Yesterday in the Legislature we debated Bill 4: British Columbia Innovation Council Amendment Act. This bill renames the BC Innovation Council as Innovate BC and expands its mandate.
As noted in the government’s press release issued in conjunction with the tabling of the bill,
Innovate BC will absorb all the programs and services currently delivered by the BC Innovation Council, in addition to expanding its mandate. These changes will ensure that B.C. is more competitive nationally and globally, and can attract additional investment to scale up the provincial tech ecosystem.
Below I reproduce the text and video of my speech in support of this bill.
A. Weaver: It gives me pleasure to rise and speak in support of Bill 4, British Columbia Innovation Council Amendment Act. As speakers before me have articulated, this act has two major changes. One, of course, is changing the name of the British Columbia Innovation Council Act to Innovate BC Act. This is important, and I’ll come to that in a second.
The second major change, which I think is very important to emphasize, is that the mandate of Innovate BC, the new organization, will be expanded. In particular, the details as outlined in the previous act, the specific objectives of the council per se in the previous act — that section 3 of the act that’s being modified — is going to have an addition now which says that Innovate B.C. will also “offer tools, resources and expert guidance to entrepreneurs and companies in British Columbia, including in respect of building capacity to access new markets and attract investment.”
Now this is important because, while not specifically stated there, what this is recognizing is the recent appointment of Alan Winter as British Columbia’s innovation commissioner. What the innovation commissioner, of course, is going to be the advocate for the B.C.’s new Innovate B.C. agency.
Why it’s important to change the name? There’s a couple of reasons. When a new organization comes in, it’s often the time to switch the directors of a new organization, to give it a sense of new purpose and new vision and new direction. And we’re quite inspired by Mr. Winter and all that he has done for British Columbia, both in his capacity as CEO of Genome B.C. as a small business, of a large business — just a wealth of experience in innovation across a diversity of areas.
The creation of an innovation commission and the position of innovation commissioner is something that was embedded in our confidence and supply agreement with the B.C. NDP, and we’re grateful to be able to work with them to move this forward. In fact, the so-called CASA agreement states that one of our goals, collectively, is to:
“Establish an innovation commission to support innovation and business development in the technology sector and appoint an innovation commissioner with a mandate to be an advocate ambassador on behalf of the B.C. technology sector in Ottawa and abroad. The mandate and funding of the innovation commission will be jointly established by representatives of both the B.C. Green caucus and the B.C. New Democratic government. And the innovation commission will be created in the first provincial budget tabled by the New Democratic government.”
That, indeed, has been met.
What’s important here is that when one looks at the establishment of the innovation commission, one recognizes that it’s actually at an opportune time, because the focus here in British Columbia is moving to mirror exactly what is happening in Ottawa, recognizing that we can compete in innovation like no one else. So the emergence of innovate B.C. and the commissioner comes at a time when Ottawa is putting money into these very same programs.
It is critical that we have one single point of contact in terms of melding these programs together, because historically, in British Columbia, innovation has been spread across six different and separate ministries — much like fish farms are, as we’ve discussed in question period.
Technology is exciting here, in British Columbia. In 2015, when we have the best data, there were over 100,000 jobs in more than 9,900 companies in B.C., with wages that, on average, were 75 percent higher than the B.C. industrial average; with average weekly earnings of almost $1,600 a week. It had the fifth consecutive year of growth in 2015, and about 5 percent of British Columbia’s workforce was in the tech sector. That’s more than mining, oil and gas, and forestry combined.
I’ll say that again for those riveted at home. There was 5 percent of British Columbia’s workforce in the tech sector in 2015. That is more than mining, oil, gas and forestry combined.
Now, it’s very odd that somehow, in British Columbia, we continue to perpetuate the notion that we are but hewers of wood and drawers of water and that our economy is based on oil and gas or our economy is based on the extraction of raw materials and shipping of those raw materials elsewhere.
In fact, a full 7 percent of our GDP comes from the tech sector. We know that the overwhelming component of our GDP comes from the real estate sector, a very high fraction of it, but 7 percent is from the tech sector. Again, I’ll come back to that in a second.
