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Tag Archives: Innovation
Traffic congestion in the Toronto region costs Canada $3.3-billion a year in lost productivity the Globe and Mail reports. An Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development report found:
- Federal spending on transportation in Canada as a share of total government spending was the smallest compared to other OECD countries in 2005 and has marginally improved in recent years.
- The Toronto region ranks 43rd out of 46 major cities for the amount of railway track it has per kilometre, one indicator of transit investment.
- A regional approach to public transit, possibly led by the provincial agency Metrolinx, is required to integrate and make better use of the 11 separately governed agencies in the GTA and Hamilton area.
- Despite renowned universities and research institutions, the region lags on innovation indicators such as patents, citations, high-tech employment and entrepreneurship. Universities and industry need to collaborate more effectively. Governments should invest in more initiatives like Toronto’s MaRS Discovery District.
- More should be done to capitalize on immigrants’ international networks in order to expand Canada’s global trade. Cities outside Toronto need to increase investment in affordable and rental housing that serves newcomers.
The Equivocators Thoughts on urban sprawl and the opportunity costs of it all:
I find it bizarre that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has decided to model his government after John A. Macdonald’s in terms of corruption and divisiveness while ignoring John A. Macdonald’s love of trains.* Stephen Harper, and Conservatives in general, hate trains for some reason. They mock Liberals for wanting to put money into infrastructure saying we are stuck in the past.
The reality is that high-speed rail, which is already popular/beloved in Europe is good for the economy, the environment, promoting unity and would be perfect for Canada.
Canada’s population is growing while the world’s is stabilizing. We need to update our infrastructure or we will end up behind in the world economy. The growing Canadian population must be able to move around this country to ensure that Canadian jobs are held by the best and the brightest Canadians. Bullet-trains are one way to connect this vast country while having less of an impact on the environment than current modes of transportation. One great advantage of building high-speed trains is that the jobs created from the construction would go to Bombardier, a Canadian company.
Canada must invest in public transportation or it will lose out in the new globalized economy of the world. This means putting more money public transportation within cities (electric buses, subways and trains) and transportation of goods and people between provinces. Some people say that the price of public transportation is too high and that delayed gratification is not worth it.
If the price of not investing in Toronto is $3.3-billion a year, imagine the cost for all of Canada.
* He also loved alcohol but that doesn’t help me make my point.
Stephen Harper is Failing To Defend Canadian Technology Jobs While Simultaneously Discouraging Innovation
- ‘Research in Motion’ and ‘Nortel’ are two (very) Canadian companies. What differentiates them from other companies is that they have been consistent in investing in R&D. Chrysler and GM, along with Canada’s petroleum companies, put a bare minimum into innovation.
- The Export Development Corp. extended a $300-million line of credit to Nokia Siemens Networks to buy Nortel’s wireless assets. Prime Minister Harper has decided that his priority is not protecting Canadian jobs. Nortel did have bad management, but so did GM and Chrysler. While Nortel holds the patents to products that people actually buy, GM/Chrysler made cars nobody bought that were terrible for the environment. GM/Chrysler are now putting more (still not enough) money into R&D, the bailout worked, why not the same for Nortel? Not only does Prime Minister Harper hold a double-standard towards Nortel, he is making it easier to dismantel the company peice by piece and selling it to a company that isn’t Canadian. Stephen Harper is punishing Canadian companies that acts responcibily and effectively (the way the public actually wants a company to behave) like RIM and rewarding non-Canadian companies.
- “Nortel’s hundreds of wireless patents would let RIM build one of the world’s most formidable wireless networks.” Canada could become a world leader in a field that is expanding very quickly.
- In another article the Toronto Star says that defending Nortel: “could be accomplished simply enough by withdrawing EDC’s support for the Nokia Siemens bid. And by reminding Siemens AG, half-owner of the front-running bidder for Nortel’s wireless operations, that the portion of Siemens’ $2.6 billion in Canadian business that is government-related is not something to take to the bank in future years if Nokia Siemens does not develop a sudden lack of interest in one of Canada’s few remaining global champions.”
