"Achieving Canada's potential in the 21st century"
News release (04.11.02)
President & CEO
RBC Financial Group
Investments Distinguished Lecture in Finance
November 2, 2004
Good afternoon. I would like to thank John Ferguson for
inviting me to participate in this year's Distinguished Lecture in Finance. It
is an honour - and a pleasure - for me to be at an event put together by the School
of Business at the University of Alberta.
When we talk of the factors that
make an economy competitive, and a society successful, one of the first things
we have to look at is the quality of our schools and universities. They are at
the heart of the knowledge-based economy, providing the talented people and advances
in knowledge and understanding for a better future. And the University of Alberta
is amongst the best.
I know there are a number of business students with
us today, and I'm sure most of you have thought about your future, and where you'll
be living once you begin your career. Hopefully, you'll all be able to find good
jobs here in Canada, live in a great community, and provide a good standard of
living for your families. However, while that's a noble goal, it is no longer
one Canadians can take for granted in a globalized, high-tech and hyper-competitive
If we want to achieve our potential as a successful society in the
21st century, we must understand the economic challenges we face as a country.
More importantly, we must meet those challenges in a way that provides a higher
standard of living for all Canadians.
That's what I would like to talk about
My message has a sense of urgency about it, because the world around
us is undergoing profound change, and the stakes are incredibly high for every
Canadian. Our country has much to offer its citizens in terms of social services,
lifestyle, and standard of living. Yet it is too easy to take what we have for
granted. And it is too easy to be complacent about the economic shifts and global
rebalancing that could threaten our future prosperity.
Think back to 1990.
How many people were talking about China as the world's giant factory, and not
just for cheap goods, but for value-added products as well? How many people saw
India as a centre for software outsourcing? Who would have thought that a Korean
automobile would end up winning awards for the highest level of quality and performance?
For that matter, even the Internet was a relatively new tool in 1990, and
the Human Genome Project was still an idea, not an accomplishment.
forces and technologies changed our lives. They also led to economic growth and
gains in productivity, which raised living standards almost everywhere. Advances
in science and technology, along with the decision of such countries as China,
India, and Brazil to join the global economic system, have set the stage for a
new global economy.
Yet this is just a foretaste of the world we will inhabit
in the decades ahead. A world of great potential for advances in human well-being,
but also a world of intense competition and even more rapid advances in new knowledge
Today, I want to focus on the importance for Canada
of developing new sources of wealth-creation that will enhance our ability to
sustain a high standard of living, with good jobs and healthy communities.
have high ambitions for the kind of society we want. This can be seen in the debate
over ways to strengthen our health care system, to deliver new funds to make our
cities more liveable, or to advance the agenda for early childhood development.
All of these are important and valuable issues - but they all depend on
our ability to generate the wealth to afford them. A good social agenda can only
be implemented in conjunction with a sound economic agenda. This is a reality
we ignore too often.
There are three key ways for an economy to grow and
The first is to invest in what are known as the factors of production
- improving human skills through education and training, and by investing in the
most advanced technologies.
The second way is to pursue international markets
through foreign trade and investment, identifying our niches and specializing
in those things that we do best.
The third way to promote economic growth,
and the one I would like to emphasize today, is to promote and stimulate innovation
But what is the new competitive environment in which
we find ourselves?
First, we know that new jobs and wealth will come primarily
from new activities, not by protecting existing businesses and industries where
jobs are declining. These new activities - new goods or services, or new ways
of doing things - will occur in countries that are both able to generate new ideas
or knowledge and to successfully commercialize them.
There will be intense
competition among countries to gain leadership in these new activities. Canada
must find its niches. And we must do so quickly because the rest of the world
Our disappointing rankings in the most recent Global Competitiveness
Report of the World Economic Forum underline our need to take this challenge more
seriously. In particular, we need to move faster in reforming our tax system to
eliminate disincentives to investment and growth. And we need to improve the flexibility
and training of our workforce so they are better able to adapt to new competitive
Second, globalization means we face an increasingly competitive
world. Countries like China, India, Brazil, and Mexico have become more sophisticated
in their own capabilities and hence even more formidable competitors in all areas
We will see Chinese cars and computers in the years ahead.
