What is British Columbia doing to change its approach to scientific research and innovation as a result of the signals sent in the federal budget? What is the importance of and opportunities presented by research and innovation?
Over the past decade, the government of British Columbia has invested $1.8 billion in research and innovation. This investment has resulted in rapid economic diversification and strong growth of the province’s knowledge economy.
In September 2011, the provincial government released Canada Starts Here: The BC Jobs Plan. The plan sets out three areas of focus: job creation, market expansion and export infrastructure. It provides a roadmap for economic expansion, prioritizing provincial sectors on the basis of competitive advantage, and recognizing fiscal discipline and a skilled workforce as critical to the B.C. economy. Research and innovation are core to achieving the desired outcomes of the plan.
The release of the Jenkins Report on innovation in October 2011 signalled a shift in the federal approach to research and innovation in advance of the 2012 federal budget. With many changes already underway as a result of the BC Jobs Plan, the release of the budget underscored the importance of linking B.C.’s research and innovation strengths and opportunities to supporting jobs and growth.
British Columbia recognizes the value of incremental innovation to translate ideas rapidly into value-added products and services, and to increase exports. Government is creating more linkages between knowledge sectors and resource sectors, with a focus on those sectors identified in the jobs plan. The province’s strong technology sector, which currently accounts for 5.9 percent of provincial GDP, is of particular importance for achieving the favourable economic outcomes related to innovation.
B.C.’s entrepreneurship programs will continue to expand their networks into the province’s regions. This approach is building support for entrepreneurial talent and innovative small businesses, increasing economic diversification in communities. This shift also positions the province to attract additional support for small to medium enterprises through increases in the Industrial Research Assistance Program for these businesses.
Broadband Internet coverage, currently available to 93 percent of British Columbians, is also related to innovation networks. We are working to expand this coverage to 97 percent as we continue to reduce geographic challenges to education, research and training.
B.C. is assessing programs and policy to further reduce barriers to research and development collaborations between academia and industry. We are developing improved opportunities for research and innovation talent to address market-driven R&D challenges, as well as support for B.C. companies to increase their access to federal and provincial procurement programs.
World-class scientific research in British Columbia remains an important pillar of the economy, providing quality employment and attracting highly skilled talent and global research investments to the province. Genomics research is an area of particular strength in B.C., with applications in human health and the province’s natural resource sectors. The government will continue to support new research opportunities and applications in alignment with commitments in the federal budget.
British Columbia has a unique and innovative partnership with the federal Immigrant Investor Program. In 2008, the province launched the B.C. Renaissance Capital Fund to attract venture capital and increase the amount of capital available to B.C. businesses. The $90-million fund leverages a portion of capital transferred to the province under the Immigrant Investment Program to attract funding partnerships from top Canadian and U.S. venture capital firms. Since 2008, the program has leveraged $37 million of capital commitments into $146 million of invested venture capital for the province. B.C.’s model has generated a great deal of interest and support from other provinces. In addition to U.S. partnerships, the Renaissance Fund has established partnerships in four pan-Canadian venture funds. B.C. continues to assess new models and alternatives for venture capital programs and innovation funding.
B.C.’s approach to scientific research and innovation has shifted, first and foremost to ensure that the province achieves the economic prosperity goals set out in the BC Jobs Plan. As the federal government implements its budget, British Columbia will continue to look for opportunities to leverage provincial assets in support of Canada’s economic prosperity.
Shauna Turner is the assistant deputy minister for British Columbia’s Competitiveness and Innovation Division, Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation.