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Could Wente be right?

Executive director of Harris Centre, Public Engagement dares to ask

Campus and Community

By Dr. Rob Greenwood

In the latest chapter in Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente’s saga with Newfoundland and Labrador (see Oh Danny boy, pipe down, from Jan. 6, 2005), our protagonist vacations in the province and realizes she made a mistake 11 years ago.

She admits in a recent column, with grudging respect, that we’re pretty good at adapting, even when times are tough. It’s a step up from what she called us last time. Despite that other column, I’ve got to admit it: this time, she’s right. She uses the word “resourceful,” but I think it would be just as apt to echo the federal government and call us “innovative.”

Unprecedented dynamism

Indeed, Canada’s Innovation Agenda has generated great debate on how to enhance economic and social innovation in our country, and with our current challenges, Newfoundland and Labrador is ready and eager to join that discussion.

We enjoyed the oil boom and now we’re feeling the bust, but we’re not back to where we started. The past decade saw unprecedented dynamism in this province. Firms developed new expertise in a range of industries: meeting the needs of oil and gas supply chains, developing and executing major construction projects, managing high productivity mining developments, and reinventing the fishery.

The St. John’s-based ocean technology cluster expanded into global markets, including marine technology, simulation, aviation surveillance, and a host of high-tech applications. The startup community has new energy, organizations and governments are collaborating on a new vision for the province, and non-governmental organizations are seeing potential in social enterprise and innovation.

“Our province has the drive and the confidence of any pre-Confederation St. John’s merchant or outport sea captain (or newspaper columnist, for that matter).”

There’s no doubt that the current downturn and our fiscal challenges are forcing difficult decisions; however, today, the people of this province are unwilling to settle for anything less than success.

Coupled with skills and networks gained during the boom, and embodied in a new generation of highly educated, skilled Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, our province has the drive and the confidence of any pre-Confederation St. John’s merchant or outport sea captain (or newspaper columnist, for that matter).

Responsibility to N.L.

As the province’s only university, Memorial University is at the heart of this energy. We take our responsibility to the people of the province seriously. This special obligation is directly expressed in the legislation that created the university, challenging Memorial not just to educate the people of the province, but also to improve their lives through social and economic development.

As universities wrestle to  connect teaching and research with the needs of the public, Memorial provides a road map for public engagement built on decades of working with partners outside the university to solve real-life problems and make a difference.

University-industry partnerships

If there is one thing that the federal Innovation Agenda should take from Memorial’s success, it is the potential of boundary-spanning institutions that link university research and expertise with industry, community and government needs and opportunities.

By supporting university-industry partnerships, the federal government’s Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and the Atlantic Innovation Fund have played crucial roles in leveraging private funding.

In addition, Memorial has aggressively promoted its role and alignment with provincial priorities under its Cold Oceans and Arctic Science, Technology and Society (COASTS) initiative. COASTS was crucial in raising the bar for regional co-operation between Atlantic universities, when Memorial approached Dalhousie and UPEI to partner on the Ocean Frontier Institute. The partnership was awarded close to $100 million from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund, and is leveraging over $100 million more from industry and other world-class partners.

“Collaboration and innovation are in the DNA of both Newfoundland and Labrador’s only university and the people who live here.”

Collaboration and innovation are in the DNA of both Newfoundland and Labrador’s only university and the people who live here. Our experience can help the federal government develop the policies to scale up this capacity for the benefit of all Canadians.

This province doesn’t really need your apology, Ms. Wente, but thanks all the same. The truth is, Newfoundland and Labradorians deeply understand the value of working together, and as Canadians, I can’t help but feel as though we’re all in the same boat.

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