How B.C.’s new ‘Moonshot’ Economic Plan can be one giant leap for the province’s innovation economy

By Tessa Seager, CCI’s Director of Government Affairs for British Columbia

Gone are the days of government-backed “moonshot” policies. Richard Branson might be in space, but earthside, our leaders just discovered (vaccine) passports. It’s easy to say that governments around the globe have succumbed to the narrative that they exist merely to fix market failures and to de-risk the private sector risk-takers.

Mariana Mazzucato, Professor in the Economics of Innovation and Public Value at University College London, wants to change that. Citing, as just one example, the U.S. government’s financial and institutional role in developing the parts of the smart phone that make it smart, she argues that government can (and should) play the role of heroic risk-taker. One of Mazzucato’s central theses is that governments must go beyond fixing market failures and instead actively create and shape new markets.

Here at home, British Columbia’s Minister of Jobs, Economic Recovery, and Innovation, Ravi Kahlon, is wrapping up consultations to develop the province’s “inclusive, sustainable, and innovative” economic plan. As stakeholders from around the province provide input on the plan, there’s one special voice that the Minister will be listening closely to: Mariana Mazzucato. The province has hired her to advise on the development of the plan.

With the economic plan set to be released this fall, Minister Kahlon will soon be asked to answer Professor Mazzucato’s final exam question: what is the B.C. government’s role in creating and shaping an economy?

To the Council of Canadian Innovators, an A+ grade would argue that the government’s role includes stepping up to develop and implement 21st century policy infrastructure to allow our real drivers of economic growth — our domestic scaling technology companies — to grow and to thrive. Specifically, the B.C. government’s role is to:

  • Fulfil its commitment to develop an intellectual property strategy. To build a strong innovation economy, the government needs a strategy to incentivize our domestic technology companies to create IP, and establish the frameworks to keep publicly funded IP benefiting the domestic economy.
  • Update its procurement processes. Procurement is the most powerful economic development tool available to the government — but our outdated system currently favours large, multinational incumbents, putting B.C. technology companies at a commercial disadvantage.
  • Modernize its privacy and data regulations. The 21st century economy is built on data, yet the province still lacks both a provincial data strategy and contemporary privacy legislation — two crucial elements for our domestic companies to harness the power of data as an economic asset.

The world has undergone a remarkable shift from the tangible to the intangible economy. Our new economy is no longer mainly fuelled by capital assets such as equipment, machinery, and physical plants, but instead is increasingly driven by intangible assets such as domain names, service contracts, computer software, data, and patented technologies. Despite this shift, government has maintained a stubborn reliance on 19th and 20th century policy strategies — ones that have nothing to do with how wealth is generated in the 21st century global economy.

If the B.C. government wants to heed Mazzucato’s advice — that governments have a role to play in creating and shaping markets — it needs to proactively develop the policy infrastructure to match today’s economic realities. Only then, can our scaling technology companies take us to the moon.

You can read CCI’s full submission on the 2021 economic plan here.