Ontario budget funds new investment agency, micro-credentials and IP action plan

Debbie Lawes
November 11, 2020

The Ontario government is launching a new investment agency to attract much needed capital for the advanced manufacturing, life sciences and technology sectors. Invest Ontario is one of several new technology- and innovation-related initiatives contained in a provincial budget with a record deficit  as the province attempts to stimulate an economy struggling under the weight of the COVID-19 pandemic. The $187-billion budget is projecting a deficit of $38.5 billion.

Budget 2020 describes Invest Ontario as a “one stop shop” for businesses and investors. It will support domestic firms in strategic areas with business development and deal structuring expertise, while promoting Ontario’s highly skilled talent pool, growing innovation sector and quality of life to attract companies and investment from around the world.

News of the Invest Ontario was welcomed by the head of Life Sciences Ontario (LSO), which has called for a pan-government strategy focused on promotion of the sector, access to capital, talent growth and support for innovation. President and CEO Dr. Jason Field says the new agency builds on the province’s efforts to increase capacity, especially in the life sciences “because Covid has shown us the importance of doing that”.

“I think they will want to work with the sector to find out what’s going to help make us an attractive jurisdiction to get those global investments here in Ontario,” he told Research Money. “How can we better sell and market Ontario as a competitive jurisdiction?”

One hurdle Ontario will face, he cautions, is the federal government’s new regulations for pharmaceuticals under patent protection. The LSO argues the new rules, designed to lower drug costs, will deter investment by creating a highly risky and uncertain pathway for commercializing new medicines and vaccines in Canada.

“While the province is putting their foot on the gas the federal government is putting some policies in place that are at the same time pumping the brakes,” says Field.

Other tech investments in budget

Last year’s Ontario budget saw cuts to several research initiatives, including those related to artificial intelligence, health and stem cells. This year’s budget doesn’t reverse those cuts but does include some money for new research and innovation activities.

The majority of innovation-related programs are funded through the Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade which will see its annual budget set at $719.2 million. That’s a decline from the $782 million budgeted for 2019-20, but an increase over the $582 million that was actually spent during the last fiscal year.

One of the budget’s biggest line items is $466 million over three years for critical maintenance, repairs and upgrades at Ontario’s universities and colleges. The capital grants will allow institutions to modernize classrooms, upgrade technology and improve their environmental sustainability.


The Ontario government will invest $59.5 million over three years to support the province’s first micro-credentials strategy, aimed at helping people retrain and upgrade their skills to find new employment. The announcement stems from two series of pilot programs held over the past year and led by eCampusOntario, a consortium of 45 colleges and universities in Ontario that partnered with industry to develop a new micro-credential framework. The framework provides common standards to ensure micro-certifications would be consistent and recognized by educational institutions and employers across the province.

READ: New micro-certification program could become model for upskilling workers

In contrast to traditional degrees and diplomas, micro-certifications are short, focused credentials that verify a person’s mastery of a specific skill or competency. They are designed to deliver a high-demand skill, and are often digital, which allows them to be readily verified and shared with employers.

“The province’s investment in micro-credentials comes at a crucial time as we collectively respond to the disruptions of COVID-19,” Robert Luke, CEO of eCampusOntario said in a statement. “Ensuring that learners are able to access skills and competencies as part of their career preparation and reskilling is essential to building social and economic resilience. When micro-credentials are delivered online, learners can access flexible education and training when and where they need it.”

The new funding includes a digital portal to access training opportunities, a new fund to incent the development of new micro-credential, virtual learning passports and Ontario Student Assistance Program support for short-duration programs and micro-credentials.

Stronger government voice on OCE board

The government is introducing legislation to change the governance of the Ontario Centres of Excellence, “to strengthen [OCE] as a central player in Ontario’s innovation ecosystem”, the budget states. The proposed Innovation Centre Governance Act would permit the Economic Development minister to appoint up to six members to the organization’s 13-member board of directors.

The current 10-member board, in addition to the OCE CEO, includes no government representatives. An article published by BetaKit last week reported that the OCE may also see its name changed to the Ontario Centre of Innovation, which is among the proposals to be voted on by OCE members at their AGM on November 20.

Intellectual property

The government is investing $1.5 million towards the Special Implementation Team on Intellectual Property (IP) that has been established to support the province’s first IP Action Plan, developed in response to a report released in February by the Expert Panel on Intellectual Property.

The panel called for a common governance framework for organizations that receive innovation and entrepreneurship support and recommended that all commercial entities that receive public funds have a clear plan for how they will generate IP. The Special Implementation Team is chaired by Jim Balsillie, co-founder of the Council of Canadian Innovators.

Attracting start-ups

The OCE and Toronto Business Development Centre will receive $3.75 million to attract more start-ups to Ontario. The initial focus will be on attracting emerging companies from India.

Agri-food sector

The budget includes $22.5 million over three years for the Agri-food Prevention and Control Innovation Program to help reduce business disruptions caused by COVID-19 exposure in the workplace, and to invest in new technologies that increase efficiencies and productivity.

Research tax credits

Following the Canada Revenue Agency's lead, the Ontario government will extend reporting deadlines for its Ontario Research and Development Tax Credit by six months.



R&D and innovation measures in 2020-21 Ontario Budget

Post-secondary capital grants $466 million (3 years)
Micro-credentials program $59.5 million (3 years)
Agri-food Prevention and Control Program $22.5 million (3 years)
Detecting COVID-19 in raw wastewater pilot project $12 million (2 years)
Ontario Centres of Excellence and Toronto Business Development Centre to attract more start-ups to Ontario $3.75 million (2 years)
Advanced Research Computing in Ontario (Canada Foundation for Innovation matching funding) $3.5 million
Ontario Health Data Platform to explore opportunities to integrate datasets and support research projects related to the COVID‑19 response. $2 million
Enhanced research collaborations $2 million
Special Implementation Team on Intellectual Property $1.5 million


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