We know that in 2016, more than 106,000 people were working in the tech sector. By 2020, it’s projected to be more than 120,000. I would suggest that that will be an underestimate. We know that investment in B.C. tech will be increased by up to $100 million by 2020 and that recently — and I give both sides of the House credit here — there’s been an increase in talent pool and an increase in funding of actual post-secondary institution places to actually promote continued growth of training of highly-qualified personnel in this area. That was an initiative started by B.C. Liberals, continued by B.C. NDP, and one that we support all the way through.
We recognize as a caucus, as a small caucus here, that playing a key role in the tech sector is absolutely central to our economy. We will never, ever, ever compete with a jurisdiction like Angola or Namibia or Indonesia in terms of extracting raw resources straight from the ground, because we internalize social and environmental costs into the cost of doing business in B.C. that may not be internalized in other jurisdictions that don’t have the same social programs that we have and demand that we have here in B.C. or the same standard of environmental protection that we have and demand that we have in B.C.
For us to compete, we can compete by racing to the bottom. The journey into LNG tells us what that leads to — goose egg. Or, we can compete by being smarter and by building on our strategic advantages.
Today in the Legislature, we had a number of interns visiting from Washington state. Talking with these interns from Washington state, the idea of building on strategic strengths came up.
What was interesting is that I was reminded of a story when I was at the University of Washington. There was a fella there. His name was Ed Sarachik. He was my post-doctoral adviser. We were working in some climate modelling area, and Ed said to me: “You know, Andrew, we’re at the University of Washington. We’ve got an IBM 3090 here.” That dates me. It was a vector-based machine. It’s pretty old now. That was in the late 1980s. “We’re never going to compete with NCAR, Princeton or MIT in terms of the powerful computing that they have access to. But we can be smarter and more efficient and more clever, and we can win through efficiency and being smarter.”
He was right that by focusing strategically on things that we could do well, rather than the brute force, race to the bottom approach, we were able do some neat stuff. That’s exactly the same with the tech sector. We can’t compete through digging dirt out of the ground when we’re internalizing these costs. But we can be more efficient. We can be cleaner, and we can export in a more efficient and cleaner way the resources that have historically been a key component of British Columbia’s economy.
Now, one of my favourite companies is a company called MineSense in British Columbia. It turns out — and I didn’t realize that until with the mining delegation, when a bunch of my former students ended up lobbying me about mining — that one of the key founders of MineSense was another former student from UVic. This kind of blew me way. I’m sure as a former teacher, hon. Speaker, you know that you see these former students popping up everywhere, and you wonder how they got from where they were to where they are now.
I’m blown away by that company. It’s a company that’s developed technology to actually assess up front the quality of minerals to determine whether or not it is cost-effective to truck it a long distance to the crusher and process all of that grade, or just push it to the side to be used as fill later.
That’s innovation. That’s efficiency. That allows us to actually compete by actually mining our high-grade minerals without wasting the time of digging up all of the stuff that’s not economical. We can export the minerals and compete through efficiency. But we can also export the technology and compete through technology.
This is why it’s so critical to have Innovate B.C. and the innovation commissioner. Because in B.C., we have a disparate bunch of programs out there, many of which don’t match with programs that exist federally. In talking to CEOs of a diversity of small start-up companies, they’re frustrated. They’re frustrated by the fact that they’ll go through a process to apply for grants federally, and then they’ll have to go through the same process in a slightly different way to apply for grants provincially.
I was excited in speaking recently with the innovation commissioner, Alan Winter, who recognizes that there’s some duplication there that’s not necessary. By streamlining programs, not only do we let innovators be innovative, as opposed to writing the same thing twice, but we actually are able more efficiently to tap into federal money, which actually is good for our economy here in British Columbia.
Now I have some experience in this regard with something British Columbia has known as the B.C. Knowledge Development Fund, an exceptional fund that’s used to lever money from Ottawa through the Canada Foundation for Innovation, which provides funding for large pieces of equipment for universities. I don’t know what the process is like now. But I do know that when I applied and got a supercomputer a number of years back, again, it was a duplication of a process.
The CFI process was rigorous and onerous and took an enormous amount of work to bring together stakeholders from a diversity of groups and organizations. Then we had to just rematch that process with the B.C. Knowledge Development Fund. It seemed to me that if we follow the Quebec model that there’s some duplication there, and we recognized that one process could satisfy everything.
