Is Jim Balsillie right to say that “Canada isn’t equipped for global competition?”

Jim Balsillie

“Canada isn’t equipped for global competition,” says former Research in Motion co-CEO Jim Balsillie in one of the opening shots of a recent op-ed he penned for the Globe and Mail. Over the course of more than 8000 words, Balsillie says Canada’s prosperity is in grave danger if the country doesn’t start to “contend effectively in the complex, predatory and state-sponsored ideas ownership game.”

It’s a call to action, and one of the most lucid statements Balsillie has made since he and Mike Lazaridis were expelled from BlackBerry.

The thesis of his argument is that Canadian politicians need to work hand-in-hand with the country’s entrepreneurs and innovators to craft public policy that strengthens Canada’s innovation economy.

“Why are we insisting that Canadian entrepreneurs do it alone?”
– Jim Balsillie

“Countries that owe their prosperity to innovation rely on sophisticated engagement between entrepreneurs and policy-makers,” says Balsillie. “Google executives, including co-founder Larry Page and executive chairman Eric Schmidt, have visited the White House 230 times since Mr. Obama took office, an average of nearly once a week.

“If Google, Apple and other U.S. tech companies get help from all branches of government to advance their collective prosperity, why are we insisting that Canadian entrepreneurs do it alone?”

Throughout the piece, Balsillie lists the many failings of Canada’s innovation economy. For example, he cites the example of the University of Toronto, which claims that it is the equal of Stanford University when it comes to commercializing breakthroughs created by its researchers. In reality, UofT only reported $3-million in licensing royalties over the last year, whereas Stanford says it earned $1.3-billion over the same period.

Jim Balsillie

Balsillie even takes a shot at Communitech, saying, “Communitech, an incubator I helped to create in 1997, boasted for years on its website that it had ‘helped build a tech cluster that now generates more than $30-billion in revenue.’ But as I write this, the site no longer makes any revenue claims.”

For Balsillie, many of these failings are the result of inadequate or non-existent public policy. In the case of UofT, he says the school and its counterparts have not been forceful enough in lobbying the government to grant them the same privileges and exceptions enjoyed by American post-secondary institutions. And in the case of Communitech and other startup accelerators, he says governments need to demand accelerators show them that they create revenue before they fund them.

It’s impossible to summarize what amounts to a treatise in a couple of words, but Balsillie’s message is clear: Canada needs an innovation lobby that rivals the one present in the United States and in other parts of the world.

Check out the full op-ed on the Globe and Mail website.


Igor Bonifacic

Igor Bonifacic is a Toronto-based writer interested in exploring the intersection of technology, entrepreneurship, and life.

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