In a recent cabinet shuffle, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced Doug Schweitzer’s appointment as the province’s new minister of jobs, economy, and innovation. Schweitzer previously served as Alberta’s justice minister and solicitor general.
The newly created position replaces the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade, and Tourism, and comes with a rebranded portfolio. Tanya Fir, Alberta’s now-former minister of economic development, trade, and tourism, has been removed from Kenney’s cabinet.
Schweitzer will oversee Alberta’s recovery from COVID-19 plan.
Schweitzer will oversee Alberta’s recovery from COVID-19 plan, at a crucial time for the province’s tech sector.
“Minister Schweitzer made important progress tackling rural crime, advancing aspects of the fair deal agenda, and creating a faster, fairer, more responsive justice system,” said Kenney regarding the appointment.
“He will bring the same energy and drive into the newly named portfolio of Jobs, Economy and Innovation as he oversees the implementation of Alberta’s Recovery Plan, its sector strategies and our growth agenda,” added the premier.
In June, the Government of Alberta released its economic recovery plan, which lays out how the province plans to restart Alberta’s economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the collapse of oil prices. Kenney’s plan, which Schweitzer will oversee, involves reducing the corporate tax rate from 10 to eight percent, the creation of a new investment-focused provincial agency, and $175 million CAD in funding for the Alberta Enterprise Corporation (AEC).
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The province’s commitment to AEC is designed to help early-stage startups secure access to venture capital. AEC invests in Alberta-focused venture capital funds that finance early stage, tech startups both in and outside the province.
Kenney’s government also plans to create Invest Alberta, a new provincial agency intended to attract “job-creating investments” and market investment opportunities in the province. Invest Alberta will be tasked with growing the province’s network of international offices, and providing assistance and incentives to prospective investors.
As part of the plan, the province will also launch the Innovation Employment Grant, a refundable tax credit for companies that invest in research and development, in order to incentivize job creation in “high growth new industries.” The grant will target smaller, pre-income firms performing research and development, and aims to lure startups to the province.
The commitments to Alberta’s innovation economy come after a year of turmoil. Last summer, Kenney’s United Conservative Party (UCP) took power, and the province suspended several provincial tech and innovation sector programs, including entrepreneurship programming at Alberta Innovates and a $100 million commitment from the previous government to Alberta’s artificial intelligence sector, as the new party reviewed the province’s budget.
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In October 2019, the UCP released its first budget, which announced $1.3 billion in spending cuts, and plans to reduce operating spending by 2.8 percent over the coming years. In response, some of the province’s tech leaders expressed concern, calling the moves “short-sighted.”
In April, a group of Alberta tech sector stakeholders wrote an open letter to the provincial government requesting urgent support for the province’s tech industry, which it said was at risk due to both the pandemic and the oil crisis.
With the latest commitments to the sector as part of the recovery plan, some of which were informed by the Innovation Capital Working Group, some members of Alberta’s tech ecosystem have called the steps a move in the right direction.
Leaders in the province’s tech sector are now looking to the release of the Fall strategy, which is hoped to include more of the Innovation Capital Working Group’s recommendations.
Image source Marie Armstrong via Wikimedia Commons