The Government of Canada is exploring the possibility of creating an additional regional development agency (RDA) that would focus specifically on British Columbia.
The idea was outlined in the Fall Economic Statement tabled by Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland on Monday. The government noted that it proposes to “introduce a new approach to regional development in the West” by operating separate agencies for British Columbia (BC) and the Prairies. If approved the BC RDA would mark the seventh such federal agency, with six others that currently span the country.
“The West cannot be seen as a monolithic block.”
– Minister of Economic Development Mélanie Joly
The RDAs are part of the Government of Canada’s Innovation and Skills Plan, with a focus on “advancing and diversifying” regional economies and communities. They provide funding to companies and organizations that support business development regionally. Currently, the RDA that covers BC is Western Economic Diversification Canada (WD), which also covers Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.
The other RDAs include Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), Canada Economic Development for Quebec Regions (CED), Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario), Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario (FedNor), and Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency (CanNor), which covers the three territories.
In a tweet on Monday, Minister of Economic Development Mélanie Joly, who is responsible for the RDAs, noted the idea came from discussions with business owners across the Prairies and BC over the past months. She stated that following those talks it became clear that the economic challenges and concerns in the two regions are different. “The West cannot be seen as a monolithic block,” she wrote.
Over the past months, I’ve spoken with many business owners across the #Prairies and #BritishColumbia. One thing is clear: their economic challenges and concerns are different, especially when facing a pandemic. The #West 🇨🇦 cannot be seen as a monolithic block.👇#FES2020 pic.twitter.com/MORZIaAdtQ
— Mélanie Joly (@melaniejoly) December 1, 2020
The economic statement did not provide any additional detail on the possible new RDA, though it was noted details and investments “will follow.”
The possible addition of the BC RDA is a notable one for the region. A group of 11 innovation organizations in BC are currently pushing the federal government to bring the Ontario-focused Scale-Up Platform out West, asking WD for $31 million. Funding for the Ontario version of the program was administered through FedDev to Communitech, MaRS, and Invest Ottawa.
The group, which includes the BC Tech Association, SFU venture labs, Accelerate Okanagan, among others, is looking to use the funding to support high-potential companies in their province. The organizations claim the funding would allow them to pool their resources and offer tailored services and programming to various high-potential companies in their respective communities.
The Fall Economic Statement also included a proposal to provide $3 million to CanNor “for foundational economic development projects that will support small businesses in Canada’s Territories.” Additional details on the funding were not provided.
The increased funding and a seventh RDA are in addition to a proposal in the statement to increase funding to the Regional Relief and Recovery Fund (RRRF), a COVID-19 relief program administered by the RDAs. The federal government proposed a $500 million top-up to the RRRF, which would bring the currently $1.5 billion fund to $2 billion.
The RRRF was initially announced earlier this year and is intended to support regional and rural businesses that may not have existing relationships with financial institutions, or don’t qualify for other federal relief programs.
If approved, the $500 million would be the second top-up to the program. In October, it was announced the Canadian government was committing an additional $600 million, which brought the fund to more than $1.5 billion. At the time, a government source confirmed to BetaKit that the majority of the capital, around $456 million was being allotted to RDAs.
The current breakdown of RRRF capital for each RDA is as follows:
- $568 million for WD
- $34 million for CanNor
- $72 million for FedNor
- $436 million for the FedDev
- $281 million for CED
- $170 million for ACOA
The RRRF is meant to support regional and rural businesses that may not have existing relationships with financial institutions, or don’t qualify for other federal relief programs. In its economic statement, the government claimed that, to date, RRRF has supported more than 102,000 jobs and over 14,700 businesses, including more than
8,500 clients in rural areas and 5,100 women-owned businesses.
Feature image source Unsplash