I’m hoping that the innovation commissioner will see, as we move forward, opportunities here. It’s clear to me that we are so very lucky to have Alan Winter as the innovation commissioner. He recognizes, as members opposite have raised, the importance of actually thinking beyond roads as just being things to take people from A to B, but in terms of broadband, it’s critical to getting information from A to B.
It’s clear to me that he recognizes that our rural communities will be empowered upon receiving access to broadband, not only singular broadband but redundancy, as some bigger communities will get.
This is how we’ll compete. When we bring our tech sector…. Tech doesn’t just mean coding apps for the smartphone. Tech means biomedical sciences. Tech means revised forestry handling tools. Tech means thinking of new engineered wood products. Tech means bringing together the forestry sector with innovators in technology who see that you can make new things like insulation from wood products or roofing beams from wood products.
Tech is about innovation, and innovation goes far beyond what often people think that it only is, which is the smartphone app.
Our biomedical industry, as I mentioned, is one. In the automotive industry, we should be having innovation in that here in British Columbia. We should be leaders in the adoption of EVs.
Quantum computing. In British Columbia, we have, in D-Wave, one of the world’s leading companies in quantum computing. This is tech. This is a way for the future. We’ve got fuel cell technology. That’s another form of tech.
Let’s not think that tech is just about smart people with lab coats who have engineering degrees. Tech also requires people to construct and build and highly trained people in a diversity of trades, whether it be electrical, whether it be mechanical, whether it be the construction using carpentry. You need all skills working together to actually take the idea from the lab bench to fruition.
You know, we look at the issue of clean energy, something that I’m desperately hoping this government will pick up. There is so much potential for innovation in British Columbia, whether it be Rocky Mountain Solar, a project that I hope to get the member for Kootenay East excited about shortly. Rocky Mountain Solar is a solar company that has private land. The transmission lines go right through the private land. They’ve passed the standing offer program. They gone through the standing offer program, but they can’t actually get going. They’ve got a partnership with UBC to actually have a research facility there. They could scale up to 45, 50, 75 megatonnes of capacity.
But again, if we’re stuck thinking the old way, the 20th-century way, companies like Rocky Mountain Solar, who want to invest their capital…. They want to construct and build, which requires carpenters and tradespeople, to build capacity for a solar field there — British Columbia’s first and only grid-scale solar facility. It needs innovation, and it needs a champion and a commission that actually can do that within government by bringing together the various diverse groups there.
You know, I’m excited by the Minister of Jobs, Trade and Technology. In particular….
A. Weaver: It’s a mouthful for a poor humble soul like me — Minister of Jobs, Trade and Technology.
A. Weaver: I thought I’d wake a few up there over that. Not allowed to speak if you’re not in your seat there, member from….
I’m excited because in meeting with the civil service who are working in this area, you can see the passion and the desire to make this work. I’m thrilled with the calibre of the civil service who are getting behind this Innovate B.C. initiative. I’m thrilled about what’s coming up in terms of the tech summit that’s going to be happening in the coming months.
We have a very exciting time, but we’ve got to get a handle on a couple things. The innovation commission, or Innovate B.C., the innovation commissioner, can’t do everything. Government is required to set a culture. Government is required to set an environment that allows them to innovate.
What does that mean? That means we’ve got to get a grip on the affordability crisis facing British Columbians. You can be the best innovative person in the world and have the most wonderful idea in the world, but if you can’t get anyone to work with you because they can’t afford to live here, it ain’t going to take off . It’s going to move to New Brunswick or somewhere else.
We also have to ensure that we have a competitive environment in terms of the tax and the education framework. I have some sympathy with members of the opposition who are raising concerns about the employers health tax. It’s not clear to me that the details have been expanded upon fully yet, but this needs to be explored a little more, for a number of reasons.
We have a very odd taxation system in British Columbia. We have this magical barrier of $500,000, above which you start paying, now, an employers health tax, and you also start paying corporate tax.
Now, the problem with that is there’s a natural ceiling which stops innovation and growth. Why would I, if I’m a company making $450,000 a year, want to move up to be a company that’s now making $550,000 a year? I cross that $500,000 threshold. It’s an artificial threshold, but now I’m paying corporate tax and paying the employers health tax.
We need to take a hard look at how we have our taxation system. Step functions are not as conducive to growth as perhaps small linear changes. Again, that will be the role of the government — to explore that more fully.
