Alberta NDP tables bill to create new provincial venture fund for tech

Rachel Notley, Alberta
NDP noted Alberta attracted less venture capital last year than provinces like Ontario, BC, Québec.

Claiming that Alberta is losing ground to other provinces when it comes to attracting investment for the tech sector, the provincial NDP has introduced legislation they hope will reverse that.

If passed, Bill 203 would create an Alberta Technology Venture Capital Fund enabling Albertans to invest directly into the growth of the province’s tech and artificial intelligence (AI) sectors. The NDP said such a fund would support early-stage companies, startups, and scale-ups.

The United Conservative Party has been pushing a technology and innovation agenda after making initial cuts in 2019.

As reasoning for the fund, the NDP maintains that Alberta has attracted less venture capital than Ontario, British Columbia, and Québec.

UPDATE 08/04/2022: Despite that, on April 7 United Conservative Party MLAs at a private members’ committee meeting voted to kill the Alberta Venture Fund.

Last year, Ontario, British Columbia, and Quebec attracted $7.9 billion, $2.9 billion, and $2.8 billion in venture investment respectively, according to the Canadian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association.

Alberta attracted only $561 million in venture capital investment.

Ontario had the largest increase at 270 percent, while British Columbia saw a 224 percent increase, and Québec was close behind with 180 percent. Comparatively, Alberta’s venture capital investments increased by 23 percent.

The Bill would have established a Technology Innovation Advisory Council that the NDP said would provide advice and research to the innovation minister on the innovation and technology sector.

The aim of the council will be to attract increased private investment capital to the technology sector in Alberta, and ensure workers in Alberta have the skills, training, and education required by companies to compete globally, according to the NDP.

“Our economy is in the midst of a generational shift brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, a crash in oil prices, and an energy transformation that is changing how we power our economy,” said NDP Economic Development and Innovation Critic Deron Bilous. “These challenges have highlighted the need to build a more resilient and diversified economy.”

Bilous said the province’s tech sector has shown it can be an economic driver and create jobs, but the right conditions need to be set to compete in what he called a highly competitive market.

“The venture fund would provide Albertans the opportunity to invest in Alberta’s future,” Bilous added. “By doing so, they could earn returns for themselves while attracting investment to support economic growth, diversification, the creation of good jobs, and the long-term economic well-being of the province.”

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The NDP blamed the slower pace of investment in Alberta on cuts the governing United Conservative Party made in 2019. The provincial government eliminated the Alberta Investor Tax Credit, a move many leaders in Alberta’s tech ecosystem expressed concern over, stating that it would have a major effect on attracting investment.

The provincial government also eliminated four other tax incentives, the Capital Investment Tax Credit, the Community Economic Development Corporation Tax Credit, the Interactive Digital Media Tax Credit, and the Scientific Research and Experimental Development Tax Credit (SR&ED).

The United Conservative Party also put on pause was a $100 million investment, over a period of five years, meant to attract more artificial intelligence-based high-tech companies to Alberta, which the NDP promised when it was in power.

However, in the years since then, the United Conservative Party has been pushing a technology and innovation agenda with the introduction of its 2021 budget. At the time, the province laid out a Technology and Innovation Strategy meant to make Alberta more attractive as a tech hub.

The province continued with that strategy into its most recent budget, earmarking $73 million over three years. The strategy envisions Alberta becoming an internationally recognized technology and innovation hub making Alberta a leader in areas such as artificial intelligence and quantum science.

The 2022 budget also promised to provide $171 million over the next three years to expand enrolment in areas with skills shortages, and said that some 7,000 additional post-secondary seats will be created in areas such as high technology (computer science, information technology and data modelling), and finance and FinTech.

Brontè Valk, governments affairs manager (Alberta), Council of Canadian Innovators, endorsed the NDP’s proposed legislation as did Trent Johnsen, founder and CEO of Liveweb, a Calgary-based startup that offers a web-based, customer-support tool.

“CCI’s members have long advocated for the Alberta Government to update their economic playbooks for the 21st-century innovation economy,” Valk said. “We’re pleased to see the NDP championing economic proposals from Alberta’s tech sector”

Added Johnsen: “It is clear that the new digital economy is where the most jobs, value and wealth creation, and sustainable growth will occur for decades to come. Initiatives like this will help position Alberta to compete and succeed in the 21st-century global economy.”

Feature image source Wikimedia.

Charles Mandel

Charles Mandel

Charles Mandel's reporting and writing on technology has appeared in, Canadian Business, Report on Business Magazine, Canada's National Observer, The Globe and Mail, and the National Post, among many others. He lives off-grid in Nova Scotia.

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