Within days of each other, British Columbia and Alberta both released provincial budgets, but any similarity ended there.
While BC’s NDP government focused on its debt, Alberta’s Conservatives expected to post a healthy surplus in the coming year. And while BC continued to emphasize cleantech in its budget, Alberta moved to position itself as an international technology hub with a number of investments.
BC forecast a deficit of $483 million for 2021-22, less than the $9.7 billion projected in its 2021 budget. The province attributed the decrease to higher revenues, including significant one-time revenues, federal transfers as well as higher natural resource and tax revenues. The latter, the NDP said, were a result of strong economic growth.
Looking ahead, the province anticipates total revenues will rise from $68.6 billion in 2022-23 to $72.3 billion in 2024-25. However, the NDP said the province’s debt is expected to increase to $90.8 billion by the end of 2024-25.
The province said the debt will help finance necessary capital investments, and ensure continued support for people, businesses, and communities while the government “builds a strong economic recovery for BC.”
In contrast, Alberta said total revenue in 2021-22 is expected to be $18 billion more than forecast in its previous budget. It anticipates growing revenue in the following years, reaching $63.9 billion in 2024-25, with expenses adding up to $63.2 billion in 2024-25.
As well, Alberta reported that it now anticipates a surplus of $500 million for 2023 compared to the forecasted deficit of $3.2 billion for 2021.
British Columbia betting on cleantech
In terms of technology, as in previous years, BC’s budget focused largely on cleantech. The province announced $651 million in new operating funds to support clean transportation, energy-efficient buildings, and to support industry and communities to manage the transition to a low-carbon economy.
The province said it would provide one-time funding of $25 million in 2022-23 to support clean energy, and technology investments and partnership opportunities with the federal government related to CleanBC objectives.
As well, the NDP reemphasized the establishment of a new $500 million strategic investment fund with InBC Investment Corporation, investing in the development of clean energy through initiatives such as the Centre for Innovation and Clean Energy, and through the creation of 2,000 new tech-relevant spaces in BC’s public post-secondary institutions.
The province also said that new initiatives, such as the establishment of integrated marketplaces, will help drive innovation by supporting companies to scale up efficiently
and develop and market new products.
The budget also included what was called the first project of its kind in the world, the conversion of one block on the University of British Columbia Point Grey campus into an integrated energy system – the Clean Connected and Safe Transportation Testbed.
The Testbed, a city-scale living laboratory, will emulate critical links between energy, transportation, information and communications technology and urban design that will be used to test how interactions between vehicles, infrastructure and pedestrians can be optimized to improve energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The budget provides $4.6 million in BC Knowledge Development funding for the Testbed.
Tessa Seager, the Council of Canadian Innovators (CCI) director of government affairs in BC, said: “The Stronger BC Economic Plan presents a clear vision for post-pandemic prosperity and economic recovery.”
Seager added: “Access to talent is the number one barrier to growth facing Canadian scale-ups. Today’s plan to modernize skills training and future-ready our workforce lays the groundwork to overcome that barrier, while also recognizing that building a sustainable labour force requires action on childcare, affordable housing, and climate resiliency.”
Alberta pushes ambitious innovation strategy
In its budget, the Alberta government declared that it “must recognize and adapt to emerging trends. Increased automation and digitization, globalization and remote work, green technology, an aging population, continued urbanization, and migration all have the potential to significantly transform Alberta’s economy in the future. We need to develop skills today that will allow our labour market to readily adapt to future challenges.”
The province 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.
The Alberta Technology and Innovation Strategy is earmarked to receive $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.
While the province is still heavily invested in fossil fuels, the budget said it would support strategic investments in clean hydrogen, carbon capture and sequestration infrastructure, and renewable electrification.
Bronte Valk, CCI’s manager of government affairs for Alberta, said the province had delivered an innovation budget that represented a big win for Alberta’s technology sector. She said the CCI applauded the government’s commitment to increasing access to highly skilled talent through a variety of measures.
“We were also encouraged to see the government has put new funding behind its upcoming multi-year Technology and Innovation Strategy,” Valk added. “Local innovators are hopeful this financial commitment will spur the development of a Premier’s Innovation Council and long overdue policy frameworks in Alberta, including intellectual property and data strategies, privacy reforms, and updated research, development and commercialization programs.”