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Today in the BC Legislature we debated Bill 4: British Columbia Innovation Council Amendment Act at the committee stage. As I discussed earlier, this bill renames the BC Innovation Council as Innovate BC and expands its mandate.

This bill represents further developments towards implementing an important initiative that formed a component of the BC Green economic plan in the last campaign.

In my exchange with the Minister of Jobs, Trade and Technology, I sought to explore his vision of Innovate BC. I was delighted with his thoughtful responses.

Below I reproduce the text and video of our exchange.

Text of Exchange

A. Weaver: Continuing with section 3, I have one somewhat technical question and a number of broader questions.

The Chair: Members, we are on section 5.

A. Weaver: Sorry, section 5 of Bill 4, section 3 that is being amended in the BCIC Amendment Act. Thank you for that clarification, hon. Chair.

The first question is with respect to section 3(e) of the act that is to be amended, not section 5 of the bill that’s the amendment act. It says specifically there that one of the purposes is to “gather and organize information on scientific research.” I’m questioning why the word “technological” was not added as well as “scientific research.” The question is: is this being left out explicitly, or is science to include technology here?

The reason why I do that is that a number of times in this section — that is, section 3 of the act that’s amended, section 5 of the act that’s doing the amending — “science” has been replaced by “science and technology.” And it’s really this one place where it hasn’t. So my question to the minister is: does this mean to include scientific and technological research, as it says, actually, earlier in the same section?

Hon. B. Ralston: I just wanted to clarify the member’s question. In the previous act, he seems to be referring to section 3(e), which reads: “…gather and organize information on scientific research.” Is that correct?

A. Weaver: That is correct. I’m wondering whether it should be “scientific and technological research,” because we’re changing it in (d) and (f) there. Also, earlier in that actual section 3 there, it talks about the importance of the “development and dissemination of scientific, technological and scholarly knowledge.”

I’m wondering whether the research is actually also technological here. It may sound like semantics, but I don’t know whether it’s just inadvertent or whether it’s deliberate.

Hon. B. Ralston: I better understand the member’s question now.

Section (e) focuses, in the previous act, on scientific research. The amendments are to (d) and (f), substituting for “science policy”, “science, technology and innovation policy.” The focus there is not on research but on policy.

I don’t think there was an intention to change (e). It was rather to expand the scope of the policy that would flow from, whether it’s, scientific research or technology in general. I think that’s the reason for the distinction.

A. Weaver: I appreciate the clarification. To further that, though, if the minister is able to look at section (c), it actually talks about the “development and dissemination of scientific, technological and scholarly information.”

I’m wondering whether there’s an inconsistency there. On the one hand, you’re disseminating and developing scientific, technological and scholarly research, but on the other, you’re just looking at the science aspect.

Hon. B. Ralston: I don’t think there’s an intention to emphasize or create a difficulty there. The focus is on the development of a broader policy beyond science policy, technological policy and innovation policy.

That’s clearly not the intention to…. I think the member has made a perceptive point, but I don’t think it really detracts from the purposes of the amendment.

A. Weaver: Thank you for the clarification.

I have a number of general questions about the role of Innovate B.C. In particular, I’m wondering if the minister could identify the relationship between the innovation commissioner and Innovate B.C., as reconstituted in this amended act here.

Hon. B. Ralston: Innovate B.C. and the innovation commissioner will be separate entities, but they will work closely together, obviously.

The commissioner is mandated to be an advocate for the tech industry, both here in British Columbia — to our federal counterparts — and, indeed, abroad. The commissioner will interact with board members and will be an ex officio member — will be invited to participate in Innovate B.C.’s board members as an ex officio member. There will be a close relationship, but the office of the innovation commissioner will be independent of the agency.

A. Weaver: Thank you for the answer. It actually answered my next question. Would the innovation commissioner be a member of the board or an ex officio member? That has been clarified as well.

My next question is with respect to…. With this new vision, as outlined in section 5 of the amendment act, pertaining to an amendment in section 3 of the original act, what is the…? If the minister could articulate in a few words what he would define as the new mission statement for Innovate B.C…. Has the minister got an idea in mind? If he were to succinctly express, in two sentences…. What is the mission statement of Innovate B.C., as reconstituted here?