We'll see Indian software companies that retail products under their own brand
names, competing with the likes of Microsoft and other established players. We
already see Brazil competing head-to-head with Canada in the aviation industry.
South Korea shows how quickly a determined country can move from a manufacturer
of low-cost goods to a global producer of brand-name products. Today, the world
knows about Hyundai cars, Samsung flat screens, and LG consumer appliances.
has the potential to repeat that success, but on a much larger scale. Not only
because of the size of their marketplace and low wage rates, but because they
are developing the knowledge and skills needed for a 21st century economy. As
an example, China is graduating 200,000 engineers per year - almost three times
as many as the United States. And while many of the world's most talented and
educated people once immigrated to western countries, many are now remaining or
returning home because of the immense opportunities.
This is another reason
why Canada has to find its own areas of specialization in a much more competitive
world. As emerging market economies become wealthier and more successful, they
will also become larger markets for unique, high-value goods and services, the
kinds of things where we must focus our own efforts.
Third, to succeed,
Canada has to build the business services that can support entrepreneurship and
the creation of globally competitive Canadian companies. This includes the importance
of highly developed, globally competitive and innovative financial services.
has one of the best financial systems in the world, and over the past 10 to 15
years we have responded to the needs of the knowledge-based economy. But we recognize
that more needs to be done to support the growth of our small and medium-sized
businesses. As a country, we do a good job at getting new businesses up and running.
But we fall short in growing our small companies into larger ones, and in improving
their rate of productivity.
One way to address this challenge is to facilitate
greater access to capital through a wider scope of partners and models. In particular,
more financial innovations are needed to finance the development of knowledge-based
companies where risk levels are high, time to market can be very long, and life
cycles for new products and services are shorter.
Productivity growth drives
profitability and enables businesses to expand. Although our productivity gap
with the United States shows we must do better, there is still much in which Canadians
can take pride. We are becoming a more innovative, knowledge-based nation. And
our governments have been increasing their investment in fundamental science,
through expanded support for research in our universities and research hospitals.
This is a key role for government. These investments provide the new knowledge
base that businesses and entrepreneurs can exploit to strengthen existing companies
or to create new ones.
The advances in information and communications technologies,
and in the life sciences, have sprung from basic research undertaken in our publicly
funded institutions. The same will be true for the revolution in emerging fields
such as nanotechnology and quantum physics.
Indeed, science and technology
will drive economies as never before, which is why countries around the world
are investing increasing resources in research and development to advance their
own frontiers of knowledge and understanding.
For its part, the Government
of Canada has set a goal of making our country the fifth most research-intensive
nation in the world by 2010, compared to 14th today. This is an ambitious goal,
and we will need to become more focused and committed if we are going to achieve
In terms of Western Canada, the pace of economic change has been significant.
While it may seem less evident in light of the billion dollar energy projects
that seem to be announced on a daily basis, the West has become a leading centre
of science and technology. In effect, a new West is emerging as a key force in
building Canada's knowledge economy of the future.
While the history of
economic development in Western Canada has been tied to natural resources -- especially
energy in Alberta -- the resource economy has always depended on science, technology
and engineering. Each of these sectors will need advances in knowledge to sustain
their growth and to create new opportunities. And in order to fund future growth
in these areas, we must reinvest the wealth that our natural resources are producing.
new economy of Western Canada includes the emergence of biotechnology and nanotechnology
industries right here in Edmonton. And it's not just Alberta that is moving to
a 21st century economy.
British Columbia is becoming a major centre for
fuel cells and biotechnology. Manitoba is a growing centre for public health research
in Canada. And Saskatchewan is the home of the Canadian Light Source Synchrotron,
which I visited yesterday. The largest science project in Canada, this $174 million
investment will enable critical new research into the microstructure of materials.
is all very exciting, and somewhere in these many facilities across Western Canada
are researchers who will come up with remarkable new ideas that will create challenging
new opportunities for Canada's future.
