Canada’s Budget for Edmonton Businesses

Last night at dinner, the discussion on the federal budget was deafening. Everyone was focused on the escalating debt and the deficit, all with spirited and good intention. But beyond the big looming debt number, not one business owner knew much about the details … the details of which are actually quite interesting.

Edmonton-based businesses have never cared much about the Federal Budget, and I totally respect the reasons why. Budgets have been for government folks, easterners, institutions and non-profits. Why would the federal budget come up in conversation, aside from taxes? What does the budget have to do with my business making money? How is the budget relevant to our day-to-day free-enterprise lives.

Part of me would love to continue asking those questions. But part of me knows that the world is changing and it’s not the smartest strategy to be left behind.

Every Edmonton-based business should read Budget 2017. I don’t mean read to simply find their new personal or corporate tax rates. But read it to understand the underlying policy and directional changes that will shape our country for the next decade or more. Budget 2017 doesn’t do much for the energy sector or for our current economic downturn, but the budget is unusually specific about the path forward and the emerging sectors that are expected to move Canada’s economy ahead.

Read it and engage; or ignore it and be left behind. Because in it, Budget 2017 has significant positive implications for Edmonton – Canada’s 5th largest, youngest, fastest growing municipality – that is being recognized as a major hub for new federal investment.

Beyond the significant support for affordable housing and predictable long-term investment for transit and infrastructure, as successfully championed by Mayor Don Iveson, this budget focused on building our economy through the solid combination of innovation and job creation. Of specific interest to Edmonton-based businesses should be:

  • $400 million over three years to be made available through the Business Development Bank for a new Venture Capital Catalyst Initiative to increase last-stage venture capital available to Canadian entrepreneurs (who submit proposals);
  • $1.4 billion in new financing support for Canada’s cleantech sector (equity finance, working capital and project finance) to promising clean technology firms who want to grow and expand;
  • $125 million to fund a pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence collaboration between Montreal, Toronto-Waterloo and Edmonton, with UofA’s AMII (Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute) recognized as one of the leading programs in the world;
  • $950 million over 5 years to support a small number of business-led innovation “superclusters” that have the greatest potential to accelerate economic growth;
  • 10,000 new Co-op positions for STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) students;
  • Priority sectors for investment will include Advanced Manufacturing, Agri-food, Cleantech, Digital Industries, Health and Biological Sciences and Clean Energy Resources;
  • $7.8 million over two years to implement a new Global Talent Stream under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, as part of the Global Skills Strategy;
  • No changes to capital gain taxes or taxes on stock options, which will benefit the tech sector;
  • $50 million over two years for teaching initiatives to help children learn to code; and
  • $37.5 million per year funding made permanent to Destination Canada, Canada’s national tourism marketing organization, to continue its strong collaboration with industry partners to maximize the impacts of its marketing campaigns to draw in more tourists from abroad.

Now, I’m typically one of the first people to call for balanced budgets. However, if a fiscal stimulus and low interest rates are required to keep our national economy on a positive growth curve, which they are, then these are the areas that have the ability to stimulate a long-term change to business innovation and competitiveness which we so desperately need across the nation.

The programs listed above are very much in line with our priorities at EEDC, through our Investment & Trade, Tourism, Startup Edmonton, Tec Edmonton, Edmonton Research Park and Shaw Conference Centre teams. And these are our teams that connect with local businesses on a daily basis to help Edmonton-based companies understand and benefit from these new programs and sources of funding.

Fiscal stimulus and support programs are needed across the country for our businesses to grow and evolve, adopt new technologies, access new talent and new markets and improve competitiveness. It is part of a larger transition we need to be embracing, otherwise others will and folks like my dinner guests will be left behind.

Please take time to become informed, and see each of these programs as opportunities for your business. Once informed, please connect with us at EEDC to help connect you with some of these new opportunities.

Global Intention

After university, I decided to spend a year abroad – something every student should do before they enter the workforce and inherit the conventional view of possibilities. I headed for Japan, fascinated with how this country had emerged post-WWII as a technological and economic giant. I got lucky and was asked to teach at an elementary school just south of Osaka, and this is what I learned:

Every student in Japan is taught at the elementary school age that they live on an island and that the only way to prosper is to produce goods and services for export and trade. That foundational understanding drives their whole curriculum and policy environment, and results in an entire country that is globally oriented.

Pause. Think about that for a minute. Think about the global awareness, alertness, competitiveness and connectedness that would result from multiple generations becoming globally engaged. What if:

Every student in Alberta is taught at the elementary school age that they live in a land-locked province and that the only way to prosper is to produce goods and services for export and trade. That foundational understanding would then drive the entire curriculum and policy environment, and result in an entire province that is globally oriented and competitive.

This is emerging as my new mission, core to our economic strategy, that would result in a totally new mindset, and that would be an organizing mechanism for driving wealth and prosperity for generations to come.

And that is what we need, a new mindset. For far too many years we have been far too complacent – thinking, building, trading, spending and squabbling within our provincial borders. We have developed a regional mindset, far too reliant on government, and far too disconnected from high-growth markets around the world.

The only sustainable diversification strategy is the diversification of revenue by geographic market – becoming global players – being engaged in emerging markets like China, India, Africa and Brazil that will dominate global growth in the next 20 years, as well as across higher-growth markets in North America.

Our economic future must be global – outside of Alberta. And we need to turn our attention to shaping our international competitiveness by educating our kids properly, building and maintaining economic infrastructure, investing in research and product development, pursuing international trade and investment relationships, and aligning multi-level government resources to connect our businesses to opportunities in international markets.

Japan had the plan, the commitment and the urgency.

We need to do the same.