Future of B.C.’s office of the innovation commissioner uncertain

By rein February 6, 2020

The NDP government may be ditching its innovation commission office — backtracking on a promise made by Premier John Horgan in his inaugural budget. 
The idea came from the government’s Green Party partners, who campaigned on a promise to find new, innovative ways to “ensure B.C.’s long term economic prosperity.” Creating an innovation commission is part of the Confidence and Supply Agreement between the two parties.
By February, 2018, Alan Winter was appointed as the province’s first innovation commissioner with a mandate to champion the province’s tech sector, promote the province as “a lucrative investment location” and network with federal and international partners. Winter was also tasked to ensure B.C. received its “fair share” of federal funding for innovation efforts.
But in a news release earlier this week, the Ministry of Jobs, Economic Development and Competitiveness announced the end of Winter’s tenure and did not lay out plans to appoint a replacement.
Asked about the the future of the office, the jobs ministry told BC Today: “Minister [MichelleMungall will be reviewing Dr. Winter’s advice and recommendations in order to find the best way forward to effectively build on his work.” 
Jock Finlayson, the Business Council of BC’s executive vice-president and chief policy officer, said Winter had been an asset to the business community. 
“It’s good to have an innovation commissioner,” he told BC Today, saying the post “provided another pathway for advice to be provided to the minister and cabinet more generally.” 
B.C. relies heavily on federal funding to support its innovation programs — something Finlayson says Winter knew and could leverage through his “good understanding of the federal picture” and “deep roots” in both the B.C. business community and academia.
Finalyson believes the current government should be doing more to encourage innovation.
“I would say a strong policy agenda around economic development, innovation and productivity has been lacking from this government,” he said, noting its focus on environmental concerns and climate change action as well as reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and tackling poverty. 
“I’m not critical of any of that, but I’m just saying what has been missing up until now I think is the fourth pillar,” he told BC Today. “Those are the first three pillars, but the fourth pillar would be an economic development agenda for the province — and that would include a strong focus on innovation and productivity.”
The BC Business Council will be looking for clues as to how the government intends to proceed in next week’s throne speech and Budget 2020, set to be introduced on February 18.
“I’m interested in what the government has done or is going to do to sort of flesh out a forward looking agenda for innovation in BC,” Finlayson said. “Innovation is kind of a buzzword — it basically is a way to make our businesses more productive, to improve our performance … and that ultimately, is the only sturdy foundation on which to build a higher wage economy.”