But this huge and growing investment
in science and innovation raises the question of how we can capture the commercial
potential to build a stronger and more successful Canada. How do we convert new
knowledge into new jobs and new businesses?
This is an area where Canada
is badly lagging. For example, the ratio of commercialization revenue to research
expenditures is about three times higher in the United States than in Canada.
In addition, institutional research in the U.S. generates far more patents per
dollar of investment than in Canada.
To the fullest extent possible, we
must ensure that new knowledge generated here leads to successful commercialization
in Canada, so that the resulting jobs and wealth flow to Canadians.
accomplish this, we need to identify and build support for improvements in our
technology transfer process. We need more consistent and user-friendly intellectual
property policies across our universities and research centres. And we need to
improve venture capital participation in early stage technology business, through
better public/private sector risk-sharing models.
This is where the roles
of finance, government and education come together. We need a financial system
that enables growth; government policies that encourage, facilitate and reward
growth; and an educational system that produces both the people capable of generating
new ideas and people with the management skills necessary to successfully exploit
This will require both public and private capital. This is not
an ideological issue. It is a practical question of finding what works best.
is something we have given a lot of thought to at RBC Financial Group.
have actively participated on the Prime Minister's Advisory Council on Science
and Technology since 1996, which has produced a number of important reports including
one on commercialization. We have supported the development of Canada's National
Angel Organization, whose purpose is to expand the circle of Canadians who have
the personal wealth to invest in local new businesses that are at the early stages
We have also looked at ways to participate in the venture capital
market, including through our subsidiary, RBC Technology Ventures. This subsidiary
is focused on early stage venture financing, starting with seed capital. In Canada,
this is where the biggest gap exists and we are fully engaged in trying to find
better ways to commercialize innovation successfully from research institutions
The business model of RBC Technology Ventures is one
of creating funds with like-minded partners to invest in promising sectors in
Canada that have real research strengths. These sectors include biotechnology,
information technology, engineering, physical sciences, and agri-food technologies.
Our partners, some of whom come from the U.S. and Europe, bring their expertise
and money to Canadian science. Since 1999, we have helped 48 new companies in
these sectors raise more than half a billion dollars. Over half of this has come
from outside Canada, which is a great validation of the quality of science in
But from Canada's perspective, we need to do more.
we don't do a good job in commercialization, then the benefits of our expanding
public investment in new knowledge will flow to other countries that can commercialize
this knowledge. Our goal must be to create a new generation of Canadian companies,
headquartered in this country, that can create good jobs here at home by producing
valuable goods and services that can be sold around the world.
currently a large need for early stage venture capital for new technology businesses
at the proof of principle and seed stages. This funding is critical to establishing
the validity of new technologies and enabling the creation of new start-up companies.
In Canada, various public and/or private sector institutions are trying
to meet this need, but the gap is still large. We need to fill it effectively
so that new technology companies are well placed to attract further rounds of
venture financing that will take them successfully to market.
to more creative financing, we also need to expand the pool of skilled business
managers in Canada. This leadership capability is essential to develop and grow
our best companies on a national and global scale.
Several years ago, we
became concerned at RBC about Canada's underperformance, relative to the United
States, especially in growing small businesses into sustainable, profitable bigger
businesses. We seemed be better than Americans in launching new businesses. But
we were not as successful at growing them into bigger enterprises.
our understanding, we undertook two studies. The first was with the Canadian Manufacturers
and Exporters, and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. The second
was with Queen's Business School and the Canadian Manufactures and Exporters.
first study - The Path to Prosperity - was published in 2002. It examined external
barriers to growth, and found that Canadian entrepreneurs were just as ambitious
and open to risk-taking as their American counterparts. But it found that the
barriers to growth were greater in Canada, and that we needed changes in tax and
regulatory policies, and new approaches by financial institutions and business
The second study - Managing for Growth - examined the internal
barriers. While it also recommended changes by governments, financial institutions
and universities, it focused much more on the importance of skilled management
to achieve business success.
