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New Brunswick bets on innovation

Premier David Alward warms to creation of fifth government innovation entity, despite significant opposition.


May 16, 2012
by The Canadian Press

FREDERICTON: New Brunswick Premier David Alward appeared warm to a report recommending the creation of a fifth government entity that promotes innovation, an idea that a leading economist said would be a waste of money.

The report, released by a working group that examined ways to foster innovation in the province, outlined 38 recommendations intended to boost economic development.

Among them was one calling for a new entity that would co-ordinate the efforts of Invest NB, Business New Brunswick, the New Brunswick Innovation Fund and the Economic Development Department.

After receiving the report, Alward said he will soon announce another group that would include people from the government, academia and industry to review the recommendations and report back on how to proceed.

But he said there was a need for a body to oversee the government’s plan to revitalize the province’s economy through innovation.

“There does need to be a glue to hold everything together and provide an overall co-ordination,” said Alward. “I don’t expect in any way that you would see this become another bureaucracy.”

But Donald Savoie, an expert in public policy at the University of Moncton, said creating another government entity is duplication and a waste of money.

“It may be that there’s a need for an arm’s-length group,” Savoie said. “But rather than create one, why don’t we take one, kill it, and save that money in order to launch a new activity?”

Liberal Opposition Leader Victor Boudreau said the government has not done enough to strengthen the economy since it was elected in October 2010.

“What we see here is a government that for 19 months has dragged its feet and now all of a sudden is pretending it has a plan,” Boudreau said. “Yet their own plan says they have to wait for another plan. It’s more feet-dragging and not enough action.”

The report also recommends a so-called Buy New Brunswick policy for the government that would see the province accept greater risk by buying from companies with less experience and less history.

Alward said the government would exercise its due diligence if such a policy were adopted.

“This is not an Atcon,” he said, referring to the fabrication company that received $6.3 million in loans and subsidies in 2007 and another $63.3 million in loan guarantees in 2008 and 2009 before it went bankrupt.

“This is very strategic investments with New Brunswick companies that can allow us to build solutions within government and how we provide services.”

Other recommendations include increasing the number of available seats in the community college system by 25%, having entrepreneur training as part of the elementary, middle and high school curriculum, and revising the tax system in such a way that would make it more attractive to invest in New Brunswick companies.

©The Canadian Press