Ontario’s budget looks to create tech-focused talent stream, panel for scaling innovations

Ontario Gov

Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government delivered its first 2019-2020 budget on Thursday. On the agenda for the upcoming fiscal years includes driving tech talent to the province, centralizing tech procurement, and taking a closer look at how institutions can aid in the commercialization of new products.

The budget is allocating $782 million to the Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade, cutting the ministry’s budget by 20 percent.

“Ontario innovators commend the government’s efforts to become a leader in the data-driven global economy.”

The province said it aims to modernize its programs by assessing their relevance in driving economic growth in areas of investment attraction, research and commercialization, entrepreneurship and talent. The government is looking to assess commercialization and intellectual property in the postsecondary sector, create a provincial data strategy, streamline how technology is procured in the province, and establish a tech-exclusive talent stream for Ontario businesses.

Benjamin Bergen, executive director of the Council of Canadian Innovators (CCI), noted the organization welcomed a number of the economic measures in the budget. He pointed to those focused on commercialization of intellectual property, increasing access to highly-skilled talent for high-growth scale-ups, streamlined procurement for homegrown companies, as well as the adoption of a provincial data strategy, expressing that CCI hopes “[they] will unlock the opportunities of the 21st century data-driven economy for Ontario residents and entrepreneurs.”

Tech-dedicated talent stream

As part of the talent initiative, the government is creating a dedicated stream to help Ontario’s tech sector attract high-skilled workers. It will also expand the prospective base of the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program’s (OINP) Entrepreneur Stream by shifting investment and net worth thresholds to make Ontario more competitive with other provinces.

“Ontario has some of the best innovators and entrepreneurs in the world,” the budget stated. “But many of these high‐growth, high‐potential businesses find it difficult to compete for government contracts.”

“Ontario’s domestic tech sector welcomes the government’s focus on addressing the province’s skilled-talent shortage by accepting CCI’s recommendation to introduce a new tech worker stream into the province’s immigrant nominee program,” said Bergen. “Highly-skilled talent is like jet-fuel for Ontario’s rapidly growing scale-ups and with Canada facing a shortage of nearly 220,000 skilled workers by 2021, increasing access to talent through strategic economic immigration is a welcomed step forward.”

The government also plans to support careers in advanced manufacturing, raise awareness of existing employment and training programs, and strengthen Ontario’s technical education options. The Ontario-based Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster, funded by the federal government, is looking to build next-generation manufacturing capabilities through technologies advanced robotics and 3D printing.

As part of the budget, the provincial government is also increasing funding for The Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network Talent Development (AVIN) TalentEdge program to support internships and fellowships for research on connected and autonomous vehicles.

Looks to create data strategy

The budget also expressed the government’s plans to support digital transformation through ongoing consultations on its first-ever data strategy. The strategy is being developed based on citizen and business feedback. Public consultation for the data strategy was initially announced in February.

The data strategy is aimed at promoting public trust and confidence, creating economic benefits, and enabling more efficient government. The government said its policy will be transparent and easy to understand, as data privacy and security are at the core of government policy.

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Bergen noted that the CCI commended what it called “the government’s efforts to become a leader in the data-driven global economy through its digital-first approach.”

“The growing scale and scope of data generated by Ontarians create an opportunity for Ontario businesses to be more innovative, create more jobs and more wealth in our province,” he stated.

Expert Panel to assess commercialization of intellectual property

The government also announced it will establish an expert panel to assess the effectiveness of provincially-funded universities and incubators in commercializing innovations. The task force will submit an action plan for a provincial intellectual property framework that will be aimed at maximizing commercialization opportunities in relation to universities.

“The panel will potentially include representation from the postsecondary, industry, innovation, venture capital and investment, banking and finance sectors, as well as from medical research and intellectual property legal expertise,” the budget stated.

The Globe and Mail reported that Jim Balsillie, chair of the Council of Canadian Innovators, will lead as chair of the expert panel. The Globe also reported that Shiri Breznitz, a University of Toronto professor, Dan Herman, a former head of strategy for Innovation Canada, Natalie Raffoul, an Ottawa-based patent lawyer, and Myra Tawfik, a University of Windsor law professor, may also be joining the panel.

Streamlined procurement for homegrown tech

In March, the provincial government announced plans to build a streamlined procurement system to better leverage the collective buying power of the Ontario Public Service and the broader public sector. The new process would streamline the purchasing process across vendors, and would simplify the consolidation of contracts for various technology across the Ontario Public Service and broader public sector, and will drive projected savings of $1 billion per year.

In Thursday’s budget, the government said the streamlined system will be digital, user-focused, and will make it easier and faster for companies, both large and small, to do business with the public sector. The government said it will talk with industry leaders and stakeholders for ideas on how best to centralize the province’s procurement system.

“Increasing access for Ontario firms to sell to their domestic government, through mandated budgetary set-asides in each government department for procurement from local firms, is a model successfully pioneered in the United States and is smart to be adopted in Ontario,” Bergen stated.

Read the full budget here.

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle is a Vancouver-based writer with 5+ years of experience in communications and journalism and a lifelong passion for telling stories. For over two years, she has reported on all sides of the Canadian startup ecosystem, from landmark venture deals to public policy, telling the stories of the founders putting Canadian tech on the map.

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