2020 Provincial Budget

February 18, 2020

Today Finance Minister Carole James released her government’s latest budget. Entitled ‘A Stronger BC, For Everyone: A balanced plan to keep BC moving forward’ the emphasis was on the government’s frequently stated 3 priorities:

  • Making life more affordable
  • Delivering the services British Columbians depend on
  • Building a sustainable economy that creates opportunities for everyone.

What does it mean for an economy to be sustainable? Strength. Stability. Fairness. Growth. And – in a challenging global environment where the only constant is change – a willingness and enthusiasm to engage with what’s ahead.  We cannot safely and optimally drive a car, let alone an economy, if we spend our time looking in the rear-view mirror. BC’s sustainable economic future has at its heart a keen understanding of global trends, including the climate imperative, the opportunities in technology and innovation, and the foundational importance of education and skills training.

Budget 2020 articulated this well but included no new spending for technology and innovation. The core funding for Innovate BC, the crown agency that champions technology and funds capacity building programs across the province remained stable at $6.1M. The ramp up to deliver the additional 2900 tech relevant post-secondary places announced in Budget 2018 continues to unfold – by 2022/23 an incremental $42M will have been invested.  Newly announced childcare benefits and education grants will help more British Columbians participate in the knowledge economy.

On the surface, it may appear that all is well in BC’s tech sector. The industry is seeing steady growth thanks to diligent work from tech companies to overcome obstacles to scaling their businesses and commercializing our world-leading products, even in the presence of a continued talent crunch and housing affordability challenges.  But a closer look at the data reveals our twin challenges:  Other tech sectors in places such as Ontario, Colorado and Washington state are now growing tech GDP faster than BC. And BC Tech’s analysis of StatsCan business count data shows little to no growth in the number of scaled-up technology companies with 200+ employees, the size needed to anchor sustainable companies that provide good jobs to thousands and tax revenues for government.

Still, there is some light in the tunnel. Interestingly, the most visionary economic development policy of this government has come from the Ministry of the Environment. In Budget 2019, $900M was provided over 3 years to deploy the CleanBC plan and in Budget 2020 a further $400M has been earmarked to bring total funding over 4 years to $1.3B. This is a significant and meaningful investment in BC’s innovative future economy. It offers the potential for BC to lead the way not only on climate action but on developing and deploying the technology needed to deliver green outcomes. Clean is the side effect of smart.