Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains announces ‘supercluster’ funding in Ottawa, Feb. 15, 2018. (Government of Canada).

B.C. VIEWS: Subsidy supercluster settles in B.C.

Ottawa, Victoria add to their overlapping ‘innovation’ budgets

A year ago, this column described the Justin Trudeau government’s plan to borrow and spend close to $1 billion on an “innovation and skills plan” to create “superclusters.”

B.C. got its own supercluster last week, part of a nation-wide network announced by federal Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains. Ours is the Digital Technology Supercluster, getting an undisclosed share of the $950 million set aside in the 2017 federal budget.

What are superclusters, you may ask. They’re like the innovation clusters announced in the 2016 federal budget, only bigger. According to Bains, their job is to “supercharge Canada’s regional innovation ecosystems and build Canada as a global centre for innovation.” The B.C. one in particular is “a made-in-Canada Silicon Valley that will create tens of thousands of jobs.”

It’s not all tax dollars. TELUS, Microsoft, Teck, Canfor and other corporations have committed $500 million, along with most of B.C.’s post-secondary institutions, led by UBC.

Bruce Ralston, B.C.’s Minister of Jobs, Trade and Technology, was thrilled to announce B.C.’s “winning bid” for a share of the federal cash. But of course, in the Ottawa style, there were no losing bids. Atlantic Canada “wins” an Ocean Supercluster, Quebec gets one devoted to artificial intelligence, Ontario’s is for “next-generation manufacturing,” and the prairie provinces get a Protein Industries Supercluster based in Saskatchewan.

This so-called innovation bureaucracy is on top of Canada’s regional economic development programs. Stephen Harper’s Conservatives railed against political slush funds like the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, and then when he got into government, he set up Western Economic Development Canada to even things up. Now we have supercluster blobs of icing on the business subsidy cake.

The newly created Protein Industries Canada web page illustrates how contrived this whole thing is. “Outcomes from this cluster will be a new range of plant-derived foods, ingredients and feedstuffs of superior quality, commanding market premiums.”

Feedstuffs? Only in Canada, eh? Perhaps these buzzwords and subsidies mean that shoppers will be able to find Canadian-made mustard at their local supermarket, considering the Canadian prairies are the largest mustard seed producer in the world. From French’s to Grey Poupon, our finished product is mostly made in the U.S. by multi-nationals.

Back to B.C., where Microsoft and other high-tech giants have set up branch plants in Vancouver, or bought startups. It’s a natural extension of the original Silicon Valley, which has always extended to the Seattle area, home of Microsoft, Amazon and others.

It’s similar to the “Hollywood North” movie business. Same time zone, attractive climate, great scenery, oh, and whopping government subsidies.

Why don’t more investors, high tech or otherwise, set up shop in B.C.? Is it a lack of subsidies and “innovation” programs by governments? The B.C. government has just appointed an “innovation commissioner” to go with the “innovation advisor” appointed last year by former premier Christy Clark, to try to induce entrepreneurial activity here.

When the Trudeau government announced the “superclusters” plan last year, they acknowledged that one of Ottawa’s biggest problems was too many “innovation” programs – an astonishing 140 of them. The 2017 budget promised to review and simplify them.

I’ve searched for news that this has occurred, and I couldn’t find any. What we have instead is more layers, at the federal and provincial level.

And what else has the new B.C. government done to attract risk-taking entrepreneurs? It has re-introduced an extra tax bracket for people making more than $150,000 a year, bringing their total tax burden up to half of their income.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

BC legislaturefederal government

Just Posted

Housing challenges in Canada complicate efforts to fight COVID-19

Five per cent of all households deemed ‘not suitable’ while other dwellers face other challenges

Mental Health: Fractured services leave community to fill gaps

Greater Victoria service providers working together to help youth

DiManno: Once again, the Queen leads while others let us down

‘Self-discipline, quiet good-humoured resolve and fellow-feeling still characterize this country’

Cowichan Mountie cleared of wrongdoing after woman’s arm broken during arrest

Police were called around 10 p.m. on Dec. 30, 2019 to remove a “severely intoxicated” woman

Duncan using empty streetscape to move forward with public works downtown

Some projects scheduled for later in the year accelerated due to COVID-19 quiet

UPDATE: Canadians awake to extra COVID-19 emergency benefit money, feds clarify changes

The CRA and federal officials are working to clarify the confusion around payments

Controls can keep Canadian COVID-19 deaths under 22,000, health agency says

With poor containment measures, the death toll could be much, much higher, the agency says

People needing addictions services feel ‘abandoned’ during pandemic, B.C.’s ex-top doctor says

Widespread job losses and more homelessness due to physical distancing at shelters have added hurdles

Canada lost 1,011,000 jobs in March, unemployment rate up to 7.8%: StatCan

Unemployment rate hits levels not seen since 2010

COVID-19 world update: 6.6 million U.S. jobless claims; alcohol sales banned in Bangkok

Comprehensive digest of coronavirus news items from around the world

Canoe found in men’s public bathroom in Cadboro-Gyro Park

‘Please do not park your canoe in our bathrooms,’ say Saanich parks staff

Judge rejects pandemic as reason to grant bail to immunocompromised prisoner

Esquimalt man told there are more health risks for addicts on the street than there are in jail

B.C. sorting medical equipment sales, donation offers for COVID-19

Supply hub has call out for masks, gowns, coronavirus swabs

B.C. records five more deaths due to COVID-19, 45 new cases

A total of 838 people have recovered from the virus

Most Read