According to innovation policy expert professor Dan Breznitz, the technology that is now responsible for the majority of oilsands production — steam-assisted gravity drainage, or SAGD — would never have been developed without government.
Without the Alberta Oil Sands Technology and Research Authority, AOSTRA, he recently told the Financial Post’s “Innovation Nation” series, “there wouldn’t have been an oilsands industry in Alberta.” Ergo, more such targeted support for innovation is both necessary and viable. It’s time for “us” to start “picking winners” again.
Given the role of government policies in currently crippling the oilsands industry, this would seem a rather ironic justification for more government. Indeed, this week Alberta Premier Rachel Notley specifically cited the potential threat to SAGD and other forms of “in situ” production from uncertainties in the Trudeau government’s investment-killing Bill C-69.
Still, policy entrepreneurs must always be on the lookout for any and every case that might justify more — and, of course, better — policy. The Trudeau Liberals last year introduced a Supercluster Initiative whose nodes are currently being unveiled and trumpeted.
Professor Breznitz, who is Munk Chair of Innovation Studies at the University of Toronto, was among those projecting success for “policies aiming to combine our world-quality innovation actors into cohesive and globally competitive eco-systems.” But the real question — given the abject failure of past innovation policies — is not about the aim, but whether the target might be reached.