Cheatsheet: 5 things in the Throne Speech about B.C. tech and innovation

And perhaps a few clues for what to expect in the April 20 budget.

Today the provincial government gave its annual Throne Speech, outlining the NDP’s priorities over the next year.

While acknowledging that “the pandemic is the toughest challenge we have faced in more than a generation,” the government highlighted policy priorities covering healthcare, housing, business and climate change.

In a typical Throne Speech and budget (to come next week), every interest group and constituency usually gets a mention. This time around, innovators got 17 shoutouts with the use of words like innovation (7), technology (4), digital (3), innovative (2), science (1) and entrepreneurship (1).

But what was said exactly? We’ve taken a look, and carved out the key points. Instead of reading the nearly 5,000 words Lieutenant Governor Janet Austin said, here you can read just over 600. Continue on for five innovation-related notes from the 2021 Throne Speech.

1. B.C.’s life sciences sector in the spotlight

The government called out B.C.’s life sciences sector, noting that “B.C. is home to 300 biopharmaceutical, medical device, and bioproduct companies.”

COVID-19 has highlighted the enormous benefits offered by this sector. Think of Precision NanoSystems' work on a vaccine, AbCellera Biologics' work on a treatment, or StarFish Medical's development of an ICU ventilator for use in Canadian hospitals. Their work will not only help bring us out of the pandemic, it will position our province for success in the years ahead.

2. An emphasis on “bridging the digital divide"

As every business columnist has written over the past year, Lt.-Gov. Austin said that the “pandemic has changed how we work and connect with others.” She also acknowledged that this reality looks different depending on if you work in an urban centre or a remote or rural community.

With that context, the government took an opportunity to highlight their recent investments in expanded connectivity across the province. “Now over 10,000 more households across the province have better internet,” they claim.

Funding provided through the StrongerBC Recovery Plan will add hundreds of kilometres of cell coverage on B.C. highways, making life safer for people. Your government's upcoming budget will continue this work with new investments to boost digital connectivity in even more rural communities.

3. Small businesses front and centre

The pandemic’s impact on B.C.’s small businesses has been immense. It forced most of them to shift how they operate to mirror consumer behaviour. Lt.-Gov. Austin read, “Every step of the way, your government has been there to help them adapt to the new reality,” while noting the government’s Launch Online program, which helps SMEs enhance their digital presence and online stores.

Small businesses are vital to our local economies and our communities. They help give neighbourhoods their distinctive character. Many of us got our first job at a small business. Even in normal times, it takes skills and tenacity to run a successful small business – faced with thin margins and an ever-changing marketplace.

4. A slightly new kind of economy

New, as in, new language from the NDP. This is the seventh Throne Speech from Premier John Horgan’s government, and in each one, they shift their language slightly. I only notice this because I’m a former communications director, and I know that nobody is more obessesed with language and messaging than governments and their communications teams. How has the NDP’s dominant messaging on the type of economy they want to build shifted? Ever so slightly.

  • June 2017: “a growing economy that is the envy of Canada”

  • September 2017: “a strong, sustainable economy”

  • February 2018: “a sustainable, diverse economy

  • February 2019: “a sustainable economy”

  • February 2020: “a strong, sustainable economy”

  • April 2021: “an innovative, sustainable, and inclusive economy”

Buckle up, everyone’s invited on this new economic adventure. Where are we headed? The future. How will we get there? “In the year ahead,” said Lt.-Gov. Austin, “your government will take additional steps to support innovation and technology.” Like?

During this session, your government will introduce legislation to support the operations of InBC Investment Corporation. This new [$500 million] strategic fund will help promising B.C. companies scale up, anchor talent – keeping jobs and investment at home in British Columbia.

In addition, the government has plans to support food producers and innovators with an Agritech Concierge, which was a recommendation from the Premier’s Food Security Task Force. And…

5. Cleantech and climate solutions

The province plans to move full speed ahead with it’s CleanBC plan, which they argue is “North America's most progressive plan to reduce carbon pollution, while creating good new family-supporting jobs.”

To make life more affordable for people, and reduce emissions, your government is making it easier to buy electric vehicles and working to support emissions reductions in transit fleets and heavy-duty trucking. And newly announced sectoral emission targets will keep government accountable as it works with each sector of the economy to reduce emissions, while remaining globally competitive.

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