BC Election Platform Commentary

The May 12 provincial election race is on and both the NDP and the Liberal Party have released their election platforms. With the global economic crisis as a backdrop, jobs, social issues and the economic response dominate the agenda. Neither party gives the technology industry more than a passing mention.

NDP Platform – “Take Back BC”

The NDP positions itself as the party that will bring change, but their platform provides limited vision for the province, focusing on small pain points rather than the big picture.

We do applaud the NDP for (indirectly) acknowledging the access to capital issues that encumber our industry by committing $200M of their Green Bond to fund clean technology over the next ten years. However, we disagree with the fiscal instrument chosen. A $10B bond issue, however it is branded, still creates $10B in new provincial debt. Thus, we prefer the Innovative Clean Energy (ICE) fund introduced in 2008 by the Liberal government that funds $25M per year for clean energy technology projects through a revenue-neutral energy levy.

Ultimately, capital needs to come from capital markets and from a strong financial services sector. As such, we cannot support the NDP’s re-introduction of a capital tax that burdens BC’s financial services sector.

However, we do recognize the NDP for making specific technology recommendations: fuelling technology transfer; acquiring lands in Vancouver’s False Creek Flats to help build the high-tech cluster; developing more technology parks across the province in partnership with local post-secondary institutions.

How technology transfers are to be fuelled is left open, but the principle itself is certainly valuable. Given the ongoing development of the Great Northern Way lands and Discovery Park’s acquisition of the adjoining QLT property, we wonder how the acquisition of dedicated high-tech land will fit into the picture. In the past, the BCTIA has called for high-tech start-up space and infrastructure, and regional tech parks to facilitate the spin-outs from post-secondary institutions outside the Lower Mainland, and it is an initiative we continue to support.

One area in which we disagree with the NDP’s position is energy. The NDP bashes independent power producers (many of whom use alternative energy technologies) and intends to eliminate BC Hydro’s Smart Metering Program. A key component of the Smart Grid, smart meters will help consumers manage their own energy consumption and allow them to sell excess energy back into the grid through net metering. Smart metering improves the potential for local power generation, much of which is based on alternative and green technologies.

Clean energy is one area where BC can lead North America and generate wealth for the province, both from energy sales and the export of our technologies and know-how, and we can do this while also reducing our carbon footprint. It does not make sense to sacrifice this future for the sake of votes today.

Liberal Party Platform – “Keep BC Strong”

The Liberal Party platform contains no surprises, reflecting the budget presented in February. As such, the platform does not introduce any new major initiatives and instead focuses on the party’s proven leadership and continuity in difficult times. The technology industry does receive a brief mention that commits the Liberals to working with all stakeholders within the sector for its advancement, but does not contain specific initiatives.

With the incumbent government we have the benefit of looking at its track record. This yields better insights than the analysis of the platform document. The technology industry as part of the overall business sector has certainly benefited from the Liberals’ re-establishment of a business-friendly environment over the past eight years.

Overall the Campbell government has a strong record for improving the business environment in BC. Lowering both corporate and personal taxes has provided benefits in the areas of investments, job creation and talent attraction by helping to make BC a desirable destination for capital and people. The technology sector has also been helped by incentive programs such as the Venture Capital Corporation (VCC) and Eligible Business Corporation (EBC) tax credits, the ongoing support of the province for the Employee Venture Capital Corp. (EVCC), as well as the formation of the BC Renaissance Fund, designed to improve access to later-stage funding. In addition, the Campbell government has taken a leadership position in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and has provided a fertile environment for our clean technology companies, which are expected to be a major source of growth for the technology sector in the years to come.

A detailed review of actions taken by the Liberal government over the past eight years is provided in the 12th Report of the Premier’s Technology Council, released in mid-April. This report, unlike previous ones, makes few new recommendations. However, it does review the ways in which previous recommendations have been implemented, as well as providing a strategic context for this review. The report also indicates areas where further improvements are required going forward.

There are two areas in the respective party platforms that warrant additional commentary. The first is government procurement. The NDP provides a discussion of potential policies to encourage buying locally, while the Liberals focus on breaking down inter-provincial trade barriers to help create new markets within Canada. The BCTIA supports efforts for procurement provincially and locally, provided such policies don’t incent our companies to stay small by limiting competition through an inefficient market. Domestic procurement by governments (and industry) can facilitate the growth of our companies, allowing them to grow and then export proven solutions outside BC using economies of scale, and in the process create real wealth for the province. We do support stronger procurement policies.

The second issue is workplace training, and we urge both parties to reassess their thinking in this area. Both the Liberals and the NDP focus on apprenticeships and corresponding training tax credits for companies with apprentices. While a focus on apprenticeships is beneficial for traditional industries, it completely misses the mark in helping knowledge workers upgrade their skills to retain their relevance and competitive edge, and to commercialize intellectual property. With the BCTIA’s focus on talent, this is one area where we will continue to push for solutions that include the technology sector.

We understand that this election is not being fought over big future concepts, but rather the issues that British Columbians face today in a difficult economic climate. However, once the election is in the books, attention will have to be paid to our economic future.

In our recent work with the Business Council of BC on the Opportunities BC 2020 project, it became clear that knowledge-based industries will have to complement our traditional reliance on resource-based industries for BC to maintain and expand its prosperity. The technology industry will play a key role in this transition over the next ten years. In addition to providing a favourable business environment and supportive initiatives, the government will have to take a strategic approach in building a more knowledge-based economy.

To that end we will require proactive initiatives that grow our exports, facilitate the growth of larger technology companies, allow us to build on our existing strength in ITC, Life Sciences, Clean Tech and New Media, structurally enable the government to plan and act strategically, and continue to improve our education system.

The BCTIA will be working closely with the provincial government and all interested stakeholders in the months and years ahead.

Pascal Spothelfer,President & CEO

BC Technology Industry Association