Insight

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[mk_dropcaps style=”simple-style”]D[/mk_dropcaps]ON SCOTT, MLA FOR Fort McMurray-Conklin, is only a few months into his role as Alberta’s Minister of Innovation and Advanced Education. Energy Exchange sat down with him to get his perspective on energy innovation.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”2/3″][mk_image src=”http://www.energy-exchange.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Don_Scott.jpg” image_width=”800″ image_height=”1046″ crop=”false” lightbox=”false” frame_style=”simple” target=”_self” caption_location=”outside-image” align=”left” margin_bottom=”10″][vc_column_text disable_pattern=”true” align=”left” margin_bottom=”0″ el_class=”Photo-Caption”]PHOTO: COURTESY GOVERNMENT OF ALBERTA[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][mk_padding_divider size=”20″][vc_column_text disable_pattern=”true” align=”left” margin_bottom=”0″]

What does the ministry, Albert Innovation and Advanced Education do?

We’re responsible for all post secondary education in Alberta, including colleges and universities, and a lot of our work involves the research at those institutions. We have an innovation sector that is connected to the universities, but we also have separate innovation corporation called Alberta Innovates. We oversee that entire system. There are some other aspects to the system including small business strategy. It’s a very wide ministry.

Corporate management gurus often speak of organizational values that support a “culture of innovation.” What values must government, and more generally, Canadians, embrace to support an innovative nation?

There are many definitions of innovation, which have the same essential core: enhanced value from the novel application of knowledge. The values that we need to embrace to be innovative include risk-taking, curiosity, agility supported by life-long learning, recognizing opportunity, and of course, being prepared and motivated to pursue that opportunity. As government I think we must be willing to accept more risk than we currently do, while Canadians need to think more globally and entrepreneurially to identify new opportunities. No one can afford to be trapped by traditional ways of thinking, interacting or doing business.

Given that innovation crosses multiple sectors, from schools to boardrooms to entrepreneurs, what role does government play in promoting a culture of innovation?

One of the key roles governments play is creating the environment to allow smart risk taking by the agents of innovation, which are businesses. They are the key agents of innovation and wealth creation in Canada. Critically, if we want to compete and thrive in a dynamic global economy we have to plan for the future. I think it will take all of us, business, government and stakeholders, working together to build on our strengths and to grow and diversify our economy and improve the innovation system.

How can Canada or the provinces create sustainable Centres of Excellence that attract the most innovative minds from around the country and the world?

Centre of excellence really means a critical mass of talented researchers connected to an area in need of knowledge that will improve the human condition. For example, a team of chemists, nanotechnology experts and biomedical engineers connected to practicing clinicians to find new ways of drug delivery. But, to be successful and globally competitive, innovation centres require a robust research funding environment that attracts international leaders, sustains programming over several years, supports infrastructure investments to enable them to progress quickly, connects them to other global leaders nationally and internationally, and keeps them focused on pressing knowledge needs.

How does innovation support Canada’s economy and our position in the global marketplace?

I‘d say it’s widely accepted and understood that innovation is critical to competiveness and social progress. It creates new or improved products and services, which change the balance of a jurisdiction’s competitive and comparative advantages. In Alberta for example, resources are plentiful but hardly unique. Saudi Arabia has oil, Russia has timber, and the United States has coal. What makes Alberta standout is the value innovation adds to our products. Companies and organizations involved in the oilsands have created many new processes and products that help unlock hard to reach or hard to process resources here and abroad. For example, Alberta innovation, helped create the oriented strand broad used in residential construction across the continent. Innovation adds value and value makes us more competitive.

The World Economic Forum’s most recent Global Competitiveness Report and a 2012 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development report, said Canada is falling behind when it comes to research & Development funding. How does this effect Canada? And what can be done about it?

I’d say that Canada is working very hard to improve its innovation performance. I could certainly say that about Alberta. Both Canada and Alberta recognize they need to work in partnership with business to enhance research and innovation and spending on research and development, productivity and investor interaction. So, Canada and Alberta have taken major steps to enhance science, technology and innovation. In Alberta, these steps build on our strengths and help to more rapidly move ideas into global markets. I’ve certainly seen improving our innovation performance as a focus since I’ve entered into this ministry. We’ve taken the time to make sure we understand the system, and we’re asking the question what can we do better? How can we improve?

To improve you need benchmarks. How does the Government of Alberta measure innovation?

Last spring the Alberta Economic Development Authority released a report on our competitiveness in 2013. It assessed Alberta’s ranking on 70 benchmarked indicators relative to 14 jurisdictions in Canada, the US, Australia and Europe. A subset of these 70 indicators focused on innovation. Specifically, innovation in employment, entrepreneurship, business innovation, and R&D in business and universities. Alberta scored in the top quintal for employment in natural and applied sciences and in new business start-ups. However, we have work to do in the categories of total R&D expenditures, business R&D spending, and employment in high-tech, manufacturing and knowledge intensive services.

What does the future of innovation look like in Alberta, and what role does the energy sector play in that future?

I think the future of innovation is bright. We have a lot of ingenuity and inventiveness in Canada, and we have a lot of brilliant people doing tremendous research. I’m the MLA for the oilsands, and people often ask me if that’s where we need to focus innovation, and I explain that it’s got to be much broader than that. We need to make sure we have a diversified economy. The energy sector is certainly a crucial area and will be for a long time, but we have to have an economy that focuses on many sectors, not solely energy.[mk_font_icons icon=”icon-stop” size=”small” padding_horizental=”4″ padding_vertical=”4″ circle=”false” align=”none”][/vc_column_text][vc_column_text disable_pattern=”true” align=”left” margin_bottom=”0″ el_class=”Story-Author”]— Thomas Hall[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][mk_padding_divider size=”40″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][mk_padding_divider size=”40″][mk_button dimension=”three” size=”large” outline_skin=”dark” outline_active_color=”#fff” outline_hover_color=”#333333″ bg_color=”#13bdd2″ text_color=”light” icon=”moon-reading” url=”/resources/energy-exchange-magazine/issue-3/” target=”_self” align=”left” fullwidth=”true” margin_top=”0″ margin_bottom=”15″ animation=”fade-in”]Read more stories from the Winter 2015 issue of Energy Exchange magazine[/mk_button][/vc_column][/vc_row]