Latest Alberta, BC budgets target talent shortage with otherwise minimal new tech investment

Industry stakeholders had hoped to see more for tech and SMBs.

Though British Columbia (BC) and Alberta’s latest budgets allocate some funding towards each province’s innovation sector, the promises for tech were minimal and industry stakeholders had hoped to see more for the sector and small-to-medium-sized businesses (SMBs).

Alberta and BC’s provincial governments unveiled their latest budgets yesterday evening, each outlining significant investments in infrastructure and affordability but little in the way of new tech funding beyond addressing the skilled labour shortage.

Though both budgets allocate some funding towards tech, stakeholders had hoped to see more support for innovation and SMBs.
 

In Budget 2023, Alberta’s United Conservative Party (UCP) prioritized healthcare, affordability, and public safety, among other non-tech-related priorities, projecting a surplus of $2.3 billion CAD fuelled in part by strong oil and gas revenues.

BC’s New Democratic Party (NDP) also chose to focus its spending on addressing the affordability crisis and funding infrastructure projects in its 2023 budget, which will see the province post a deficit of $4.2 billion CAD.

In terms of the innovation sector, Alberta and BC’s latest budgets honed in on addressing the skilled labour shortage facing many Canadian companies. Despite a looming recession and all of the recent tech layoffs, many Canadian firms in both tech and other industries are still struggling to find the talent they need amid a record-tight labour market.

Some business and tech industry stakeholders praised each budget for its investments in filling this labour gap, but also expressed disappointment regarding their rather limited focus on tech, innovation, and SMBs beyond this.

Council of Canadian Innovators (CCI) VP of strategy and advocacy Dana O’Born hailed the funding Alberta and BC allocated towards skilled talent as positive news for the Western Canadian tech sector, while noting that both provinces could have placed more of an emphasis on innovation.

Speaking to Alberta’s budget, Thin Air Labs partner James Lochrie viewed the investments in tech as the provincial government maintaining “the status quo” given the growth that the province’s tech sector has seen in recent years.

RELATED: BC’s budget strong on cleantech; Alberta positions itself as major tech hub

Lochrie described Alberta’s latest budget to BetaKit as “a return to social and infrastructure spending as a result of returning to surplus.” Acknowledging the budget’s lack of tech investment, Lochrie said, “this seems to be a position of if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

“Alberta grew its [venture capital] investments by 30% in 2022 while the rest of Canada saw a 30% pullback,” said Lochrie, adding, “I’m very supportive of maintaining the status quo while we see the community continue to expand.”

Alberta’s 2023 budget carves out another $24.5 million in 2023–2024 for the Alberta Technology and Innovation Strategy, in addition to the $73 million committed towards the initiative across three years in Budget 2022. It also advances the province’s Alberta at Work initiative with another $176 million in 2025–2026 to help Albertans build skills and find jobs with employers in existing and emerging sectors.

In a statement released in response to Alberta’s latest budget, O’Born said that CCI is “pleased to see significant additional funding” for the Alberta at Work program, noting that the initiative is helping to address the skilled labour shortage many of CCI’s members are experiencing.

RELATED: Statements from Alberta innovation minister cast doubt on return of investor tax credit

At the same time, O’Born said that given the size of Alberta’s surplus, CCI would have liked to see the government to provide additional capital towards high-growth local companies “to ensure they can maintain their momentum at a time when the global capital markets are challenging for technology companies, and many firms are being forced to cut back.”

Meanwhile, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) was happy that Alberta’s latest budget does not create new costs for small businesses. But in a statement, the CFIB also expressed regret that the tax rate was not lowered for small businesses—many of which still carry debt due to the pandemic and have yet to see sales fully recover.

Alberta’s latest budget follows a more tech-focused Budget 2022. Since then, Alberta has seen political leadership changes, such as the appointment of a new innovation minister in Nate Glubish in October 2022.

Line items that were not in Alberta’s 2023 budget included the reinstatement of the Alberta Investor Tax Credit. This is something some stakeholders in the province have hoped to see return. In an interview with BetaKit late last year, Glubish cast doubt on the return of the Alberta Investor Tax Credit, which was cut in 2019 alongside the the Interactive Digital Media Tax Credit and others.

RELATED: New BC innovation minister Brenda Bailey lays out how she plans to support province’s tech, innovation

BC’s latest spending plan follows a 2022 budget that saw the province bet on cleantech, and came after it announced a $500 million direct and indirect investment fund.

For its part, BC also recently appointed a new innovation minister in Brenda Bailey, who also spoke with BetaKit last year about how she plans to foster innovation in the province.

In a statement responding to BC’s latest budget, O’Born argued that to finance the social programs that BC is funding, “the government needs to place a better emphasis on economic growth.” She added that the province’s tech sector is “poised to help drive that prosperity.”

CFIB described BC’s latest budget as “a missed opportunity” to help small businesses.

The BC budget did earmark $480 million towards training and upskilling through its new Future Ready Plan, which the province plans to reveal more on later this year. “We were pleased to see that the BC government heard our members’ concerns about the skilled talent shortage,” said O’Born.

CFIB described BC’s latest budget as “a missed opportunity” to help small businesses as they navigate tough economic conditions. “BC small businesses are struggling to cope with inflation, lower consumer spending, higher interest rates, and ongoing labor shortages,” CFIB economist for Western Canada Jairo Yunis said in a statement. “Sadly, despite the severity of the situation, the government decided to leave small businesses out of its spending priorities.”

The BC Chamber of Commerce appeared to concur with CFIB. In a statement, BC Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Fiona Famulak said that the province’s latest budget provides “little support to businesses who are struggling with the cost of doing business.”

At the same time, Famulak expressed optimism that BC’s Future Ready Plan will help SMBs address “critical labour force challenges,” while noting that details regarding the new program and how the funding attached to it will be deployed “remain unclear.”

Feature image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Josh Scott

Josh Scott

Josh Scott is a BetaKit reporter focused on breaking news and telling in-depth Canadian tech stories. His coverage is more complete than his moustache.

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