Yesterday, the House of Commons Finance Committee visited Saskatoon, Saskachewan to hear from a wide range of stakeholders and industry leaders.  Dennis Johnson, Saskachewan Polytechnic Vice President, Strategy and Business Development appeared before the committee representing Polytechnics Canada and the interests members from across Canada.  The following is the statement delivered to the committee:

Mr. Chair and Committee, thank you for having me here today as a representative of Polytechnics Canada’s Vice Chair, and president of Saskatchewan Polytechnic, Larry Rosia.   
As we come into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Canada’s future looks bright.  We are well positioned to harness new technologies, to adopt new production processes, and to develop a workforce that has the future-forward skills needed to succeed in this new world of work.   

However, as bright as the prospective future looks, our economy faces wide-ranging challenges.  Two of these significant challenges are productivity and competitiveness.  As I will outline today, polytechnics are one important economic development lever that address these persistent challenges, but are under-utilized and under-leveraged in federal policy and programs.   

Polytechnics are leaders in creating innovation-led inclusive growth, and are leaders in the ways in which we contribute to made-in Canada talent development.   

This is how Canada’s polytechnics contribute to productivity and competitiveness most – innovation capacity and human capital development – yet, we can do more.  But only if the federal government can right-size, re-balance, and re-tool, its support for polytechnic education and innovation.  

Polytechnics build Canada’s innovation capacity by helping firms bridge the commercialization gap.  We move products from the laboratory and the shop floor, to markets and to people, and ultimately ensure that these products are creating revenue and income for Canadians.    

As much as connecting people to products, and makers to markets contributes to our productivity and competitiveness, in Canada we don’t value the near-to-market end of the innovation spectrum as highly as we value basic research.  Canada is great at supporting ideas, but we must be stronger in our support for the commercialization of those ideas.   

Disappointingly, of the $3.1 billion that the government spends annually on higher education R&D, only 1.7%, or $53 million, is available to the entire sector of polytechnics and colleges, primarily through one program.  The remainder goes to university-driven research, leaving important applied research successes to wither away or suffer from under-utilization.    

As you are aware, industry is critical to driving innovation.  Institutions like Saskatchewan Polytechnic are nimble and have strong track records of working with industry on applied research projects.  Yet, the lack of research funding and restrictive policies, prevents us from meeting the huge demand from companies for R&D projects that will lead to the commercialization of products and services, and that will diversify and grow the provincial and national economies.  

In 2016 alone, the College and Community Innovation Program supported 2815 firms across Canada.  However, current funding levels cannot effectively meet this demand – presently, the program is oversubscribed and faces a $13 million-dollar shortfall.  The irony is that the message this sends to industry – that innovation is not that important, particularly for the small businesses that want to work with us to solve their problems – contradicts the Government’s message.  

To support innovation-led growth and productivity, we urge the Committee to support our call for the federal government to right-size it’s funding to polytechnic innovation by doubling its current $53 million-dollar commitment.   

On talent, we know the world of work is changing, and it is critically important that we invest in our people to support an innovative, productive, competitive, and inclusive new economy.  Though we have a number of recommendations on talent and skills, I want to focus in particular on the skilled trades.   

Canada’s polytechnics produce highly skilled, multidisciplinary talent that grows both the knowledge economy and the knowhow economy.   Yet, we often forget that the knowledge economy and the knowhow enable each other.  As the impact of technology increases, our skilled tradespeople are critical to success in the new world of work – they are in fact, automation enablers.    

The Government’s ambition to improve productivity and competitiveness, while reducing income inequality and growing Canada’s middle class, requires smarter use of higher education’s contribution to the economy and society.  Canada’s polytechnics are ready to contribute, and today I urge the Government to harness us better.   

I look forward to your questions and, should you wish, be more than happy to provide you with specific examples of our successes resulting from projects that have received federal funding.

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