EDITORIAL

Into Canadian Silicon Valleys should ride a hundred Mitels

Peter C. Newman February 8 1982
EDITORIAL

Into Canadian Silicon Valleys should ride a hundred Mitels

Peter C. Newman February 8 1982

Into Canadian Silicon Valleys should ride a hundred Mitels

EDITORIAL

Peter C. Newman

David Ricardo, the 18th-century British economic theorist, once observed that while it may be difficult to deal with technological change it is disastrous to ignore it. This week’s cover story (page 26) celebrates one of Canada’s few industrial miracles: “Silicon Valley North,” near Ottawa, where a couple of dozen brilliantly innovative individuals have managed to harness the technology of the moment, dramatically transforming a rural backwater into Canada’s most promising source of high-tech hardware.

“Nations that do not participate in the competition will surely be its victims,” the Science Council of Canada has warned. These silicon microelectronic devices have launched the second industrial revolution. The first was based on steam being harnessed to produce low-cost power; this one springs from unusual waferchips emanating low-cost intelligence. (The industry’s secret is that every year the amount of information that can be stored in one of the chips at least doubles, even though the cost doesn’t change.)

Although government subsidies have played a small part in setting up some of these companies, all of the initiative and most of the money have come from these technical geniuses whose marketing skills have al-

lowed them to beat out the Japanese in several world markets. Michael Cowpland, president of the highly successful Mitel Corporation, which is opening its 12th plant in France, typifies this attitude: “We have had some government funding along the way, but we have always taken the approach that this is what we want to do, and if the government wants to help out, and make it go a little faster, that’s fine. But we’re not going to start doing—or not doing—things just because the government thinks it’s a good idea.”

Ottawa finally acknowledged the importance of Cowpland’s industry last week by launching a $93-million program to boost high tech’s growth over the next three years. It’s an appropriate time for the Trudeau government to recognize that technology is the engine of economic growth, but more essential still is the creation of an overall industrial strategy that sets our secondary industry back on the road to creating jobs and profits.

What this country needs is a thousand Cowplands, a hundred Mitels and a dozen Silicon Valleys. It’s that style of unbridled entrepreneurship combined with scientific breakthroughs that will allow Canada to reach its full industrial potential. We will lose our opportunity for economic greatness only if we abandon its quest.