Richard Dicerni is deputy minister, Industry Canada. He spoke with editor-in-chief Paul Crookall.
Canada’s science and technology strategy, released last spring, is intended to build an entrepreneurial advantage, a knowledge advantage and a people advantage. More specifically we are:
- Focusing on excellence: We want to emphasize that we should be stretching ourselves to be the best in the rest of the world and that we can do this by constantly dialing up our game on excellence.
- Establishing priorities: A key way to get there is to identify areas of focus, such as the environment, energy, health, and ICTs and develop these areas further.
- Fostering partnerships: There is a need to continue expanding the bridges that exist among universities, governments and the private sector. We do not have the monopoly on wisdom; moreover a lot of the initiatives come from a higher degree of synergy of these players.
- Enhancing accountability: It is also important that there be more focus on results and enhanced accountability. The UK has taken many steps in this direction that are worthy of analysis.
- Improving commercialization: All governments in Canada, and across the OECD countries more generally, are focusing on improving linkages between research activities and the marketplace. We need to do more in this area.
One of the questions that we are looking into is why Canada’s private sector contributes, relatively speaking, less than the private sectors of other OECD countries to the overall R&D effort in the country. We have therefore asked the Council of Canadian Academies to undertake a comprehensive analysis of the issue.
Another initiative we have taken in this regard is to involve the private sector directly in identifying future centres of excellence in commercialization and research. The government asked Perrin Beatty, currently president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and formerly president of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, to chair the Private Sector Advisory Board to review and advise on the applications for new centers.
Some say that Government doesn’t do enough purchasing from small and medium enterprises, particularly ones that are on the leading edge, and that such procurement would support commercialization.
This is an interesting and complex issue that has surfaced in most of the roundtables we have had across the country on the S&T strategy. While there can be benefits by directing purchases to small and medium-sized enterprises, one cannot ignore the principle of value for money; as the chief accounting officer in the department, I am quite sensitive to this factor. Having said that, it is an issue that would benefit from further exploration and we will be seeking views from interested parties on this matter.
Is one problem because we do not see ourselves as able to commercialize?
I don’t accept that hypothesis, because if that were the case, I, along with millions of other people worldwide, would not be using Blackberries; when I fly to Toronto, I wouldn’t be flying on a Bombardier CRJ. If you look at innovation, if you look at new products and processes, you’ll find many Canadians and Canadian companies. I believe we need to continue fostering partnerships and greater synergies between the research communities and the private and public sectors.
Unlike service agencies that deal with individual clients, one at a time, your mandate is society-wide, dealing with large organizations. How do you integrate government goals and private sector goals?
Canadians want Canada to be as prosperous as possible and for its firms to be as competitive as possible in a globalized economic environment. Over the last 10-15 years, the role of the state has significantly evolved. In the same context, the role and mission of Industry Canada has also evolved. Our focus has shifted from specific programs by sector to the enablers of success in the global knowledge-based economy – world-class research and training in Canadian universities, marketplace framework policies that promote innovation and competition, and policies and programs that enable businesses to innovate and grow.
Those are the three components of Industry Canada’s mandate that act to support Canada’s economic prosperity: foundational investments in universities, science and technology to create new knowledge and equip Canadians with the skills and training required to compete in the global knowledge-based economy, ensuring that we develop and administer in the optimum way economic framework policies, and that we anchor and support business innovation and productivity – because businesses are the organizations that create wealth, and generate jobs. These objectives converge towards the same end: to meet societal needs and to improve the wealth, wellness and wellbeing of Canadians.
The Minister recently said that a new Foreign Investment Review Agency was not on the agenda.
I would like to make three points on this very important matter. First, Canada seeks out and welcomes foreign direct investments (FDI). Most studies including a recent one by Statistics Canada confirm the benefits of FDI. Second, the minister has emphasized that the government has no intentions of reintroducing a foreign investment review agency. Third, the minister recently issued guidelines that will be used when reviewing potential future investments by state-owned enterprises. He noted that the review process under the Investment Canada Act in those cases would pay particular attention to matters such as governance transparency and commercial practices of the potential investor.
Managing Industry Canada, with its many mandates, must be very challenging?
Industry Canada is multi-faceted and complex department especially when one considers its diverse portfolio of agencies and councils. There is, however, one shared overarching objective – to enhance Canada’s prosperity for the benefit of all Canadians by:
- supporting and enhancing the knowledge economy;
- developing the optimal framework policies and administering them efficiently and effectively; and,
- providing policy and program support where appropriate to businesses.
These three strategic thrusts also provide an integrative framework for the department and it’s portfolio.
Looking at 2008, what are your major challenges?
At Industry Canada we need to enhance the connections with the external community, to be in regular contact with industry and universities across the country, to maintain a dialogue with individuals from Bay Street to the OECD. Transformative change is occurring at a very fast pace across the country and around the world. Our capacity to continue to provide sound policy advice is dependent in part on our capacity to improve our outreach. It is also dependent on our capacity to retain and recruit talented, creative and dedicated employees. This means focusing more time on human resources management.
Some observers have commented that you would make a good private sector CEO.
There are a number of similarities between the required skill set of a CEO and of a DM. These include having a strategic vision for the organization, a focus on talent management especially on senior management, a sense of urgency, a capacity to read the broader external environment and