Hon. B. Ralston: I’ve attended — and I’m sure, probably, the member has — board meetings or retreats of organizations where a mission statement will sometimes be worked on for days, if not weeks, and a lot of internal debate will take place about the exact wording of a mission statement. So to ask me to give a precise mission statement here is something that I approach with some caution.

The goal of the organization is to focus on and use innovation and support for innovation to catalyze companies to be more successful in what they do, or even research institutions to be more successful. It’s a broad look at the power and transformational force of innovation as applied to a wide range of human and societal problems.

A. Weaver: That’s very helpful, and I would never ask the minister to develop a mission statement in committee stage. It would simply be something that he could not be held accountable to — understandably so. I have, too, been in those board meetings that have taken days to decide whether it should be a “that’ or an “an” or “they.”

My next question that is following on that previous question…. Actually, as articulated here in section 5(b), where it uses the words “innovation policy,” I’m wondering if the minister would be able to define specifically what he means by innovation.

Hon. B. Ralston: I did have a discussion with the member before lunch, and I got an opportunity to think about the question, which he very kindly told me he was going to ask me in advance.

I don’t think I’d want to be confined to a single definition of innovation. One looks at different institutions, and innovation has different effects and consequences. For example, research institutions, whether it’s catalyzing or driving the creative and intellectual abilities of researchers and students or whether it’s the kind of innovation that drives companies of all sizes to develop either new products or new services that allow them to grow and fuel the economy.

Clearly, innovations can be big, can be huge, whether we’re thinking of a company like General Fusion, which I’ve met with and I’m sure the member is familiar with, where the innovation that they’re recommending would literally transform the world — I don’t think that’s an understatement — or whether there are small process innovations in the way in which a manufacturing process goes forward. Sometimes practitioners on the shop floor will think of a way that things might be improved. That, too, would be an innovation.

I think what we’re hoping to do is to take a wide view of innovation in all its aspects and look to it, in a competitive and rapidly changing world, to draw on the creativity and talent of the people of British Columbia and use innovation and creative change to solve human problems, make things better, make companies grow and prosper and generally enhance the quality of life of everyone in the province.

A. Weaver: Thank you for the very helpful response.

My last question is on the issue of technology. We’ve heard a lot of discourse. I thank the member for Shuswap, who asked a number of probing questions, and the minister for his responses.

We’ve heard a lot about innovation in technology. I’m wondering if the minister could expand upon what he means by technology, more for clarifying the public record. Many people often think that technology means apps and stuff that has chips on it. Here, the minister has a broader definition of what technology is — innovation in technology and innovation in general. In what areas other than just chips, computers or apps is he thinking when he’s talking about innovation, perhaps, in technology and elsewhere?

Hon. B. Ralston: I would adopt the answer that the member suggested, which is a broad scope of innovation. I agree with him that sometimes there’s a view that innovation is confined to software developers in downtown Vancouver. That is most assuredly not the case. Whether it’s in Kamloops at the Kamloops Innovation Centre, in Prince George at the clean-tech innovation hub that’s being developed by the economic director there at the city hall, or in Victoria here with Tectoria, it’s certainly geographically broad. The scope of the problems that are tackled — and what is meant by technology — is very broad indeed.

Technology is capable of revolutionizing and changing very traditional industries, such as the mining industry. I think I’ve repeatedly given a couple of examples. MineSense, which is a company using the Internet of things and sensors, devised a process to examine ore that’s been extracted and sort it more quickly, more thoroughly and more efficiently, thereby increasing the efficiency and, ultimately, the profit of the company. LlamaZOO, which has a visualization technology that looks at a mine before it’s developed, inputs all the data and then represents that in a visual display of the minesite itself, in a way that helps people to understand what the mine might look like, what the ore body might look like it or how it may be extracted more efficiently.

I don’t think I would want to be confined by that narrow definition of technology, certainly, whether it’s technology or it’s innovation solutions applied to climate change, or life sciences or ICT, across the board. Some people speak…. There’s an institution at Simon Fraser University that speaks of social innovation — in other words, applying some of the same techniques, some of the same inspiration and some of the same talent to major social problems, whether that might be addiction or the problems of aging.

I think there’s always room, and the hope is that there are lots of solutions coming that can be implemented to solve problems and make life better for everyone.

Video of Exchange

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