As the flurry of early activity associated with the changing of a government diminishes, and the Trudeau lead Liberals find their stride, there are some increasingly clear signals as to the direction and tone the government intends to take over the period ahead. Importantly, from the biotech community’s perspective, early indications are that the government understands the sector’s strategic and economic importance.
Shortly after being sworn in, all Ministers received explicit direction from the Prime Minister in the form of mandate letters which provided clear objectives and overarching working style for each of the Ministers. Navdeep Bains, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, will have as one of his core objectives “expanding effective support for incubators, accelerators, the emerging national network for business innovation and cluster support, and the Industrial Research Assistance Program.” These investments will target key growth sectors where Canada has the ability to attract investment or grow export-oriented companies.” The Minister has also been tasked with the development of an Innovation Strategy for Canada. In early discussions with Minister Bains, he has indicated he will begin developing the strategy after the 2016 budget is delivered. His development process will involve consulting key stakeholders through 2016.
In addition to his areas of direct responsibility, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development was also mandated to work closely with his colleague the Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan, who will be establishing “a Chief Science Officer mandated to ensure that government science is fully available to the public… and examine options to strengthen the recognition of, and support for, fundamental research to support new discoveries.”
All told, the titles and clearly defined mandates for the Ministers send a very strong signal the government views science and innovation as key catalysts for the Canadian economy. As defined, it is also clear the new Ministers will play a central role in shaping the industry’s overall policy environment over the period ahead.
Interestingly, the political change has also led to a significant change within the public service. In addition to being instructed to work closely with their colleagues, Ministers have also been given direction to work with and rely on the expertise within their departments. These instructions and the corresponding behaviour on the part of Ministers and their political staff has breathed new life into federal departments as their expertise and input are again sought as part of the policy-making process. This new energy bodes well for public policy development broadly.
Importantly, the belief in the new science and innovation mandate does not sit only at the Ministerial and departmental levels. At the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, the Prime Minister bragged of Canada’s “extraordinary hightech sectors… and really strong biotech” in response to questions about Canada’s economic prospects in the face of a sagging oil and gas sector. That biotech was top of mind for the Prime Minister sends a strong signal that the whole of government recognizes the importance of the biotechnology sector in supporting the global competitiveness of industries such as forestry, mining, agriculture among others.
The new focus on science and recognition of biotech comes at an important juncture. 2015 was a strong year for the industry as new companies emerged across the country and man established companies making significant advances towards commercial reality. It is vital that this momentum is maintained. As the BIOTECanada Ecosystem
Report (http://www.biotecanada-ecosystem.com/) demonstrates, successfully going from lab bench to commercial success requires all parts of the ecosystem to be working effectively and together. Canada is not alone in the biotech space. Other nations also recognize the importance of establishing their own biotech sectors and are quickly mobilizing to support the development of domestic ecosystems that will attract entrepreneurs and investment. Canada must continue to keep pace if it is to maintain its global leadership position. Fundamental to Canada’s ability to attract investment and keep pace is a supportive public policy environment. In this context, a federal government that recognizes the industry’s strategic importance is a definite asset. Correspondingly, BIOTECanada will be working closely with the new Government to support the development of the National Innovation Strategy and ensure the industry continues to play a central role in the government’s thinking and planning.
About the Author:
Andrew Casey is CEO and President BIOTECanada
In his role as President & CEO of BIOTECanada Andrew is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Association. In this capacity, he is the primary spokesperson for Canada’s biotech industry communicating on the industry’s behalf with government, regulators, international bodies, media and the Canadian public. He also ensures BIOTECanada plays a central role in partnership with Government in the development of policy relating to Canada’s biotech sector and the member companies of BIOTECanada.
*Be sure to check out our one-on-one interview with Andrew Casey (see below) where he discusses further the impact of the new government on the Canadian biotech sector, the recently concluded JP Morgan Conference, what’s in store for BIO 2016, and why Ontario missed out on its bid to host BIO 2019.