This is a short bill. It may seem like a minor change, but the implications are profound, because the implications are sending a signal to the market in British Columbia that we’re here for the 21st century. Innovation is going to be the engine and power of our economy, and we want to send a signal to British Columbia that there is an agency. There is a champion to actually ensure that innovation is able to emerge at the lab bench and move through to production down the road.
Let’s ensure that that happens in British Columbia. Let’s ensure that the stories that we hear time and time again of a company building it to $1 million a year and then selling out to a Silicon Valley company…. Let’s create an environment here in British Columbia, not only in Vancouver but across B.C.
The member for Kamloops–South Thompson talks about the tech sector in Kamloops. He’s right. Really exciting things are going on in Kamloops. We’ve got the tech sector in Kelowna — happening there as well. Some concerns about Kelowna in light of some changes to the distance and digital tax credits that were done, dismissed and retroactively applied. Nevertheless, there’s some excitement happening there. But it doesn’t have to stop in Kelowna and Kamloops.
Prince George. If we put broadband redundancy in there, it should be a capital of tech innovation, particularly with the forest and mining sectors. We could go to Terrace. We go to Prince Rupert. All across British Columbia, if we’re able to bring broadband and broadband redundancy in, we’re able to give the innovators in that community a way to actually access high-speed information. I tell you, it’s a lot easier to buy a house in Fort Nelson than it is to buy a house in Richmond.
The beauty and quality of what we offer here in British Columbia is second to none, whether it be in the north, in the east or the south as well.
I’m thrilled to see this emerge — Bill 4. It’s a small change but a mighty change, and I stand in strong support and thank you for your attention on this bill.
On February 10, the BC Green caucus called on the BC Government to take steps to promote the BC wine industry in light of Alberta’s recent petty announcement that it was initiating a boycott.
We are delighted that the BC Government today announced a number of measures to support and promote the BC Wine Industry.
Below is the media release we issued in response to this announcement.
B.C. Green Caucus welcomes provincial measures to support B.C. wines
For immediate release
February 14, 2018
VICTORIA, B.C. – Andrew Weaver, leader of the B.C. Green Party, welcomed the government’s measures to support the B.C. wine industry. Weaver previously called for a number of the same measures on February 10.
“I am glad that our government is standing up for this signature B.C. industry,” said Weaver.
“We called for a number of these measures last week because our wine industry represents the exact type of business we should be championing in this province. B.C.’s wineries are innovative, homegrown businesses that generate significant economic activity for communities across the province. After seeing the previous government relentlessly chase economically unviable sunset industries like LNG, it is frankly refreshing to see our government focus on sustainable local businesses.”
“I had the opportunity to meet with a number of Okanagan wineries over the past couple weeks. We have heard many exciting ideas about how we can better support them. Smaller wineries in particular benefit from a focus on tourism that brings people to B.C. We will continue to push for measures that will help B.C. wineries of all sizes thrive.”
Adam Olsen, B.C. Green Party spokesperson for Agriculture, added, “I am delighted that Minister Popham is stepping up to support B.C wine. B.C.’s wine industry generates $2 billion worth of economic activity and they’re growing: between 2003 and 2016, the number of B.C. wineries increased from 81 to to 273. We are only seeing the beginning of the success for this incredible industry.”
Jillian Oliver, Press Secretary
+1 778-650-0597 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Today we issued a media release calling on the BC Government to promote the BC wine industry in light of Alberta’s recent petty announcement that it was initiating a boycott. I reproduce our media release below.
On a slightly different note, readers who might think that the BC Liberals were good for the BC Wine industry might wish to think again. Their mismanagement of the BC Wine Institute VQA specialty licenses has led to NAFTA and WTO challenges by the US and Australia, respectively.
There was no need to create new licenses as the existing ones had already been grandparented in. There would have been no grounds for challenges if they had simply left things alone.
I warned the BC Liberals in 2015 that this was likely going to happen. Unfortunately this is now yet another mess created by the BC Liberals that has to be cleaned up.
B.C. Greens call for Government support of B.C. Wine industry
For immediate release
February 10, 2018
VICTORIA, B.C. – Andrew Weaver, Leader of the B.C. Green Party today called for the B.C. government to take immediate mitigation steps to help provide support for B.C. wineries.
