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.

Just Posted

Two Nuxalk artists awarded YVR Art Foundation scholarships

Several Nuxalk artists have won the award, some more than once

Convicted animal abuser to return to B.C. court May 21

Catherine Jessica Adams is facing a breach of probation charge

Concerns over democracy as Senate committee votes to nix oil tanker ban

Critics of the Senate’s recommendation to kill Bill C-48 say it goes against popular will

Open casting call issued for Trevor Mack’s first feature-length film

All Indigenous actors, preferably local Chilcotin people, are needed for Portraits From A Fire’s cast

New ferry to B.C.’s central coast sets sail, a year late and $20M over budget

Northern Sea Wolf will cost $76 million when it hits the waters in June

Kelowna toddler suffers cracked skull after fall from balcony

Neighbour who found the two-year-old boy said he has a bump the size of a golf ball on his head

Unbe-leaf-able: Agassiz man finds more than 200 four-leaf clovers in a month

Walt Hardinge has found more than 219 four-or-more leaf clovers this spring alone

Crews fight fire with fire to keep blaze from northern Alberta town

The wildfire now covers some 920 square kilometres

Man in B.C. charged with murder and arson in 2016 New Brunswick death

He is charged in the death of 71-year-old Lucille Maltais, who was found inside a burned down home

Improve your life and theirs, adopt a cat from the BC SPCA

The BC SPCA holds an adult cat adoption promotion

RCMP probe if teen was intentionally hit with ski pole by mystery skier on B.C. mountain

The incident happened on March 20 on Grouse Mountain. Police are urging witnesses to come forward

Support growing for orphaned Okanagan child after father dies in highway crash

Family thanks emergency crews for assistance in traumatic incident

Pipeline protester chimes in on Justin Trudeau’s B.C. fundraising speech

The government purchased the Trans Mountain pipeline and expansion project for $4.5 billion

Baby boom seniors putting pressure on B.C. long-term care: report

B.C. leads Canada in growth of dementia, dependence on care

Most Read