

An article entitled The Power of Innovation, which appeared in the March 17, 2008 issue of Canadian Business, puts Canada into perspective as an innovative country, compared with the world’s 25 largest economies. The author, Andrew Wahl, states: “Canada needs more ideas, more R&D and more guts if it’s ever to be a leader.”

According to a Conference Board of Canada report last year, our overall ranking at seventh is not bad, but there are some serious deficiencies in our ability to raise our standard of living by being more innovative.

Governments need to lead

The Conference Board of Canada feels that governments — federal and provincial — have not shown a willingness to craft well-honed strategies around spurring innovation and, more specifically, commercialization. According to the Canadian Business article, “Long-term thinking on major issues is not a strength of our governments, not when issues overlap ministry lines, cause power struggles and force politicians to choose favourites.”

Gilles Rhéaume, the Conference Board’s vice president for public policy, is quoted as saying: “We shouldn’t be picking winners, but we should be picking the races we want to win globally, by focusing on the broader areas where we feel Canada has a competitive advantage.”

The article mentions that our economic reliance on natural resources is such that we need not invest as much as a resource-poor country like Switzerland, for example, to maintain our standard of living. However, if we want to gain by more innovation, our strength in natural resources gives us a great advantage to win one of the races for which we should come home with gold medals.

Innovation in mining in Canada

According to statistics, our mining industry is already quite innovative in terms of money spent on research and development and the resulting productivity improvements. In comparison with other countries, our governments are not investing as much as they should in mining research. However, it is in the mining supply sector where we may have the strongest component of innovation and, more importantly, commercialization, which is necessary to capitalize on innovation.

A year ago, CAMESE carried out a survey that revealed that our members employed about 11,600 people, of which approximately 1,500 “work in Canada on the development of new products and technologies for the mining industry.” Another 1,000 of their employees work to market and sell those innovations. The full report is available at Realizing the importance of innovation and commercialization to our member companies, CAMESE has done its part to encourage the formation of the Canadian Mining Innovation Council (CMIC). This council of industry, academic and government representatives aims to strengthen the competitiveness of the Canadian mining industry by rebuilding and expanding mining research and excellence.

As a member of the Transitional Board of CMIC, I am pleased to say that efforts are continuing to build the council. The support of the federal government, through Natural Resources Canada, has been highly commendable. Last September, at the federal-provincial-territorial Mines Ministers annual conference, the concept was endorsed and the council was asked to come back this September with a pan-Canadian strategy. To achieve this, meetings and workshops have been held, and I believe that a strong business case was developed for presentation to ministers in this year’s meeting  held in Saskatoon in early September 2008.

Jon Baird
Jon Baird, managing director of CAMESE and the immediate past president of PDAC, is interested in collective approaches to enhancing the Canadian brand in the world of mining.

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