- Tony Clement has said it “was not the government’s role to determine” who would win the auction for Nortel. The Conservatives also don’t believe it’s the governmnts role to effectively regulate nuclear isotopes, or competently run the economy. The problem is that by giving $300 million to Nokia Stephen Harper’s government has already taken an active role. A role that hurts Canadians.
- From the Globe and Mail: “At a time when they were rescuing GM and Chrysler, they didn’t ask the simple question: Could we restructure Nortel to preserve the enormous intellectual property and research capacity in Canada,” Mr. Ignatieff said Wednesday. “It’s a huge loss, and it means a leading Canadian player – RIM – is going to be faced with competition from intellectual property that was originated in Canada and is now being sold to foreign companies.”
Many Canadian industries are lagging behind in innovation (from cars to lumber.) Prime Minister Harper has repeatedly punished progress, hindered development and discouraged any form of innovation or willingness to put money into R & D. The Prime Minister has appointed anti-science men/women to NSERC, his government has cut University funding for science and has no plan to help Canadian companies compete in the ‘Knowledge Economy’ of the future.
When General Motors, Chrysler and their unions pleaded for money, Ottawa and Ontario stumped up about $10-billion to keep the metal-bangers afloat.
When Nortel Networks, the largest technology company in Canada, asked for help, the federal Conservatives waxed their ears and watched the company slide beneath the waters of insolvency.
One reason for deux poids, deux mesures: The car companies had large, vocal, tough unions, whereas Nortel was full of white-collar, non-unionized employees. Another reason: The car companies were in economically stressed cities, whereas Nortel was in suburban Toronto and Ottawa.
GM and Chrysler did very little research in Canada, because most of it was done in the United States; Nortel was by far the largest private contributor to research in Canada. GM had a hundred engineers on staff in Canada; Nortel had thousands. The car manufacturers spawned parts suppliers and dealerships; Nortel, it is estimated, spawned 260 startup companies.
At its height, circa 2000, Nortel had 33,000 employees around the world, with 6,000 in Canada. Even in decline, Nortel continued to spend $1.8-billion a year on research, in a country starved for private-sector research.
There was, and is, no guarantee that government intervention could have saved Nortel; but there was, and is, no guarantee that government intervention will save GM and Chrysler. These companies, after all, had been losing market share for a long time.
It was said that nothing could be done to save Nortel, including from itself, but we’ll never know because Ottawa didn’t even try; it was said that nothing could be done to save GM and Chrysler, including from themselves, but we’ll know because Ottawa (and Washington) did try.
It is said that, short of Canadian government intervention, the auto sector would have all slid south; without government intervention, all that will remain of Nortel in Canada are the remnants that foreign buyers choose to keep here.
It is unfair to say the federal government remained utterly indifferent to Nortel’s fate. Ottawa has abetted the dismemberment of the company. The Export Development Corp. extended a $300-million line of credit to Nokia Siemens Networks to buy Nortel’s wireless assets, apparently to save some jobs in Canada. A U.S. investment firm has now joined the bidding in the auction that’s to take place on Friday.
So there we have the extent of Ottawa’s industrial policy for Nortel: Offer credit to foreigners to buy part of a Canadian company, because the Finnish-German consortium says it will “save” 800 jobs in Canada.
Now along comes Jim Balsillie, the Ghost Rider of Canada’s private sector, to announce that his company, Research In Motion, wanted in on the bidding for Nortel assets and was stymied.
Say what you like about Mr. Balsillie, who’s also been butting heads with the National Hockey League in his bid to get a team transferred to Southern Ontario. Call him arrogant, a publicity hound, a man who doesn’t play by the rules. In Canada’s corporate plutocracy, where too many titans feel success is defined by selling their company to foreigners to “maximize shareholder value,” here’s a patriot who believes in doing something for his country and company at the same time.
If a few more people like him had been active in political and bureaucratic circles in Ottawa – ministers such as C.D. Howe or Ed Lumley or John Crosbie – at least something would’ve been studied to keep Nortel going, instead of the sickening fire-sale spectacle.
Who knows if that “something” would have succeeded, given Nortel’s problems? But if the car companies were worthy of all that attention, surely Nortel was worth more than a passing glance.
