Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives (PCs) are set to govern come June 29, but it remains to be seen what the new leadership will mean to science, technology and innovation (STI) in the province. The party released its platform a few days before the June 7 elections, but it was very thin on details as to how STI will fare in the next four years. Prior to the release of the platform, the PCs’ pitch to voters was largely comprised of a series of slogans –“more access to beer and wine”, “put more money in your pocket”, “make Ontario open for business” – none of which touch on STI. Its platform also lacks costing details, prompting criticism from political pundits and other political parties.
The PCs, which ran on a platform of cost-reductions and accountability, said they would cancel what they call the “corrupt Jobs and Prosperity Fund” to end corporate welfare and save up to $270 million annually. The fund was introduced by the Liberals in 2015 to support industries in emerging but promising sectors, such as advanced manufacturing and cleantech. But the PCs say the Liberal Party of Ontario has used the fund “to give grants and handouts to a small group of business on an invite-only basis.”
The PCs have vowed to support the Regional Economic Development Funds to “provide necessary help to regions like rural and Northern Ontario to attract investments and create good jobs.” However, no further details were provided, and there’s no knowing if sectors at the heart of STI will benefit from these funds.
The Council of Canadian Innovators (CCI) ran a survey on the platforms of the major political parties prior to the election to determine how parties will support innovation scale-up. The CCI believes that “Canada doesn’t have a start-up problem, it has a scale-up problem.”
Asked how the innovation economy could help find much-needed highly technical talent for the innovation economy, the PCs said they would fill the skills gap “by increasing access to apprenticeships and reforming the foreign credential recognition process to help qualified immigrants come to Ontario and contribute to the economy to their fullest potential immediately.”
The PCs left out several parts of the survey unanswered, including a question on what will happen to the Ontario R&D tax credits, which currently stands at 3.5%. The PCs also did not comment on how they will help innovators scale up or how to protect data privacy.
In a statement provided to RE$EARCH MONEY, CCI says the industry group will continue to advocate for support for high-growth technology companies, because the province will continue “to rely on a strong and robust tech ecosystem” since economic growth in the 21st century rests with high-growth innovative companies.
“We’re hopeful the new PC government will work closely with Ontario’s technology companies and help them access more of the capital, customers and talent they need to scale and grow globally,” says Benjamin Bergen, CCI executive director. “Having a partner at Queen’s Park that understands the challenges entrepreneurs face in the global innovation economy will be critical to their success.”
RESEARCH MONEY’s analysis of the political parties’ platforms noted that if Canadian elections had been fought and won on the quality the parties’ STI platforms, the Liberal Party of Ontario would have been the hands-down winner. Building upon a strong suite of research and innovation policies and programs, the Liberals had committed to add $660 million in new money over the next several years, enhance R&D tax credits and launch a new $85-million Venture Technologies Fund, among other initiatives, which are consistent with the 2018 provincial budget.
But the Liberals won only seven seats, prompting party leader Kathleen Wynne to announce her resignation on the same night.
The New Democratic Party (NDP), which is the incoming Official Opposition after winning 40 seats thus more than doubling its representation at Queen’s Park, had a few mentions of STI commitments in its platform.
The NDP had backed clusters as its marquee STI initiative, presumably to be guided by an advisory panel on the innovation economy comprised of domestic business leaders, experts and workers. The NDP’s proposed cluster strategy was to be inclusive, with all regions targeted, including the northern part of the province – financial services in Toronto, automotive and manufacturing in the southwestern regions of the provinces, information technology in Kitchener-Waterloo, telecom in Ottawa and mining in Sudbury.
The NDP platform did not provide details on how its cluster strategy would work or what level of funding it required, although it did link the strategy to increasing productivity and innovation and economic growth.
Other NDP commitments that would have indirectly impacted STI were $57 million from the Jobs and Prosperity Fund (JPF) to create opportunities in the trades, $1 billion over 10 years to extend broadband service to rural and northern Ontario and a new fund within the JPF to create opportunities for mid-career education, offering training for people who are working and those who are between employment.
The Green Party was the only other party that made substantive STI commitments, not surprisingly dominated by cleantech. The Green Party’s plan was to redirect $3.1 billion in existing business support funding towards cleantech, including advanced manufacturing and bio-products. The plan also called for pulling subsidies from companies that pollute and change procurement rules to support low-carbon products and services.
Party leader Mike Schreiner of Guelph made history by winning the party’s first provincial seat.
The Liberal plan was multifaceted and included new support for virtually all of the high-tech sectors. There was $500 million over 10 years more for its New Economy Fund, $50 million for a Transformative Technology Partnerships Fund to support innovation in artificial intelligence, 5G wireless communications, advanced computing and autonomous vehicles and $25 million over five years for regenerative medicine.
On the policy side, the Liberals had committed to creating a data strategy to help firms derive benefit from the publicly funded economy as well as a new strategy to “help Ontario firms protect and leverage their intellectual property”.
– with files from Mark Henderson