Award-winning author says Canada needs to fix its ‘awful’ approach to innovation

In 2021, The Writers’ Trust of Canada created a new literary award for non-fiction authors who contribute to political debates in this country: the Balsillie Prize for Public Policy.

The $60,000 prize is awarded annually to a non-fiction book that “advances and influences political debate on a wide range of social, political, economic or cultural topics relevant to Canadians.”

Dan Breznitz is the first recipient of the award. The University of Toronto political science professor won honors for his book Innovation in Real Places: Strategies for Prosperity in an Unforgiving World.

“I basically argue in the book that there are multiple ways to achieve local prosperity based on innovation,” Breznitz said. IDEAS host Nahlah Ayed, “most of them don’t even get mentioned because we live in a myth about a world in which there’s only one way to achieve innovation-based prosperity .”

Breznitz is the Munk Professor of Innovation Studies and co-director of the Innovation Policy Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto. He is also Co-Director and Fellow of CIFAR, the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research’s program on Innovation, Equity and the Future of Prosperity.

In his book, he argues that innovation is too often confused with invention. Invention is coming up with the idea and even patenting it, while “innovation is what happens when I take these ideas and actualize them in the economy,” says Breznitz. It’s about every step of the supply chain after invention, from production to distribution. These other steps are more important than invention, he argues.

Compared to other countries, Breznitz calls Canada “horrible” when it comes to innovation and says it hurts future generations.

“The last time a Canadian parent could expect their children to have a significantly better quality of life was 46 years ago,” he says.

“I look at my kids and say if Canada continues down this path they will have a probably lower quality of life than mine – and that’s not something I wish on my kids.”

In this episode, Nahlah Ayed speaks with Dan Breznitz and the three other Balsillie Prize for Public Policy finalists.

Guests in this episode:

Dan Breznitz is Munk Chair in Innovation Studies and Co-Director of the Innovation Policy Lab at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy and author of Innovation in Real Places: Strategies for Prosperity in an Unforgiving World.

Gregor Craigie is a reporter, producer and host at the CBC in Victoria. He is also the author of On Borrowed Time: North America’s Next Great Earthquake.

Jody Wilson-Raybould is the former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada. His memoirs are called Indian in the Cabinet: Speaking Truth to Power.

Andre Picard is a health journalist and columnist for The Globe and Mail. His 2021 book is titled More neglect: The urgent need to improve the lives of Canada’s seniors in the wake of a pandemic.

*This episode was produced by Kristin Nelson.

Lola R. McClure