Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux waits to appear before the Commons Finance committee on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday March 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Liberals’ ‘supercluster’ program falling short of promised jobs, economic growth

The Liberals said Tuesday that the program had created more than 6,100 jobs

The parliamentary spending watchdog says a government program to fuse public and private money to promote innovation appears to be well shy of its promise.

The Liberals created their “supercluster” program in 2018, putting in $918 million over five years to bring business, academic institutions and other non-profits together for research projects that could have economic benefits.

The private and academic partners in the endeavour were expected to spend over $1 billion over the same time.

The federal spending was supposed to create 50,000 jobs and boost the country’s gross domestic product by $50 billion over a decade, through advances in everything from supply-chain management to fisheries.

But the parliamentary budget officer said Tuesday that spending has lagged and it’s not clear how many jobs have actually been created.

Yves Giroux’s latest report said it is unlikely that the government will meet its economic growth expectations for the programs.

Giroux also said the department overseeing the program couldn’t provide specific ways to measure the boosts in innovation that the spending is to provide, echoing a concern from the Council of Canadian Innovators about clear metrics and a strategy to commercialize any developments.

“This program has been ineffective in building national prosperity for all Canadians and has not lived up to the stated expectations of government or the drivers of Canada’s innovation economy, therefore requiring an important pivot in the time of COVID,” the council’s executive director, Benjamin Bergen, said in a statement.

The report is based on information collected before the COVID-19 pandemic struck Canada, and Giroux suggests parliamentarians may want to get more details about how the pandemic has affected the supercluster program.

One effect the government does note is that three of the clusters shifted their focus to respond to the pandemic, trying to come up with solutions and retool to provide health-care supplies, equipment and technology.

What Giroux found in his report was that the government could only account for 2,594 jobs expected to be created from 24 of the 45 projects announced, roughly 14 jobs for every $1 million of combined federal and private funding.

Absent other information, Giroux’s team estimated the same job creation rate for the remaining programs, meaning there could be almost 4,000 jobs created as a result.

Whether they are full-time, part-time, permanent or temporary, Giroux couldn’t say. He did say there could be a positive impact on the labour market, noting that one of the projects seeks to train workers.

The Liberals said Tuesday that the program had created more than 6,100 jobs since the first projects launched about a year and a half ago, and argued that internal projections put the government on track to hit its 50,000-jobs promise.

“We are seeing the five superclusters live up to their promise in terms of leveraging industry contributions, and supporting collaborative projects with small and medium-sized enterprises which are having a national impact,” Industry Minister Navdeep Bains said in a statement.

Giroux’s office questioned whether the impact on the economy would be as large as the Liberals said.

Similar initiatives studied elsewhere in the world suggest that funding of research and development can have an economic impact between three and eight times overall spending, well below the 25-fold effect from the $2 billion in federal and private funding through the program.

Giroux’s report said it seems “highly unlikely” the government will hit its GDP target.

Conservative industry critic James Cumming said the findings from the spending watchdog show the program is more focused on buzz words than supporting workers.

“The PBO report released today makes it clear that the Liberals’ supercluster program will not grow the economy or increase innovation in Canada,” he said in a statement. “The Trudeau Liberals have actually spent more money on administrative costs than on job-creating projects. That is ridiculous.”

Giroux’s report noted that the government had only funded programs to the tune of $30 million by March, when it had planned to provide $104 million in funding. Of the amount spent, more than half — $18 million — was for “operational and administrative” costs.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Liberals

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Saanich police are warning residents that rutting season has begun and deer may get their antlers tangled in items left in yards. (Saanich Police Department/Twitter)
Deer with items tangled in antlers spotted in Saanich as rutting season begins

Police, B.C. Conservation Service warn of possibly aggressive bucks through fall

Police will be diverting traffic between Island View Road and Amity Drive from 12 to 1 p.m. Oct. 23. (Google Maps)
Section of Pat Bay Highway closes for Mi’kmaq fishing rights demonstration

Police will be diverting traffic Oct. 23 from noon to 1 p.m between Island View Road and Amity Drive

Oulette the Great Horned owl was spotted alive just days after her mate, Ollie, was found dead from suspected rat poisoning on Oct. 17. (Photo by Cheryl Redhead)
Great Horned owl mate found alive in Cuthbert Holmes Park

Oulette spotted in tree above where male Ollie died of suspected poisoning

Saanich firefighters were called out to Hartland Road on Oct. 21 to help transport a mountain biker with neck and back injuries out of the woods. (Black Press Media file photo)
Patient with neck, back injuries rescued from Saanich bike trails

Saanich firefighters called in to help paramedics with transportation off Mount Work

Saanich South Liberal candidate Rishi Sharma commits to addressing issues at the five-way intersection of Interurban and Wilkinson roads in partnership with the municipality if elected. (Black Press Media file photo)
Saanich South Liberal candidate commits to improving Interurban/Wilkinson intersection

‘Confusing five-way intersection,’ needs attention, Rishi Sharma says

Advance polls are open from Oct. 15 to 21 with election day on Oct. 24. (Black Press Media file photo)
Our Home on 8th, the Port Alberni Shelter that opened in March 2019, has 27 extra ‘extreme weather’ spaces for people who need a place to get out of the cold. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
BC VOTES 2020: Mid-Island candidate plans occupation of shelter to protest homelessness

Graham Hughes says homeless situation a ‘crisis’ in Port Alberni

Parksville’s Jared Huggan won $75,000 playing BC/49. (BCLC/Photo submitted)
Vancouver Island man $75K richer after purchasing winning lottery ticket at Nanaimo Walmart

Parksville’s Huggan plans to purchase electric bike for partner

Actor Ryan Reynolds surprised a Shuswap family with a special birthday message to their son who was worried he’d be alone on his 9th birthday on Nov. 24. (Tiffanie Trudell/Facebook)
Ryan Reynolds text almost gives away Shuswap boy’s birthday surprise

Deadpool actor helps remind eight-year-old Canoe resident he’s not alone

Environment Canada has issued a snowfall advisory for parts of Vancouver Island for Thursday and Friday.(File photo)
Snowfall expected in parts of Vancouver Island this week

Environment Canada has issued a snowfall advisory for north, east and inland Vancouver Island

More and more electric cars are on the road, but one Chevy Bolt owner was shocked to see how much his BC Hydro bill skyrocketed once he started charging the vehicle. (Black Press file photo)
Lower Mainland man sees significant spike in BC Hydro bill after buying electrical vehicle

An increase should be expected, but Brian Chwiendacz experienced a 200-plus per cent hike

Jordan Jay Ward is wanted on a Canada-wide warrant for two counts of manslaughter. Photo supplied
Wanted man from Calgary may be on Vancouver Island

Jordan Jay Ward is wanted on a Canada-wide warrant for two counts of manslaughter

FILE – A voting package for the 2018 electoral reform referendum. Vote-by-mail packages for the 2020 provincial election will look similar, according to information provided by Elections BC. (Katya Slepian - Black Press Media)
POLL: Have you voted yet?

As election day quickly approaches, hundreds of thousands of British Columbians have… Continue reading

Most Read