Nokia, poised to buy a part of Nortel, grew out of its home country, Finland, because its government (and people) decided that a small nation needed an industrial champion. Similar thinking remains in scarce supply in Canada.
With a bankruptcy auction set to start for Nortel’s assets, it might be too late for Mr. Balsillie, even though Industry Minister Tony Clement, having read the morning papers, now says maybe, yes, a Canadian solution might be considered.
Mr. Clement, active on the auto bailout file, had been missing in action on the Nortel front, perhaps because he and his fellow Conservatives figured nothing should be done to interrupt the flow of the market. Mr. Balsillie begs to differ.
- Canada needs to specialize in technology like this. By processing softwood in Canada we would create jobs in the transport industry, the manufacturing industry and the lumber industry. Wood needs to be shipped, processed and the processing machinery needs to be manufactured somewhere.
- Softwood lumber is an area where Canada believes it is a specialist but has yet to really specialize. We harvest the trees but with an inefficient process then we send the raw material away instead of processing it here. This needs to change, it needs to change now, and, since the industries are loathed to spend money on R & D, the government needs to provide some incentive.
- The processing of Softwood lumber is a great example of how “environmentally friendly” can also be “economically friendly.”
ONE of the reasons tropical forests are being cut down so rapidly is demand for the hardwoods, such as teak, that grow there. Hardwoods, as their name suggests, tend to be denser and more durable than softwoods. But their unsustainable logging destroys not only forests but also local creatures and the future prospects of the people who lived there.
It would be better to use softwood, which grows in cooler climes in sustainably managed forests. Softwoods are fast-growing coniferous species that account for 80% of the world’s timber. But the stuff is not durable enough to be used outdoors without being treated with toxic preservatives to protect it against fungi and insect pests. These chemicals eventually wash out into streams and rivers, and the wood must be retreated. Moreover, at the end of its life, wood that has been treated with preservatives in this way needs to be disposed of carefully.
One way out of this problem would be an environmentally friendly way of making softwood harder and more durable—something that a Norwegian company called Kebony has now achieved. It opened its first factory in January.
Kebony stops wood from rotting by placing in a vat containing a substance called furfuryl alcohol, which is made from the waste left over when sugarcane is processed. The vat is then pressurised, forcing the liquid into the wood. Next the wood is dried and heated to 110ºC. The heat transforms the liquid into a resin, which makes the cell walls of the wood thicker and stronger.
The approach is similar to that of a firm based in the Netherlands called Titan Wood. Timber swells when it is damp and shrinks when it is dry because it contains groups of atoms called hydroxyl groups, which absorb and release water. Titan Wood has developed a technique for converting hydroxyl groups into acetyl groups (a different combination of atoms) by first drying the wood in a kiln and then treating it with a chemical called acetic anhydride. The result is a wood that retains its shape in the presence of water, and is no longer recognised as wood by grubs that would otherwise attack it. It is thus extremely durable.
The products made by both companies are completely recyclable, environmentally friendly and create woods that are actually harder than most tropical hardwoods. Treated Canadian maple, for example, is harder than tropical merbau and jatoba. The strengthened softwoods can be used in everything from window frames to spas to garden furniture. Treated maple is also being adopted for decking on yachts. The cost is similar to that of teak, but the maple is more durable and easier to keep clean.
Obviously treating wood makes it more expensive. But because it does not need to receive further treatments—a shed made from treated wood would not need regular applications of creosote, for example—it should prove economical over its lifetime. Kebony reckons that its pine cladding, for example, would cost a third less than conventionally treated pine cladding over the course of 40 years. Saving money, then, need not be at the expense of helping to save the planet.
Canada has failed to innovate because:
- Canada looks at itself (incorrectly) as a natural resource giant. Canada does have great reserves of lumber, oil, asbestos, water, and uranium. By failing to innovate and develop better methods at extracting and processing these resources. This has also terrible environmental implications as well as economic ramifications. Canada went from shipping raw materials to the British Empire to shipping raw materials to the United States. Canada has failed to specialize in the industry it is dependent on, this is a massive economic fail. We need to be experts, not amateurs.
