Motivated by a desire to make Ontario, Canada, “a hotbed of innovation”, earlier this year he set up a Ministry of Research and Innovation and appointed himself minister. “I want to send a signal to the world at large that if you have an exciting idea that you would like to develop further, and in particular if you would like to pilot a new technology, a new process or a new application, we’re the place to do it,” the premier says.

The ministry is investing nearly $1.7bn over five years in research, commercialisation and outreach programmes throughout Ontario. Targeted investments in innovation will aim to promote creativity in schools, businesses, cultural institutions and government. Initiatives include a $24m Innovation Demonstration fund to help individual entrepreneurs, inventors and small businesses to develop new ideas further, and a $46m Market Readiness programme to provide innovative companies with management expertise, training, mentoring and leadership to help them get new discoveries to market.

Advertisement

“We did an internal review of the innovation infrastructure in place in Ontario and discovered we needed more of the right kinds of money and more of the right kinds of people,” he explains. “So the Innovation Demonstration Fund helps to meet the need for the right kinds of money and the Market Readiness programme is all about ensuring we’ve got the right kinds of people.”

Mr McGuinty can see from his Queen’s Park office a more visual testament to the province’s push for innovation: the MARS (Medical and Related Sciences) ‘discovery district’ in Toronto city centre. Established a year ago, MARS “is already considered a leading example internationally of innovation,” he says. “It brings business, venture capital and research networks all under one roof to help move new discoveries from the lab to the market place. We are now doubling its capacity from 700,000 square feet to over one-and-a-half million square feet.”

A practising lawyer with a science degree from McMaster University, Mr McGuinty entered politics in 1990, when he was first elected to the Ontario legislature. By 1996, he was leader of the Ontario Liberal Party; he became premier in October 2003.

“I am the first premier with a science background,” he told fDi in April, while attending the BIO 2006 conference in Chicago. “I am passionate about this subject.”

His passion is obvious, and it extends to other areas of Ontario’s economy, from manufacturing to heathcare to environmental technologies. Ontario has attracted nearly $7bn in auto investments from companies such as DaimlerChrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda and Toyota. A $500m advanced manufacturing investment strategy aims to keep the successes coming; it offers repayable loans that are interest free for up to five years.

The life sciences sector is also thriving: it generates more than $10bn in annual revenues and employs 40,000 people in more than 800 companies in Ontario.

Under a plan to guarantee Canada’s most populous province a safe, clean and reliable supply of electricity, the government has added 3000 megawatts of supply and put the wheels in motion for almost 11,000 megawatts of new electricity. This, the premier says, is more than any other place in North America and enough to power about five million homes.

“By 2007, 5% of our capacity will come from new renewable sources of electricity, rising to 10% by 2010, putting us at the forefront in North America,” he says.

Should Ontarians run short on energy, though, they could always plug into their high-octane leader.