“B.C.’s wine industry is a provincial treasure that brings significant tourism and economic activity to our province,” Weaver said.
“More than that, it represents the best of our province – innovators who have developed their businesses into an internationally renowned region. Today we are calling for the provincial government to take decisive action to support these businesses who have been unfairly targeted by a neighbouring government.”
Specific mitigation measures currently supported by the B.C. Greens include:
“The B.C. Green Caucus is 100% behind the government’s decision to ensure that major decisions are based on sound evidence – something that was not the case in the approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline. It is incredibly petty that the Alberta NDP government has chosen to go after small business in B.C. in response and we hope all British Columbians will we stand with us in support of our coastline and in support of our wineries.”
Jillian Oliver, Press Secretary
+1 778-650-0597 | email@example.com
Western Economic Diversification Canada today announced a $787,115 investment in the Victoria-based Alacrity Foundation of B.C. to support the western clean technology sector. BC announced that it would supplement this funding with an additional $79,000.
We are absolutely thrilled with this investment in Alacrity. The foundation has played a crucial role in incubating, nurturing and growing innovative local tech companies through to maturation. They have a global reach with regional offices in China, France, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Singapore, Turkey, Wales and Ottawa, Ontario.
Below I reproduce a copy of our press release celebrating this investment.
Weaver welcomes clean tech investment from Western Economic Diversification to Alacrity
For immediate release
January 23, 2018
VICTORIA, B.C. – Andrew Weaver, leader of the B.C. Green Party, welcomed an investment of over $787,115 to the Alacrity Foundation of B.C. to support the Western Clean technology sector.
“This is exactly the type of investment we need to be making to ensure that B.C. and Canada are global economic leaders,” said Weaver.
“The world is forging ahead with the transition to the low-carbon economy. Countries as diverse as China, to Germany, to Saudi Arabia are investing heavily in clean technology and alternative energy. With our highly educated workforce, outstanding postsecondary institutions and entrepreneurial spirit, B.C. is poised to be a leader in the clean tech revolution.
“Government has a significant role to play in championing this vision and setting the priorities for our province. Our party will continue to support investment and innovation in this sector so that we can make this vision a reality.”
Jillian Oliver, Press Secretary
+1 778-650-0597 | firstname.lastname@example.org
As noted earlier, today in the Legislature we were in Committee Stage for Bill 2: Budget Measures Implementation Act 2017. This is a bill that implements the various initiatives discussed in the BC government’s most recent budget update.
One of the sections in the Bill dealt with shutting down the International Business Activity Program. I took this issue very seriously as I was concerned about the unforeseen or unintended consequences of cutting this program. Prior to speaking to the amendment I sought two briefings on this particular section of the bill from staff within the Finance ministry. The evidence I gathered informed the decision I ultimately made.
Below I provide the rationale for my support in eliminating this program.
I also append in the text below an exchange I had with Shirley Bond, the MLA for Prince George-Valemont. In it you will see that I support her statement that the partisan BC NDP Caucus claim that AdvantageBC was a BC Liberal corporate giveaway scheme was not supported by the evidence (the program started under the Social Credit government in 1988).
A. Weaver: I thank the member for Prince George–Valemount for putting forward the amendment. I also wish to thank her sincerely for providing me with information, including a copy of the MMK Consulting report Building B.C.’s Brand and Assessment of the International Business Activity Program.
I have sought two briefings on this particular section of the bill out of concern, as expressed by the member for Prince George–Valemount and others on the opposition side, with respect to: what are the unforeseen or unintended consequences perhaps of cutting this program?
I will say also that I do commend the present CEO of the program, who has clearly taken steps since a previous review to get it on its right track. But if we come, in speaking to the amendment, back to the history of this program, the international business activity program was actually brought forth in 1988 at a time when the corporate tax rate — combined province and federally here in British Columbia — was over 50 percent.
At the time, the rationale for bringing it in was that in British Columbia we were not competitive with other jurisdictions in terms of the corporate tax rate.
Now, as of January 2018, the corporate Canada-plus-B.C. tax rate will be 23 percent. Corporate tax rate has come down 23 percent since the introduction of this program.