- The Oil industry is the most reluctant to innovate (spending 0.5% of revenues on R & D.) Since the seat of power in Canada (for now) resides in Alberta, where the main oil interests have great influence. The Conservative government have in fact cut research funding for universities and they are unwilling to use their power to force industry to innovate. Canada is the last country in the world to take a “no-holds-bar” philosophy of capitalism that would have the government stay far away from business. With the global financial crisis every government in the world has taken a hand in business and if Canada’s government does not promote and guide (not even that intensely but anything is better than what the Conservatives are currently doing) innovation then Canada’s economy will continue to decline.
- Canada has great unions that are strong but have a bit too much influence. Unions are also very resistant to change and modernization. This (combined with America control of the industry) has led to great stagnation in the Canadian auto industry and for a focus on just extraction instead of processing (which is fundamentally foolish as there would be more unionized workers in a modernized production facility.)
- Canadian provinces have a weird rivalry with each other. This has been made worse during Prime Minister Harper’s tenure as he plays Canadian versus Canadian to win votes. This has ensured there are few West-to-East links in our country. Michael Ignatieff is very shrewd in recommending West-East oil links and more synergy between the provinces. Canada should focus more on the production of its natural resources. Image lumber from B.C. being processed in Ontario then shipped off as a high-quality resource that makes more money. Canada should think of the provinces like EU countries working together instead of like separate countries competing with each other.
- Canada needs to become better at building extraction equipment. This is vital for our economy. We don’t need to b the world leader but currently Canada is far behind on this front.
- Canadians work longer hours than Europeans and Americans. We need to work smarter and not harder. Our focus on poorly processed natural resources means that it is easier for students to make money with less education. This makes for a cycle of poor-innovation. The Harper government is systematically making Canadians less educated. Mr. Ignatieff is once again correct calling for Canada to become a knowledge society. A knowledge society would affect all aspects of the economy and would revolutionize all industries (even ones you don’t think would be effected like the natural resource industry.)
- Canada is so reliant on the United States to export to (78.9%) and therefore has nothing pressing it to innovate. By being so dependent on the United States we have tied ourselves with a country that is declining (e.g. their banks) we have put our economy on worse footing. Canada needs to lessen its economic ties with the United States and look to the rising economies in Asia and the solid economies of the EU (Stockwell Day has been doing great work with the EU, Middle-East and China.) By trading more with Asian countries Canada would have more access to the much-needed technological innovations that it is lacking.
- “When it comes to R & D in Canada…foreign-owned subsidiaries tend to pull their weight only when coerced by government. The pharmaceutical sector stepped up its research spending in exchange for enhanced patent protection, while IBM set up research operations in Canada to become eligible for government contracts.” This week we saw Tim Horton’s return to Canada because of lower taxes. It is necessary for the government to step in; you cannot have a misguided faith in the ethics/altruism of the business community.
- Stephen Harper is a second rate economist (he dropped out of U of T) and has a provincial mindset in many ways. Many economists and industry leaders say you wont see Canada’s need more change unless you have traveled the world (the article below uses “cosmopolitan.”) Before becoming Prime Minister, Stephen Harper had only traveled to Mexico. His trips abroad are highly choreographed public displays so he gets no real information from them. Michael Ignatieff has a global vision for Canada, this is very important as we live in a globalized world (which Stephen Harper has ignored especially by not attending the Beijing Olympics.)
The Case of Asbestos:
- Asbestos is always a controversial topic. 61% of workplace-related disease fatalities in 2005 were from asbestos. Asbestos poses health risks when fibres are in the air that people breathe. These fibres lodge in the lungs, causing scarring that can ultimately lead to severely impaired lung function (asbestosis) and cancer of the lungs or lung cavity. Countless (and this is countless in the most literal meaning) miners have been painfully killed because of mining techniques that released asbestos into the air.
- There is only one asbestos mine left open in Canada (in Quebec.)
- There are two types of asbestos mineral. The Amphibole (the bad kind) and the Chrysotile (white asbestos, the good kind.) Chrysotile asbestos is less crumbly and is used for things like cement (it is much less likely to be released into the atmosphere.) The problem with asbestos today, which links to the rest of this post, is the processing. Canada exports 90% of its asbestos to countries like India, Pakistan and Vietnam. Many there are hurt by the asbestos, less than with the Amphibole kind, because it is raw. The Canadian economy would be hurt badly if asbestos was banned. What needs to be done is better processing within Canada (which could be done anywhere really) which would create Canadian jobs, protect those in the third world and revive the asbestos industry which is being hurt by the historical reputation (that it rightly has.)
