OTTAWA—The federal government has earmarked an extra $2 billion for Canadian universities and colleges over the next three years to help meet the challenges of a changing economy, with the first $500 million available this year.
But a larger blueprint for boosting Canadian innovation will have to wait another 12 months while Ottawa consults with business, post-secondary training facilities and non-profit groups on how best to support research and development, the Liberal government said.
“Our objective of growing the economy is really fundamental to us,” Liberal Finance Minister Bill Morneau told reporters during a press conference before delivering his first budget speech in the House of Commons.
“Our innovation agenda is central to that.”
The government said it would come up with an “Innovation Agenda” within the next year, creating a roadmap for Canada’s economic future based on its reputation in science and technology, resourceful citizens and global competitiveness.
In the meantime, the government announced it will spend $2 billion over the next three years on a new Post-Secondary Institutions Strategic Investment Fund to help university and colleges modernize their on-campus research, commercialization and training facilities.
Ottawa will also invest $800 million over four years to support innovation clusters, such as the Waterloo region, dubbed Silicon Valley North, to encourage networking between business, universities and colleges and government.
The government will also funnel an additional $95 million a year for research through non-profit granting councils, such as the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. The funds will support research in health, medicine, genomics and stem cell discoveries.
The government also committed to help small innovative firms “scale up” to further their global competitiveness by better co-ordinating access to key services. No dollars were earmarked.
Chief economist Doug Porter, with the Bank of Montreal, said it’s not that surprising the government needs more time to develop its innovation strategy.
“When you consider this government was just elected five months ago, expecting them to turn the economy around on a dime is not realistic,” Porter said.
“I think the measures taken today were a stop gap; they want to support innovation, but they’re really not ready yet to fully flesh that out.”