If we look, very recently, in terms of what this program is being used at, I have, in the briefings that I’ve sought to get to the full details here…. I understand that, in terms of what’s using it, factoring contributes about 29 percent; dealing in securities, about 28 percent; foreign exchange, about 33 percent; and other issues, such as with the film industry, etc., 10 percent of the usage.
Now, the issue of factoring is an interesting one. What it allows to occur, for example, is British Columbia…. It’s done in a non-arm’s-length fashion. You can set up, in a non-arm’s-length fashion, businesses in other jurisdictions. For example, if I’m a business, I can trade amongst myself by setting up a corporation in America, say, and have a company in Canada. I can go back and forth between myself and take advantage of the tax credits in this program, when really all I’m doing is taking advantage of something that is finding a means and ways of taking advantage of a specific tax break.
Where it gets particularly egregious…. This is a 33 percent that comes in with foreign exchange. I’d like to give a specific example. Let’s suppose that I would like to loan you $100 million U.S., and in order of doing that, I’m going to not loan you but find you $100 million U.S. as capital, so you’re going to get access to it. There may be, say, a 5 percent or a 3 percent commission attached with that. Now, if I’m registered in this, I can go and get the B.C. taxpayer to give me a 12 percent tax credit on that 3 percent commission.
The problem here is that that’s just not right. Why should the B.C. taxpayer…? This is 33 percent of the business model within this international business activity program. One-third of all the activity involves foreign exchange. Any service fee associated with getting money from somewhere…. And it just has to be the money. It doesn’t have to come from another jurisdiction. If it’s another foreign currency, it’s eligible for the money.
One-third of the business model, and you get a 12 percent tax credit. The B.C. taxpayer is subsidizing those who don’t need a subsidy just for the commission. It’s just wrong. I can’t see any justification for that.
You know, I’ve looked at this in detail. I understand that this report is a thoughtful report by MMK Consulting. Unfortunately, it only relied upon interviews, and pre-audited fees were looked at — that is the information that was used. That’s my understanding. The claim of 7,800 jobs that was embedded in this report is actually based on a large number of assumptions that I think could be challenged by the civil service and government if the actual income tax reporting data were available.
I’m not saying that this isn’t a thorough report, but I’m saying the analysis in this report did not have the actual data, the income tax data, that would allow it to make exact or precise assessments of jobs and income.
I took this very seriously. I took the suggestion of the member for Prince George–Valemount very, very seriously. It was not until the second extensive briefing from the civil service…. I’m very grateful to the minister and the staff of the civil service who have provided me with this briefing. It is only after extensive briefing that I must say now that I support the rationale here in recognition of the good work done by the present CEO, and I cannot support this amendment.
S. Bond: I appreciate the comments that have been made. I go back to the fact that the quote that I…. You know, this is a reasoned amendment. It’s not saying that eventually this program needs to be tweaked, modified, changed, but the minister has moved on this issue more quickly than anything else that she’s undertaken. I go back to the words in the NDP government caucus release that “there is a lack of evidence and this is a B.C. Liberal giveaway scheme.”
The request is a simple one. Take a look. Extend the time frame. The program has shown benefit, and I think our job in this House is actually to ask those questions. While there may be some amusement about that on the other side, the fact of the matter is that this has made a difference in British Columbia.
The question is simply: why so quickly? Why not give it the opportunity?
And to the minister: “I’m not interested in referring it to the task force.” That’s exactly what a task force is created for. It’s simply the opportunity to take a look at a program that’s existed, look at its merits and its weaknesses, and take the opportunity to take some due process here. In fact, in our view…. That’s why the amendment has been tabled. There was a significant lack of due process. Quick action. We’re simply asking for reconsideration and allowing there to be some time before the decision moves forward.
A. Weaver: I wanted to stand and support the member for Prince George–Valemount’s comments, with respect to this being a Liberal giveaway. Clearly, this is not a B.C. Liberal giveaway. It’s a program that was established under the Social Credit government in 1988. It was developed and continued through the NDP governments of the 1990s and continued through the 2000s under a B.C. Liberal government.
I think it’s very unfortunate wording that it’s been phrased that way, but it doesn’t change my views with respect to the actual amendment itself. I do respect the fact that it was brought forward. I think it’s a very reasoned amendment. But in light of the briefings that I’ve had with Finance staff, I remain still committed in opposition to this amendment