- Asbestos is like Nuclear Power and Ritalin. What do they have in common? All three earned bad reputations in the 1980s. People saw poorly made Russian reactors and made the wrong judgment on nuclear power (which today is safe, reliable, clean and if you compare it to other power sources isn’t overly expensive.) In the 1980s Ritalin was given out like candy by teachers and lives were ruined. Today many cases of ADD and ADHD go undiagnosed because of fear of over-medication. Asbestos was a terrible offender, many died horrible, so people dismiss White asbestos (which has many uses) because of its (earned) reputation.
- NASA uses white asbestos for many things. Canada is a leader in space technology and if proper asbestos processing was invested in Canada could take the lead here as well.
- Asbestos is a natural resources that Canadians dismiss because we have a mind set that all Canada can do is extract resources (with sub-par machinery) and sent it away for processing. Canada needs to get over this mindset and invest more in innovation.
Canada by the numbers:
65% Portion of Canadian exports in 2008 that were raw or lightly processed resources, compared with 45 per cent in 2000
10% Annual increase in research and development spending by Canadian companies, between 1981 and 2000
20% Drop in Canadian R&D spending, as percentage of GDP, since 2001
$1.67-billion Nortel Networks’ R&D spending in 2008, compared with $6-billion in 2000
1.8% Rate at which Canadian productivity grew in decade to 2006, compared with 2.8-per-cent annual growth in U.S.
3.5% Amount of Finland’s gross domestic product that is spent on R&D, compared with less than 2 per cent in Canada
€6-billion Amount Nokia Corp. invested in R&D in 2008 ($9.8-billion), or 12 per cent of its sales
100 Number of engineers employed in R&D by General Motors of Canada
- Canada has great potential to becomes a Nuclear Powerhouse on the world stage. To be one you need lots of fresh water and uranium (Canada has massive amounts of both.)
- Canada can gain prestige world wide as a supplier of nuclear isotopes, if we fund the research and the government provides proper oversight.
- Canada should look to France as our model for nuclear energy. There is only really one company that builds and has built the majority of reactors in France, it is named Arvea. Areva is owned by the French government. It was not, however, only owned by the government of France. 34% of Arvea was owned by the German government. In 2008 the French government blocked the Germany company Siemens from purchasing a majority in Areva. The company that runs the plants is called: EDC (Electricite de France) and is also owned by the government. Two other companies contribute to the French nuclear industry: Bouyges, an industrial firm and Alstom, which is a private engineering company. In 2008 Alstom went bankrupt and was purchased by the French government. On January 29th 2009, the French government purchased the 34% of Areva that was owned by Siemens. Many from Areva, Alstom and the EDC have lobbied the government for what they call a “three-headed giant” approach to nuclear power. This would give them dominance in France and help them compete on the world stage. The problem that the French government has discovered is that the American government is willing to block French companies from building in the United States because they are government owned. Nuclear power is on the decline across Europe; because of this fact France needs to look to America and Asia for business. Since America has become protectionist Canada can fill that market (when it comes to buying nuclear technology.) Canada also has a lot of state control over nuclear policy.
- The shut down of Chalk River is an example of why the nuclear industry in Canada needs more regulation and oversight. The extended shut down could have been prevented if Stephen Harper’s government had listened to Linda Keen (former Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission) instead of firing her for not rushing and risking lives. When questioned Gary Lunn, then Minister of Natural resources, couldn’t provide any reason for why she was fired. Stephen Harper manages to make everything a partisan political issue and this has caused a huge delay in isotopes that are crucial to cancer treatments. If you want to blame the Ontario government, as Conservatives tend to do when it is Harper’s fault, know that Dalton McGuinty spoke out against the “dead-of-night” firing of Keen and saw this whole situation coming. This situation is very similar to what is currently happening to the Prime Minister budget officer Kevin Page.
