Thursday, January 12, 2006

The new economy vs Paul Martin

Finally, the new, entrepreneurial, knowledge-based economy gets a mention in the six-week-old election campaign – and Paul Martin screws it up.

In Markham, Ont., this morning, the Liberals announced their intention to make “significant investments to support the innovation process from start to finish, from nurturing Canadian ideas, to bringing ideas to market, to supporting Canadian industry.”

Here’s the problem: a key pillar of the new economy is disgusted at the politicians’ bungling of the knowledge file. Howard Burton is executive director of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, the leading-edge thinktank established by RIM founder Mike Lazaridis, and one of the key institutes the Liberals are now supporting.

As revealed by Maclean’s columnist Paul Wells in his blog today, Burton deliberately stayed away from the announcement.

Here’s what Burton wrote today in an e-mail written to Wells (and published in his blog):
“This morning, the Prime Minister of Canada delivered a speech explicitly promising strong financial support to my research institution for the next few years... Throughout the past year, I had imagined this moment many times: the culmination of many months of detailed discussion amongst policy experts and political representatives at both the provincial and federal level, it would be a proud, festive occasion attended by a wide spectrum of scientists, staff and Board Members: a strong endorsement of the success of our past efforts and a continued commitment to invest in our science and our researchers….

Reality, sadly, was very different. There was no coherent, long-term framework presented. There was no serious, comprehensive plan at all.… The announcement had been reduced to a mere political event - today's desperate attempt to rescue a quasi-moribund Liberal political campaign during an election that was wholly devoid of any substantive dialogue on science and research policy. And I couldn't even stomach the thought of showing up.

This is not the way that one should set meaningful policy. This is not the way that one should engage with the electorate. This is not the way that a serious country should act. …

“University officials who stood smiling on the podium with Paul Martin today, anxious for their own piece of the action, should know better. The Liberal Party of Canada should know better. We are talking about something much larger than the merits of any particular project here: we are talking about a process, about a way of developing a coherent plan of action in a highly competitive, pivotal realm that affects all Canadians. If we want to be taken seriously around the world, we'd better start acting like a serious country.”

Wow. Kudos to Burton for standing up for sanity and to process. And to Wells for uncovering the story. Read the whole sorry mess here.

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