23 March 2016

Budget 2016 and the incipient Innovation Agenda

Yesterday's federal budget offered the new government's prescription for the economy. Many pundits are offering cogent analyses - see Alex Usher's here, and the Polytechnics Canada reaction here, and that of Colleges and Institutes Canada here.

Above all this budget shows strong investment in education, research, and the clean/green economy. Directionally this is good for the country. On the clean economy side, the government is her not picking winners, but showing leadership for any and all of Canadian industry to find a place in this global reality. This is right thinking, and an essential element in Generation Renew.

Increased funding to the granting councils is also excellent. Even better is the language outlining the new Innovation Agenda that will be crafted over the coming months.

The language in Budget 2016 regarding investments in research supports colleges, polytechnics and universities as all being key component of the R&D and innovation ecosystem. 
STRENGTHENING SCIENCE AND RESEARCH The Government understands the central role of science in a thriving, clean economy and in providing evidence for sound policy decisions. Canada’s universities, colleges and other research institutions play a fundamental role in Canadian society by developing highly skilled and creative workers. They are also the engines of discovery, and collaborate on innovations that help companies compete and grow. Budget 2016 takes action to reinvigorate Canada’s research and science base by investing in infrastructure at postsecondary institutions and federal laboratories, fostering research excellence, and accelerating the diffusion and commercialization of knowledge into applications that benefit industry and society as a whole.
This language is intentionally inclusive. While Usher points out that no specific earmark for college research is indicated, this is a positive step forward in that the country recognizes there are many complementary actors in the R&D scene. It is unclear if the granting councils will be left to allocate funds to either basic or applied research (read: university or college); the granting councils have an opportunity to continue to grow the entire ecosystem and I am hopeful that they will continue on the complementary path rather than regress to the politics of the past. The budget makes clear that this kind of divisive thinking is not the target audience.

The infrastructure spending in the $2B Post-Secondary Institutions Strategic Investment Fund (PSISIF) is good for all post-secondary and there are examples in the budget of what it can mean for colleges in terms of training and applied research:
• A college could modernize or create sector-specific training facilities, including capacity for advanced areas such as Red Seal trades;• College and university facilities that support prototype development or proof-of-principle assessment could receive investments in order to better serve the needs of industry partners;
Our role as a demand driven innovation enabler is central to locating our place within the education and R&D ecosystem in the country. 

The really good news is with the Innovation Agenda that Minister Bains will be crafting in the coming months, as he outlined in a recent Toronto Region Board of Trade speechThere is mention of supporting clusters and incubators in colleges and universities. The focus on clean tech and sustainability is significant in that the government is clearly signally that this is an opportunity for Canada to step onto the world stage and craft a role for multiple industries to play in this important global imperative. This is in addition to key investments in skills training and apprenticeships, aboriginal education and skills, and arts and culture. I look forward to learning more in the days and months to come.

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