Ontario seeks to coordinate its new innovation agenda with other provinces

Guest Contributor
October 7, 2008

The Ontario government is leading the latest charge to coordinate innovation agendas among the provinces with the view to developing a coherent national strategy that reflects the strengths and needs of all jurisdictions. A wide-ranging meeting was convened late last month in Stratford ON with a consensus emerging that the federal government should be at the table when a follow-up meeting is held in early 2009.

The gathering was just one in a number of recent initiatives and announcements being rolled out in Ontario as the government begins the task of implementing its new innovation agenda. Armed with $3 billion over eight years and an overarching objective of melding science and industrial policy and programs, the agenda is one of the most ambitious in Canada and stands in stark contrast to the largely hands-off approach being taken by Ottawa.

Several ministers, DMs and ADMs from all provinces and the Yukon territory answered Wilkinson's call for a weekend meeting (see chart). Their objective was to explore areas of commonality and overlap as well as areas of potential collaboration or those where one province's strengths could be leveraged by others for mutual benefit.

The call for a national strategy is not new. As recently as last November, a key Alberta official — Dr Bob Fessenden, former DM for the Ministry of Advanced Education and Technology (AET) — made similar statements, calling for federal officials and DMs to meet at least twice annually with an active agenda (R$, November 12/07).

"We collectively agreed that there should be a national strategy on innovation. We also call on the next federal government to discuss," says Dr John Wilkinson, minister of Research and Innovation (MRI). "In a federation, the federal government usually plays a leadership role and they should take it on … It's essential for the 21st century and a knowledge economy."

Among the participants in the Stratford meeting was Doug Horner, minister for Alberta's ministry of Advanced Education and Technology. Alberta recently unveiled its own technology commercialization strategy complete with $178 million in new funding to establish a fund of funds and introduce a provincial tax credit for R&D (R$, June 20/08). Horner says the innovation portfolios from province to province often don't match, making provincial cooperation key to an effective alignment of resources and commercialization activities.

"We decided there were some important agenda items and we asked departmental officials to work on them for a meeting next year. There are some common challenges such as the concentration of resources, collaboration and leveraging each other's jurisdiction," says Horner. "We need to map out what everybody is doing and build on each other's strengths. There's a lot of work to do among ourselves but we would be happy to have the federal government there.

ontario corporate tax exemption

In addition to funding fundamental research in commercially promising areas, the province has introduced legislation to implement its Budget 08 pledge to provide a 10-year corporate tax holiday to firms created from research emanating from Ontario universities, colleges and research institutions (R$, March 27/08).

"We have technology push-out and industry pull (but) we need to be able to do both. It's not one policy or the other," says Wilkinson. "We're doing something groundbreaking in North America. This tax exemption encourages industry pull … It provides a strong incentive that intellectual property should come off the shelf and be commercialized in Ontario. Few jurisdictions do this and it sends a clear signal to the market."

Ontario Research fund

While the new Ontario agenda pushes for closer industry-academic collaboration, it continues to fund both basic research and research infrastructure through the Ontario Research Fund, the successor to the Ontario R&D Challenge Fund and the Ontario Innovation Fund.

MRI has announced three of four packages of research infrastructure awards from the most recent competition. Worth $37 million, the awards complement Canada Foundation for Innovation awards to provide infrastructure support for more than 1,800 researchers involved in over 200 projects at 17 institutions. Health research projects received $21 million, $7 million for basic science and advanced manufacturing, $5.5 million for clean technologies and climate change research and $3.5 million for digital media and information and communications technologies.

MRI is also responsible for two components of the Next Generation Jobs Fund. The Biopharmaceutical Investment Program is currently receiving applications and has already invested $13.9 million in a new facility being built by Sanofi Pasteur (R$, April 30/08). The Strategic Opportunities Program encourages industry-led consortia to create clusters of activity by funding up to 25% of costs associated with public-private collaborations in several key sectors.

"This is a new model for Ontario," says Wilkinson. "We have world class researchers and business leaders and this helps to bring them together."


provincial innovation meeting

Doug Horner


Minister, Advanced Education & Technology

Brent Sauder

British Columbia

Assistant DM, Ministry of Technology, Trade & Economic Development

Jim Rondeau


Ministry of Science, Technology,

Energy & Mines

Yvon Belliveau

New Brunswick

Executive director of Innovation

& Regional Development

Trevor Taylor


Minister of Innovation, Trade

& Rural Development

Bruce Hennebury

Nova Scotia

Director, Economic Strategies & Initiatives

John Wilkinson (lead)

Minister of Research & Innovation

Richard Brown

Prince Edward Island

Minister of Innovation & Advanced Learning

Rob Norris

Minister of Advanced Education,

Employment & Labour

Jim Kenyon


Minister of Economic Development

Geneviève Tanguay


Assistant DM

Ministry of Economic Development,

Innovation & Export Trade

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