Ontario’s new Liberal government has ambitious if vague innovation agenda
October 3, 2003
With the election of a Liberal government in Ontario for the first time in 15 years, the province’s approach to innovation is bound to change. Less ideologically driven in its approach to economic development, the party’s innovation platform aims to close the productivity gap with the US that it alleges doubled under the previous administration. And with a new federal Liberal regime about to assume power, the opportunities for improved inter-governmental collaboration are greatly enhanced.
But the devil is in the details, and it’ll be up to premier designate Dalton McGuinty to ensure that the innovation platform upon which the party was elected is are properly conceived and implemented.
While those details are in short supply in Achieving Our Potential — one of several policy platform documents produced for the election campaign — the broad brush stroke provide a tantalizing view of how the Liberals plan to execute their economic strategy.
The Liberal cluster development strategy will focus on the following sectors: automotive, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, financial services, agriculture and food processing, information and communication technologies and entertainment and culture.
The Liberal stand on commercialization is extremely vague. The platform document only says that there will be a new “provincial research commercialization project” in support of university and private sector efforts to “bring ideas to market”. It does, however appear to be modelled on a similar project in the state of Georgia which resulted in a dramatic increase in “innovation performance”.
There will be a new strategy and support for the automotive sector via a new investment fund. It will provide incentives for training and investment with the objective of attracting major new facilities to the province.
The agricultural and food sector — Ontario’s second largest industry — will also be the recipient of a new research strategy, developed in conjunction with the recently created Ontario Agricultural Research Coalition. There will also be unspecified “fundamental financial supports” to grow the sector and maintain its competitive edge.
As well, McGuinty will have to decide on whether to enact innovation measures announced by the Progressive Conservative government in its March 27 auto plant Budget. The most prominent of the commitments is the Cancer Research Institute of Ontario (CRIO).
- New automotive strategy & investment fund
- Training programs for skills upgrades
- Set mandatory ethanol & biodiesel content rules
- Develop new agriculture research strategy
- No increase to small business taxes
- Create small business agency from Red Tape Commission
- Increase graduate scholarships by 50%
- Create research commercialization project to support university and private sector
- Improve competitive advantage in health care
FATE OF$1-BILLION CRIO INITIATIVE UNCERTAIN
CRIO is being structured as a not-for-profit organization with a double-barrelled mandate of eliminating breast and prostate cancer and making Ontario one of the leading centres for cancer research. The price tag for CRIO has been set at $1 billion over 10 years (R$, April 16/03). But as of late summer, the consultation process leading to its formation was still ongoing, raising concerns that a Liberal government may renege on the commitment.
A call to an Ottawa Liberal constituency office before the election yielded little information. The only time the Liberal party has broached the subject was in a July 14 press release. In that document, it criticized the Tory government for re-announcing CRIO and committed to examining waiting times for cancer care with no mention of CRIO or cancer research. Given the dizzying array of expensive election promises made during the campaign, a high-price initiative like CRIO could be vulnerable.
In the area of taxation, the Liberals commit to “hold the line” on small business taxation. They also indicate that they won’t decrease corporate taxes as they are already lower than competing jurisdictions..