This focus on management was no surprise. Angel
investors, the venture capital industry and financial institutions all need to
feel confident in the management skills of those running businesses in which they
It is not enough to have a good business idea. What matters
just as much is the ability to design and execute a credible business strategy.
The biggest single reason why smaller businesses fail to get the financing they
want is because investors do not have confidence in their management ability.
Canada is to succeed in commercializing new knowledge from its universities, research
hospitals and other institutions, it must do a better job of training managers
who can create commercial success from new knowledge.
Roger Martin, dean
of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, goes further.
He argues that Canada's innovation gap with the United States is due in large
part because Canada is focused on investing in the capacity to generate the supply
of new knowledge, but is seriously under investing on the demand side.
supply side consists of our investment in scientists and engineers, and their
research and development activities. The demand side consists of skilled management
who have the capacity to understand how new ideas can be translated into production
for commercial success.
If there is a limited demand side, Martin argues,
then simply expanding the supply side will not lead to greater innovation in Canada.
We will end up funding the discovery of new ideas, but the real value will be
exported to countries that can commercialize it. And they will gain the economic
benefit - not Canadians.
Proportionately, there is not much difference between
Canada and the United States in the graduation of scientists and engineers. But
the United States produces nearly twice as many educated managers as Canada does.
This is Canada's real innovation gap, Martin argues.
This is illustrated
in the Global Competitiveness Report of the World Economic Forum, which shows
that companies are not taking full advantage of Canada's business environment.
Clearly we can and must do better.
In addition, in a country as large
and dispersed as Canada, we need to figure out better ways of collaboration so
we can create scale and expertise. For example, universities and centres of excellence
need to work together on projects wherever possible. Without scale, we won't develop
the level of excellence needed to compete globally.
At the start of my remarks,
I stressed that Canada faces many challenges if it is going to succeed in the
knowledge-based economy of the 21st century. I also expressed concern that we
were too complacent about the changes that needed to respond successfully to these
But I don't want to leave the impression that nothing is happening.
There are hopeful signs that we are beginning to respond. One example is
the national initiative by the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters to draft a
new strategy on the future of manufacturing in Canada. Another is the work of
the Conference Board of Canada in producing its annual Performance and Potential
reports on the Canadian economy. And the Canadian Labour Congress has launched
its own initiative, recognizing the need for improved productivity performance
Likewise, our new Minister of Industry, David Emerson, has indicated
he understands the need for better venture financing for young Canadian companies,
of the importance of sector strategies, and of the need to get small and midsize
companies to adopt new technologies faster.
And Jim Peterson, the Minister
for International Trade, has launched a new initiative to identify ways in which
Canadian businesses can improve their trade and investment in emerging market
economies such as China, India, and Brazil.
But we need more.
need agreement that our country's economic agenda is just as important as our
social agenda - in fact, I believe the two are inextricably linked. There has
been a lot of focus recently on the need to improve Canada's health care system
and the infrastructure of our cities.
My key message today is that if we
want the world's best healthcare system and the most attractive cities, then we
need to become one of the world's most competitive nations in order to pay for
it. This requires focus, coordination, and investment. And it requires the commitment
of all constituents.
Today, Canada has so much going for it. We have an
abundance of natural resources. We have the only budgetary surplus in the G7.
Our ratio of net debt to Gross Domestic Product is among the best in the OECD.
Our immigration polices enable us to attract valuable human capital. And Canada
has a reputation as one of the best places in the world to live and do business.
and gentlemen, Canada is truly a great country that has many advantages and benefits.
But we must never become complacent about how much hard work it took to get here,
and how much hard work it will take to maintain and improve our standard of living.
We are competing in a world where significant economic shifts are occurring.
If we are going to succeed in this new world, our politicians, our business leaders,
our labour leaders and our academics must work together. And together, we must
ensure that Canada has every opportunity to live up to its potential, for the
benefit of all Canadians.