- It is much better for a 50-year-old reactor to be shut down temporarily and fixed ensuring that it works for years to come than for it to be back temporarily, quickly and broken a lot later. The Conservatives are about quick fixes and have no long term nuclear plan or long term plans for Canada in general. Stephen Harper should be putting a lot more infrastructure spending into building facilities like Chalk River so Canada be remain a leader in medical isotopes but not dependent on one 50-year-old reactor.
- In Ontario, the going rate for nuclear-generated electricity is under five cents a kilowatt hour, compared to a bit over eight cents for power from larger wind farms.
- Canada should join the Nuclear Renassiance that is happening around the globe. Canada should also move to become a leader in nuclear power. BUT any government action on this front should be transparent, open and out in the public sphere as well as well thought out. Not rushed and behind closed doors.
Ontario’s Chalk River reactor shut down
CHALK RIVER, ONT. — Canada’s medical community could be faced with another shortage of diagnostic isotopes after another shutdown of a nuclear reactor at Chalk River, Ont.
Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. says its NRU reactor was shutdown Thursday after a power outage in parts of eastern Ontario and western Quebec.
However, a heavy water leak was detected within the facility the following day, and AECL estimates the reactor will be out of service for more than a month while repair options are considered.
The agency says the heavy water is being contained and stored in drums, and there is no threat to workers, the public, the environment or nuclear safety as a result.
The aging facility provides about half the global supply of isotopes used in medical imaging. AECL says it has enough medical isotopes for the week, but will unable to meet demand by Saturday.
Dr. Doug Abrams, head of the Canadian Society of Nuclear Medicine, said they’ll immediately begin looking at supply options.
“We’ll be good for the next week, but the next three weeks will be really difficult after that,” Dr. Abrams said in an interview from Edmonton.
“It’s really going to depend on what other sources can be tapped from Europe.”
He said 20 per cent of the Canadian supply comes from Europe and the rest from Chalk River.
He said most of Western Canada is supplied by Europe and is therefore better equipped to handle the shortage.
“Alberta will be fairly well off, but Eastern Canada will be really, really in trouble.”
The location of the heavy water leak, estimated to be at a rate of 5 kg an hour, has been identified at the base of the reactor vessel in a location where there is corrosion on the outside wall of the vessel, AECL said.
This is the latest in a series of problems with the 52-year-old reactor over the past two years, which have caused political controversy in Ottawa.
In November 2007, the facility was closed for a few days for routine maintenance. During that time, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission discovered emergency backup power wasn’t connected to two pumps that prevent a meltdown.
The nearly month-long shutdown that resulted sparked a critical global shortage of medical isotopes used in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer and heart ailments, and only ended when Parliament voted to bypass the regulator’s order.
Atomic Energy’s then-chairman, Michael Burns, resigned after the fiasco, and the Conservative government later fired commission head Linda Keen for her refusal to authorize the restart.
Ms. Keen later sued the federal government over her dismissal.
An expert medical panel convened by then health minister Tony Clement said Canada’s nuclear medicine community was “teetering on the brink of disaster” during the shutdown.
Their May 2008 report urged Ottawa to build more facilities to supply medical isotopes to lessen dependence on the aging research reactor.
There was also a small leak in February, the third such leak since Dec. 2008 at the aging facility.
At the time, an AECL official told a Commons committee that 11 kg of heavy water was ventilated from the reactor after two tiny pin holes were found in a pipe.
A larger leak at the reactor in December was not reported to the public for weeks, prompting allegations of coverup and suggestions the public had been endangered.
However, the head of the nuclear regulator, Michael Binder, told the committee the December leak wasn’t reported because it was so small as to be an “almost routine operational issue.”
But NDP MP Nathan Cullen said public confidence in the NRU reactor was being damaged.
“The cumulative effect of all these leaks, can this not be a death by a thousand cuts?” asked Cullen.
Federal funding to AECL has nearly tripled since the Harper government came to power in 2006, documents show.
Figures provided to The Canadian Press by Natural Resources Canada show taxpayers will have poured more than $1.2-billion into AECL during the past fiscal year just ended and the one that began on April 1.
The total includes $574-million for 2009-10.
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