The Myths that Undermine our Innovation Performance

September 1, 2022

By Ron Freedman

Canada’s research-centric approach to innovation has failed. We need to orient our support programs to other success factors when they’re necessary.

Four different policy truisms – we would argue they are myths – are at the heart of Canada’s disappointing innovation policy performance. Decades of woe-is-us policy reports, studies and commentary often explain Canada’s innovation underperformance by pointing the finger at business owners and managers for not investing sufficiently in research. Billions of public dollars annually in grants, contributions and tax concessions are spent in pursuit of the Canadian business-needs-more-research objective. It is time to acknowledge the obvious – that approach has not worked. 

It’s a distressing state of affairs for many people, including Daniel Munro, Darius Ornston and David A. Wolfe, authors of a recent Policy Options article, “Breaking Canada’s innovation inertia.” 

But it’s not because corporate owners and managers don’t understand what’s good for them – more research. What is the ideal level of corporate research? Most policy-makers would say Canadian businesses should double research and development (R&D) spending to reach the OECD average.  

Most business leaders would say that the proper amount of spending is the minimum amount needed for a firm to maintain or secure an advantage over competitors. Anything more is simply wasted spending. (Sadly, few in the analytical community look at the number of R&D performers – the number of firms “in the game” – which is an equally important innovation indicator.) 

It is time to challenge some deep-seated policy beliefs that underlie our failed policy approaches.  

Read More

September 26, 2022

What’s Happening With Canada’s Superclusters?

August 31st, 2022

By Brian Owens

After four years, the federal government’s billion-dollar superclusters are finding their feet, but they need more time.

Canada has a long history of underperforming on measures of private-sector spending on research and development, and failing to capitalize on the commercial potential of scientific discoveries made in the country. And it has almost as long a history of coming up with government schemes intended to overcome those problems and turn Canada into an innovation nation.

One of the most recent of these schemes, announced in 2017, is the Innovation Superclusters Initiative. The idea was to replicate the success of well-known clusters around the world, such as California’s Silicon Valley, by encouraging closer collaboration between businesses, academic institutions and non-profits in specific areas, focused on industries in which Canada already had some competitive advantage. The initiative was to be given almost $1 billion, with the expectation that each cluster would at least match their funding with contributions from companies in their industry.

Read More

September 26, 2022

Five Months in, Details On Canada’s New Innovation And Investment Agency Remain Sparse

August 31st 2022

What’s the feds’ plan? Only Dan Breznitz seems to know.

Delivering the budget speech in April, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland asserted the Liberal government’s three pillars in its plan to reinvigorate the economy.

“These three pillars, Mr. Speaker—investing in people, investing in the green transition, and investing in innovation and productivity—will create jobs and prosperity today, and build a stronger economic future for our children,” Freeland declared.

Central to that third pillar is the creation of a new innovation and investment agency, which was also announced during Budget 2022. But August has come and gone and details about the agency are few and far between.

Since the budget announcement, the federal government has little to offer about what the agency will look like, its role, how it will work and, most importantly, whether it will work at all. Queries to the federal government only elicit vague statements about why the new agency is needed, but yield nothing concrete about its potential workings.

In fact, only one individual seems to be empowered to address the future of the agency, and that’s a government outsider currently on contract with the federal government: Dan Breznitz.

Read More

September 26, 2022

Five Things Doug Ford’s Election Win Might Mean For Housing

June 3rd, 2022

By Donovan Vincent

Exclusionary zoning and transit-oriented communities are part of what will be front and centre during Doug Ford’s new mandate, experts say.

Read More

September 26, 2022

Munk Professor Dan Breznitz Wins Donner Prize For ‘Innovation In Real Places’

May 31st, 2022

By Canadian Press

TORONTO — Munk School professor Dan Breznitz has won this year’s Donner Prize for the best public policy book.

He collected the $50,000 award for “Innovation in Real Places: Strategies for Prosperity in an Unforgiving World” at a gala dinner in Toronto on Tuesday.

The jury says the book, published by Oxford University Press, eschews the “fetish” of focusing on high-tech solutions and instead urges communities to think innovatively so they can “realize their own advantages.”

Breznitz is the chair of innovation studies at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, and co-director of its innovation policy lab.

The Donner Prize was established in 1998 and the winner is selected by a six-member jury.

