Industry observers say that Prime Minister Paul Martin demonstrated a real commitment to increased use of and greater access to technology when he unveiled the newly created positions of National Science Advisor and Parliamentary secretary for science and small business. This should constitute good news for the wireless industry, which has seen its technology proliferate throughout Canada’s business and consumer segments. Martin introduced the new posts, which are part of a larger government restructuring, on December 12. The National Science Advisor will help develop science and technology priorities and directions in conjunction with the National Advisory Council on Science and Technology. The Parliamentary secretary for science and small business will cooperate with the National Science Advisor to explore ways in which small businesses can better access and use R&D. Mark Henderson, editor of Research Money and long-time observer of government-funded research, says the creation of these two positions will provide a substantial push to commercializing next-generation technologies and should also help grow larger-sized companies. "Canada is at a situation where we put billions of dollars into university research, but we’re creating these little tiny micro companies. What we really want to do is we want to grow larger companies, medium and large-sized companies, not micro and small-sized businesses. So that’s the challenge for (Martin) right now is to basically go to the next step, which is why commercialization is the big buzz word in the science and technology community right now." Data collected as part of an Ottawa-based commercialization task force, which includes the Ottawa Centre for Research and Innovation, shows the number of medium-sized companies to emerge from the Ottawa telecom cluster in the last five or six years has been virtually nil. "There’s lots of small companies. But when is the last time we’ve grown another Cognos or Newbridge? It’s been a long, long time," Henderson says. The creation of these two new positions shows that Martin has a firm grip on what technology companies need and their impact on the economy, Henderson believes. "There’s criticism from the left of Martin that he’s a friend of big business. I think that’s true, but he also understands business needs far better than (former Prime Minister Jean) Chrétien did," he says. Since 1998, the Canadian government has invested more than $11 billion in research and innovation, Martin said in a Sept. 18, 2003 speech to the Metropolitan Montreal board of trade. While that level of investment will continue to be required in the future, that investment isn’t enough and Canada has to do more to commercialize its technology developments, he added. Henderson says the government is looking for a new technology commercialization mechanism and is currently considering a multi-billion dollar proposal from the Alberta Research Council, details of which are only beginning to surface. This shows, he adds, that Martin recognizes the role government has to play in the commercialization of technology ideas and that he listening to his advisors. Peter Nicholson, former chief strategy officer at BCE Inc., is one of Martin’s key advisors on the economic front. Nicholson also did a stint at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. "I think he’s got the right people around him that can give him the kind of information that he requires to make really good sound decisions. So I’m quite optimistic that from a technology perspective and a new economy perspective, he’s going to do good stuff," Henderson tells Report on Wireless. Arthur Carty, president of the National Research Council of Canada, has been pegged for the National Science Advisor position and Henderson is bullish on the role Carty can play in the development of new science and technology policy. "I think he’s the right guy for the job. He doesn’t suffer politicians lightly. If he doesn’t get what he thinks the NRC is owed in terms of funding, he lets you know about it. So many of these science managers, they are wusses. They don’t stick their head above the ground, they just offer polite stuff," he explains. Similarly, Henderson believes the creation of the new Parliamentary secretary for science and small business position, held by Joe Fontana, shows promise. "A really unusual combination, which I think is very, very interesting because here we have a guy who’s involved in science and business and that seems to be a real key position as well as the National Science Advisor." There is also hope that these two new government mechanisms will also help increase transparency within the government’s funding agencies such as the highly criticized Technology Partnerships Canada (TPC). Henderson notes that promises by Brian Mulroney and Chrétien to make government work better and be more transparent never materialized. "I’m hopeful that (these new positions) will do something with that. I don’t see TPC going along the way it is now without improvements. They are doing more and more with it and for the first time, TPC is now taking equity positions in companies. Rather than lend money to companies and say they have to pay it back and then they don’t - they rarely do - the government actually takes equity in a company. They will rise or fall with the company, no excuses, no creative accounting," Henderson explains.