Dark days ahead for R&D in Ontario?

A chill is spreading through Ontario’s research community as more devilish details of the recent Ontario budget emerge. Premier Doug Ford’s administration is cutting support for artificial intelligence, stem cell research, eHealth and incubators, just to start.

We shouldn’t be surprised. In one of its first moves after being elected, the Ford government dismissed the province’s first – and so far, only – chief scientist. (R$, January 30, 2019)

There hasn’t been such a wholesale attempt to axe support for research since the Common Sense Revolution of former Premier Mike Harris’s Progressive Conservative government (1995-2002).

Admittedly, the province’s finances are a mess, with a cumulative debt of $343 billion that’s projected to rise to $382 billion by FY21-22. But the cuts throughout Ontario’s innovation ecosystem are accompanied by a $3.8-billion cut in corporate taxation and a $30-million ad campaign to fight the federal carbon tax. Talk about skewed and counterproductive fiscal priorities.

To provide some semblance of policy coherence, the government has assembled an expert panel led by Jim Balsillie to assess provincial support for commercialization intermediaries – an initiative that will hopefully produce actionable insight.

Ontario is a key player in Canada’s innovation ecosystem. Weakening or even dismantling portions of it will drive skilled workers out of the province and erode its industrial competitiveness.

Research Money will provide more detailed coverage on the cuts over the coming weeks.

Mark Henderson, Senior Correspondent