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

Doug Routley has retained his seat as Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA. (Photo submitted)
Routley retains his post as Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA

NDP stronghold in the riding continues despite a strong challenge from the Greens’ Istace

NDP headquarters on election night, Oct. 24, 2020. (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)
ELECTION 2020: Live blog from B.C. party headquarters

BC NDP projected to win majority government – but celebrations will look different this election

B.C. Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau outlines her party's climate action platform at Nanaimo's Vancouver Island Conference Centre earlier this month. (News Bulletin file photo)
Green leader Furstenau declared victor in her home riding on Vancouver Island

Cowichan Valley voters elect freshly minted party leader for her second term

John Horgan has been re-elected the MLA for Langford-Juan de Fuca. (File-Black Press)
Horgan trounces challengers to be re-elected in his Vancouver Island riding

MLA has represented constituency of Langford-Juan de Fuca and its predecessors since 2005

Chemainus businessman Chris Istace is taking his first shot at provincial politics as the Green Party candidate in the Nanaimo-North Cowichan riding. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Green Party pins Nanaimo-North Cowichan riding hopes on Istace

Leader Furstenau in town for the announcement of Chemainus businessman’s candidacy

NDP Leader John Horgan celebrates his election win in the British Columbia provincial election in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan celebrates projected majority NDP government, but no deadline for $1,000 deposit

Premier-elect says majority government will allow him to tackle issues across all of B.C.

FILE – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets Premier John Horgan during a press conference at the BC Transit corporate office following an announcement about new investments to improve transit for citizens in the province while in Victoria on Thursday, July 18, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Trudeau congratulates Horgan on NDP’s election victory in British Columbia

Final count won’t be available for three weeks due to the record number of 525,000 ballots cast by mail

Comedic actor Seth Rogen, right, and business partner Evan Goldberg pose in this undated handout photo. When actor Seth Rogen was growing up and smoking cannabis in Vancouver, he recalls there was a constant cloud of shame around the substance that still lingers. Rogen is determined to change that. (Maarten de Boer ohoto)
Seth Rogen talks about fighting cannabis stigma, why pot should be as accepted as beer

‘I smoke weed all day and every day and have for 20 years’

Provincial Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau speaks at Provincial Green Party headquarters at the Delta Victoria Ocean Pointe in Victoria. (Arnold Lim / Black Press)
VIDEO: Furstenau leads BC Greens to win first riding outside of Vancouver Island

Sonia Furstenau became leader of BC Greens one week before snap election was called

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

NDP Leader John Horgan elbow bumps NDP candidate Coquitlam-Burke Mountain candidate Fin Donnelly following a seniors round table in Coquitlam, B.C., Tuesday, October 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan, NDP head for majority in B.C. election results

Record number of mail-in ballots may shift results

The Canadian border is pictured at the Peace Arch Canada/USA border crossing in Surrey, B.C. Friday, March 20, 2020. More than 4.6 million people have arrived in Canada since the border closed last March and fewer than one-quarter of them were ordered to quarantine while the rest were deemed “essential” and exempted from quarantining. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Majority of international travellers since March deemed ‘essential’, avoid quarantine

As of Oct. 20, 3.5 million travellers had been deemed essential, and another 1.1 million were considered non-essential

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Average daily deaths from virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago

Most Read