Former ITAC head slams government for dropping ‘innovation’ tag

An Industry Canada move to bury the word “innovation” in government messaging is wrong-headed, says the former head of the Information Technology Association of Canada. 

“Man, that’s misguided,” Gaylen Duncan, CEO of ITAC for eight years until he left the organization, said of a report in Monday’s Toronto Star.

The article said an unnamed director-general of the industry department has required civil servants working on a communications plan to be rolled out next month to delete or replace the words “innovation,” “innovate” and “innovative.”

For example, the article said the memo seeks “innovation” to be deleted from department’s vision statement, which now says: “In support of a growing, competitive and innovative economy, Canada is a leader in the development, commercialization and adoption of sustainable development tools, practices and technologies throughout the economy.”

The memo suggests the new statement would say: “In support of a competitive economy, Industry Canada is positioned as a leader in supporting sustainable development technologies and practices for businesses and consumers.”

On the other hand the newspaper quotes department spokesman Annie Cuerrier as noting that industry minister Maxime Bernier often uses the word innovation in public speeches.

All federal offices were closed Monday for Rememberance Day, so no one at Industry Canada could be reached for comment.

In an interview Tuesday, Cuerrier said she has not seen the memo so can’t comment on its accuracy. She also said she has not spoken to Bernier or his chief of staff staff about whether government policy on the use of the word is changing. She did point out that Bernier did use ‘innovation’ in a press release Tuesday.

Duncan, who now consults to governments, including Vietnam and Sri Lanka, on creating IT policies, said Monday he is considering how to contact ministry to protest.

“I’m still reeling,” he said. “I’ve got to start explaining to them that that’s what’s going to make the Canadian economy competitive.”

The newspaper article speculates the reason for the suggested change is that the Conservative government is torpedoing the word innovation because the Liberal government championed it. “No,” said Duncan, “it’s a Canadian strategy. It is bipartisan. It took a long time for industry to convince the government that if we don’t improve productivity we’re going to do. One of its components is innovation. There are things government can do to stimulate innovation — I don’t expect them to lead the economy through innovation, just stimulate innovation in the economy.”

It’s just like the arguments he made to Ottawa about supporting the information technology sector, he said: “We’re not trying to argue that the government focus on IT for the sake of the IT industry,” he said, but “because it drives all the other sectors of the economy.

“If you don’t have an innovative timber, fishing, agriculture, manufacturing, transportation sectors, each of them is going to drag down the overall productivity.”

Although he’s concerned, Duncan wants to be generous to the department. “The easiest way of interpreting this is to say ‘You don’t like the word innovation, but you’re not disagreeing with the concept. You just need a new term.’” A more troubling interpretation, he said, would be the government doesn’t understand the role of innovation in the economy.

That would mean “they don’t understand from  . . . ignorance of the economic machine, or they don’t understand because politically word innovation is associated with Liberals. That’s hack stuff,” he said of the latter, “and I can work around that. 

“If it’s true that they don’t understand the role of innovation in the economic machinery, then all of a sudden we have a really tough problem.”

If it’s merely a word, he notes that 15 years ago the catch-phrase that got government attention was “research and development,” before the Liberals made innovation the buzzword. “So we all re-wrote our speeches and policy papers to use the word innovation,” Duncan said.

“Entrepreneurship should sell to the Tories,” he said, “but it’s much broader that innovation. What else? I’m stuck right now.”

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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