Those haunting targets

One of the most contentious parts of the Prosperity Plan was the innovation target. The PP said that by 2012, New Brunswick would be in the top four provinces for research and development. At the time of printing the PP, we were dead last. As of the latest Statistics Canada data, we were dead last.

Last Friday, Statistics Canada released its latest figures on industrial R&D (non-government) and while we are not last among the provinces (our government sponsored R&D is last so that drags down the overall number), we are third from the bottom – we were in 1999 and also in 2003.

In fact, to reach join the top four provinces in Canada for ‘industrial’ research & development, we would have to spend another $140 million on R&D each year in New Brunswick (we currently spend $43 million). That’s not double. That’s not triple. That’s somewhere north of triple.

It’s very dangerous to set targets like this. There is no way the provincial government will spend hundreds of millions of new dollars on R&D and there is no mechanism to encourage additional R&D within the industrial sector. So why set the target? Why set yourself up for the fall? Maybe, the Tory’s figured they wouldn’t be around in 2012 and in the meantime, they would use the phrase that is starting to creep into their language – ‘prosperity doesn’t happen over night’ or ‘it takes time’ or, my favorite, ‘we have until 2012’.

Alternatively, they have some plan to inject or stimulate hundreds of millions more in new R&D. A plan we haven’t seen yet. Well, I hope they roll it out soon. From 1994-1998, there was $234 million in total industrial R&D in New Brunswick. From 1999 to 2003, there was a total of $210 million.

That’s a decline of 10%, folks.

Politicians, don’t worry. The public won’t be reading about this in the Times & Trashscript.

Apparently, Canadian Idol, Moncton’s mosquito count and the Bathurst skateboard park are more important than the amount of industrial research & development.

PS – for frequent readers, you will note that I used the Stats Can population figure for 2004 in my analysis above. If we used my preferred population number (the one showing a declining population), we would still have the third lowest industrial R&D per capita.