Read More

September 26, 2022

South Korea could be getting a floating city — a concept that could work in Toronto, company says

May 23rd, 2022

By Donovan Vincent

A United Nations group and a large New York-based biotech company are among the players joining forces to build what could become the world’s first floating city adaptable to rising sea levels.
Called Oceanix Busan, it’s named after the large coastal city in South Korea that the yet-to-be built project is slated for.
The project will help cities facing land scarcity and also address climate change-driven weather events such as extreme flooding, those behind the initiative say.
And the CEO of the company set to develop it argues one could be built in Toronto given its proximity to a large body of water.
The project looks like floating platforms, hexagonal in shape, about 15 acres in size and anchored in shallow water to the bottom of the ocean, a lake or river.

Read More

September 26, 2022

Breaking Canada’s Innovation Inertia

May 25th, 2022

By Daniel Munro, Darius Ornston, David A. Wolfe

If the measures in the 2022 federal budget create a firmer and more consistent foundation for experimentation, it represents a valuable step in the right direction.

Read More

September 26, 2022

Into the Scale-up-verse: Exploring the landscape of Canada’s high-performing firms

December 10, 2021

Into the Scale-up-verse

Scale-ups, or high-growth firms, are responsible for the vast majority of productivity growth in Canada, making them an immensely powerful tool in the pursuit of Canada’s long-term economic stability and prosperity. However, only 1 in 100 young firms reach scale-up status within their first ten years. How can we harness, support, and amplify the power of scale-ups and their contributions to the Canadian economy?

A new study, Into the Scale-up-verse: Exploring the landscape of Canada’s high-performing firms , takes the first step toward better equipping policymakers  to support the success of Canadian firms by unpacking the complexity and nuance in Canada’s diverse scale-up universe. Jointly produced by the Brookfield Institute on Innovation + Entrepreneurship and the Innovation Policy Lab, this report analyzes the most recent and detailed dataset concerning Canadian business dynamics to provide a novel and comprehensive guide for those in a position–such as academic researchers, industry players, and government policymakers–to design supportive economic policy and facilitate productive conversations about Canada’s scale-ups.

Among the findings in the report, we identify key themes that best summarize what we now know about scale-ups in Canada:

  • Productivity: Scale-ups drive the majority of productivity growth in Canada. With high-growth firms in many industries experiencing productivity growth in excess of 25% in a single year, there is little doubt that scale-ups are an integral part of Canada’s long-term economic sustainability.
  • Employment: Scale-ups are leading contributors to increased employment and job quality in Canada. Scale-ups employ ten times the number of people compared to non-scale-ups, and average pay at scale-ups exceeds non-scale-ups in almost all industries and across economic regions of Canada.
  • Innovation: Declining investment in R&D poses a risk to scale-ups reaching their full potential. Although scale-ups are more likely than non-scale-ups to spend on research and development—a key driver of firm growth and sustainability—overall R+D investment is stagnating.
  • Exporting: Scale-ups are more likely to export than non-scale-ups. Successfully exporting is a sure sign that a firm has raised their growth ceiling, expanded their market reach, and bolstered their organizational sophistication.
  • Economic Policy: Scale-ups are too diverse and complex for a “one size fits all” policy approach. Using new and comprehensive insights into the three ways scale-ups are defined and measured, policymaking can now apply a more targeted approach to supporting the success of different types of high-growth firms, their behaviours, and contributions.

[Read report]

December 10, 2021

Dan Breznitz’s “Innovation in Real Places” Named to the Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award Longlist

FT & McKinsey Business Book of the Year 2021

The £30,000 prize will go to the book that is judged to have provided the most compelling and enjoyable insight into modern business issues, with £10,000 awarded to each runner-up. The 2021 prize will be awarded in London on December 1. Publishers can enter books here. For details of this year’s judges, and terms and conditions, please visit Please direct any queries to

August 16, 2021

Shiri Breznitz on “The Role of Intermediaries and Policy in Entrepreneurship Ecosystems”

Shiri Breznitz on “The Role of Intermediaries and Policy in Entrepreneurship Ecosystems

Talk featured in the session on Policies, Actors, and Outcomes in Entrepreneurial Ecosystems, part of the workshop series: Workshop Series: The Evolution, Persistence and Success of Entrepreneurial Ecosystems, Cardiff University, UK.

March 27, 2021