Alberta’s investment in S&T and innovation is stalled again in latest provincial Budget

Guest Contributor
April 3, 2002

Health care, education and slumping oil and gas revenues have put increased spending for innovation in Alberta on hold, with a March 19 Budget that contains no new initiatives or funding increases for existing programs. The province follows British Columbia and Quebec in releasing innovation-light budgets after several years of funding increases for science and technology.

The province’s sagging economic fortunes are being blamed, but this is the second year in a row that Alberta has produced a S&T-light Budget. Last year, surging energy revenues did little to benefit S&T, going instead to health, education and debt and tax reduction (R$, May 10/01).

The economic downturn coupled with low energy prices resulted in only marginal increases for the two departments involved in innovation — the Ministry of Innovation and Science (MIS) and the Ministry of Economic Development. MIS shows a year-over-year increase due mainly to increased contract research conducted by the Alberta Research Council (ARC).

“The budget for innovation and science is flat but under the circumstances we were pleased to get the budget we did. There’s a strong caucus commitment and go-forward initiative to science and technology,” says MIS minister Victor Doerksen.

While no new S&T initiatives were announced, the Budget did not tamper with previous initiatives, including Alberta SuperNet, the province’s new broadband communications network. With a pricetag of $193 million, SuperNet’s costs are being allocated over three years beginning in FY FY0102. This year represents the largest outlay ($117 million), with the final installment of $38.2 million slated for FY03-04.

The Budget was also void of funding that would allow the province to move on its commitment to increase energy research intensity. “Money into energy research has not gone up as much as we had hoped but we will look at this again next year,” says Doerksen. “We want to engage industry in this area.”

Also missing from the Budget is matching funding related to nearly $100 million in awards from the latest Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) competition. The province is on the hook to construct two buildings for life sciences research.

“They’re not in my budget right now but we have two years under CFI regulations to find the funds,” says Doerksen. “Those buildings are critical for the life sciences.”

In the meantime, MIS is continuing with previously announced plans to strengthen commercialization and access to venture capital in the province. An international review of the Alberta Science and Research Authority is nearly complete and Doerksen says it is recommending the creation of a task force or commission to improve commercialization.


Ministry of Innovation and Science – Expenses

($ 000s)
Alberta Science and Research Authority
Alberta Agricultural Research Institute8,9008,875
Alberta Energy Research Institute8,9006,940
Alberta Forestry Research Institute1,4502,260
Alberta Research Council:
     Contract Research39,64847,406
     Research funded by ASRA24,67526,575
iCORE (Informatics Circle of Research Excellence)9,67010,000
Science and Research Investments Program38,64736,722
Technology Commercialization Initiatives3,1003,675
Operations and Policy Implementation5,5396,180
Information and Communications Technology47,22651,773
Alberta SuperNet3,0004,000
Ministry Support Services4,2854,335
Ministry Expense195,040208,741
Source: Ministry of Innovation and Science Business Plan 2002-05

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