When thinking about corporate Canada and the federal government, an image of a sow, labelled Ottawa, and piglets, labelled with a dozen company names, sucking at her teats, comes to mind. The picture became especially vivid after reading a recent Globe and Mail Report on Business article by Ian Brown that called for Ottawa to set up an equivalent to the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). In its “Recommendations for Budget 2021” the Business Council of Canada made the same appeal to use the military to subsidize research costs. Both the Conservatives and Liberals election platform suggest they plan to instigate a Canadian DARPA.
The 60-year-old DARPA spends some $3.5 billion a year. It played a role in the development of the Internet, GPS mapping and many other important technological advancements.
Despite the recent calls for a Canadian DARPA, the Canadian military has long offered similar support to this country’s corporate sector. Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) has 1,400 employees and a $350 million budget. DRDC operates seven different programs that channel money into various research initiatives and eight leading facilities that test technologies and weapons. In recent years DRDC laboratories worked on unmanned ground vehicles, unmanned aerial vehicles, unmanned maritime systems and autonomous intelligence.
DRDC collaborates with a multitude of academics and educational institutions. “Industry” is “an important partner”, according to DRDC’s website. DRDC collaborates with the corporate sector on many initiatives. They have employee exchanges and licensing agreements with companies to commercialize technologies as well as material transfer and collaborative research agreements.
The Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries does regular events with DRDC. They publicly promote DRDC and tout its benefits. So does the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada.
Since WWII the Department of National Defence (DND) has spent tens of billions of dollars on scientific research and technological development. According to Andrew Godefroy, “DND research laboratories designed and built Canada’s first computer, rocket and satellites.”
After the second world war the military began taking interest in national technological development. In the hopes of accessing the most advanced weapons and building broader backing for the Canadian Forces, military leaders expressed interest in shaping scientific and industrial policy. In 1947 the head of the Chiefs of Staff Charles Foulkes argued that Canada had to be ready to “subsidize industry [in peacetime] in the interests of national security.” The next year Defence Research Board (DRB) chairman Omond Solandt told the Canadian Manufacturing Association that “industrial preparedness in peace time is just as important to victory as is military preparedness. … if the full potential of Canadian victory is to be reached quickly in the event of war, we must start now to form plans for the use of industry to strengthen the research and development side of industry and foster the partnership of science, industry, and the Armed Forces that is so essential to victory.” Solandt added that the government should invest in areas “where the civilian interest is not great”, but that would benefit “the normal expansion of industry.”
Established in 1947, DRB (DDRC’s predecessor) worked closely with corporate Canada. Top representatives of Northern Electric, Canadian Marconi and RCA Victor were part of DRB’s electronic advisory committee. They sought research contracts for their firms.
DRB awarded its first industrial contract to Consolidated Mining (COMINCO) in 1949. Corporations received many subsequent contracts. Alongside contracts, industry representative benefited from courses put on by DRB’s Electronics Laboratory, which advanced early computer development.
Reflecting its role as a conduit for channeling public funds to the corporate sector, DRB financed fundamental research. Godefroy notes that DRB “was allowed to adopt and promote an agenda of ‘science for the sake of science’ at the expense of science in support of military application.” In 1950, for instance, it opened the Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics at the University of Toronto.
DRB advanced development of communications, batteries, metallurgy, respirators, radiac instruments and many other domains. DRB’s laboratory at Fort Churchill Manitoba made advances on fuels and lubricants in cold weather, winter clothing, snow characteristics, etc.
In other words, Ottawa has long used support of the military to justify subsidizing corporate Canada’s research costs. But the titans of industry piglets have grown larger and want to be fed more.
Yves Engler’s latest book is Stand on Guard For Whom? — A People’s History of the Canadian Military