"Support for women, particularly those who lead businesses, is a central pillar of the latest federal budget, a point underscored in Waterloo today by Navdeep Bains, Canada’s Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development.
“We are a feminist government and this is a feminist budget,” Bains told a crowd gathered in the atrium of Lazaridis Hall at Wilfrid Laurier University, where he took part in a wide-ranging question-and-answer session about the budget tabled Tuesday in Ottawa.
The midday talk touched on everything from support for scientific research to talent retention to the $950-million Innovation Superclusters Initiative, but Bains put particular emphasis on diversity as an economic driver, and on women as an underrepresented group when it comes to business.
“If we want to succeed and if we want to grow, we need to promote equality,” he said. “Clearly this budget is saying when we invest in diversity – and in particular, when we invest in women – it’s not only the right thing to do, but it’s good for the Canadian economy as well.”
To that end, Budget 2018 includes:
- An increase in the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) Women in Tech Fund to $200 million from $70 million, and increased financing for women entrepreneurs overall, with $1.4 billion over three years to be offered through BDC’s lending programs
- $105 million over five years to support a Women’s Entrepreneurship Strategy through Canada’s Regional Development agencies
- $10 million over five years to provide expanded export services to scaling companies led by women
- Increased efforts to improve diversity in private venture capital firms, including through an ongoing focus on diversity at firms that want to participate in the government’s Venture Capital Catalyst Initiative announced in the 2017 budget
Speaking with reporters after Wednesday’s discussion, Bains credited Communitech’s Fierce Founders program for women entrepreneurs – which garnered specific mention in the budget – for helping to focus the government’s attention on addressing the relative lack of women-led businesses in Canada.
Minister Navdeep Bains speaks at Wilfrid Laurier University’s Lazaridis Hall
on Feb. 28, 2018. (Communitech photo: Anthony Reinhart)
“Right now, we have 16 per cent women-led businesses in Canada; we want to double that by 2025,” Bains said. “Initiatives by Communitech, for example, really will help us achieve those targets. We want to be very ambitious, but we recognize that we don’t have all the ideas, and we want to really support great initiatives.
“Communitech does great work in promoting women founders and more businesses led by women, and that’s what we want to see more of,” he continued. “That’s why we made those specific investments in the budget.”
In addition to increased support for women entrepreneurs, this year’s budget, tabled by Finance Minister Bill Morneau, contains several initiatives that expand on the Trudeau government’s efforts to spur innovation and strengthen Canada’s tech economy.
Other key areas include:
Taxation of passive investments
Following through on a commitment Morneau made at the Communitech Data Hub last October, the government has significantly revised its plan to tax so-called “passive investments,” which investors feared would have hindered angel and venture capital investment.
As recommended by the Barton Advisory Council on Economic Growth, the government is consolidating its current 93 innovation programs into 31, based on four platforms: the Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP), the Strategic Innovation Fund, the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service, and Regional Development Agencies. It is also increasing funding to two programs familiar to Waterloo Region tech companies: IRAP will receive an additional $700 million over the next five years and $150 million per year going forward, while FedDev will receive $920 million over six years.
Along with the increased funding, projects of up to $10 million will now be eligible for IRAP, up from the previous $1 million, and projects over $10 million will be part of the Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF).
In a bid to become a bigger and better customer for Canadian tech startups and scaling companies, the government is rolling its Build in Canada Innovation Program (BCIP) into the new Innovative Solutions Canada procurement program. The government has also pledged $196.8 million to build a new online procurement platform.
Cyber security strategy
$508 million was committed to cyber security initiatives over the next five years, including:
- $155 million to the Communications and Security Establishment (CSE) to launch a Canadian Centre for Cyber Security
- $116 million for a National Cyber Crime Co-ordination Unit in the RCMP
- $236.5 million to support a National Cyber Security Strategy
Intellectual property strategy
The government has rolled out elements of the IP strategy that it committed to last year, including:
- $30 million to establish a patent collective to help scaling Canadian companies access the patents they need.
- $21.5 million to develop IP expertise and legal advice for Canadian companies
- $33.8 million to establish an IP marketplace as a one-stop, online listing of public sector-owned intellectual property available for licensing or sale, to reduce transaction costs for businesses and researchers
- $572.5 million, spread over five years, to increase access to advanced computing and big data for researchers
- $15 million, spread over three years, for Waterloo’s Institute for Quantum Computing
- $4.6 million, over five years, to boost the effectiveness of the Startup Visa program
- $10 million, over five years, for the Canadian Technology Accelerator program, which helps companies pursue business in foreign markets