By Richard Owens, December 4, 2020
Why doesn’t Canada produce its own vaccines? Why do we rely on foreign sources? Why don’t pharmaceutical companies invest in Canada? Why aren’t life sciences generally attracting investment and generating wealth here? Why is Canada’s health sector so moribund, amongst the worst performing in the OECD?
Lack of innovation is the answer. Canada is just not very innovative, according to data on patents issued and academic articles cited. The United States, famously, is. Canadians look south and react: Chaos! Debate! Capitalism! But that’s what innovation and the attendant process of creative destruction look like. Messy in a rich and productive way, but messy. Canadian health care would benefit from much more debate and many fewer platitudes.
Economists refer to an “optimal failure rate.” Innovation requires failures. If we wanted innovative financial services, we’d have competition, which presupposes failures; instead we have the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, which ensures the nearly impossible — that Canadian bank stocks forever deliver above-market returns and also, as a necessary corollary, that entrepreneurs and innovators are underserved. The need for failure may be an accepted principle in economics, a norm in business and a staple of innovation theory, but it has no place in Canada. We’re wired to object to, not embrace, the conditions for innovation. Perhaps it’s in our social DNA, we products of a peaceful, collaborative national evolution, steadfastly loyal to the crown.
Our health sector is bureaucratized to the point of coma, at the cost of morality and innovation. It is deprived of incentives, discipline, and nimbleness. We can’t maintain adequate capacity levels. We had SARS, everyone said, so we’d be ready now, remember? COVID has shown what an empty boast that was. Along with only North Korea, Canada risks no private-sector competition — and North Korea is reputedly rethinking its model. Cuba already has. How will Canada maintain dogmatic purity in the face of massive lockdown backlogs and inevitable budget cuts?