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

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, confirmed more than 1,000 cases over the weekend Monday afternoon. File photo
COVID-19: Central zone active cases up Monday

‘We’ve now crossed the tipping point,’ says Hinshaw

Right, Ambassador of Hungary to Canada, Her Excellency Dr. Maria Vass-Salazar, lays a wreath at St. Michael’s RC Cemetery in Manfred, Ponoka County on Oct. 25. (Emily Jaycox/Bashaw Star)
Wreath laying ceremony held in Manfred

Ceremony marks 64th anniversary of Hungarian revolution, honours settlers

Alberta has 3,651 active cases of COVID-19. (File photo)
432 new COVID cases sets another record Friday

Central zone holds steady at 126 active cases

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. NDP leader John Horgan and B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau. (Black Press Media)
VIDEO: One day until B.C. voters go to the polls in snap election defined by pandemic

NDP Leader John Horgan’s decision to call an election comes more than a year ahead of schedule and during a pandemic

Cases in Ponoka (East Ponoka County) as of Oct. 27. (alberta.ca)
Diagnosed cases of COVID-19 at three Ponoka businesses

Town ‘strongly encouraging’ residents to wear non-medical masks in public

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID pandemic during a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau says pandemic ‘really sucks,’ and that Christmas gatherings are up in the air

The prime minister encouraged residents to continue to follow the advice of local health authorities

The Williams Lake Indian Band is stipulating no-go zones for mushroom picking in areas burned by last summer’s wildfires. 100 Mile Free Press photo
Who controls mushroom harvesting on Indigenous lands?

‘We don’t necessarily know where the mushrooms grow, how old the stands need to be, those types of things.’

Canadian and American flags fly near the Ambassador Bridge at the Canada/USA border crossing in Windsor, Ont. on Saturday, March 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rob Gurdebeke
U.S. election results one factor that could impact immigration to Canada next year

The survey polled 1,523 Canadians between Oct. 23 and Oct. 25

Alberta’s provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, Monday July 6, 2020. The Alberta government is hoping to get more Albertans employed by moving to limit the number and type of temporary foreign workers it allows into the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Alberta to limit temporary foreign worker program to save jobs for Albertans

Temporary foreign workers already in the province won’t be affected

Submitted
Montana First Nations councillor gives back to youth

Has pledged 10 per cent of his salary for youth programming

Royal Alexandra Hospital front-line workers walk a picket line after walking off the job in a wildcat strike in Edmonton, on Monday, October 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta labour board orders health-care staff who walked off the job to go back to work

Finance Minister Travis Toews said in a news release that he was pleased with the labour board’s decision

Wetaskiwin Hospital staff join AUPE walk outs across the province Monday Oct. 26, 2020. Shaela Dansereau/ The Pipestone Flyer.
City of Wetaskiwin health-care workers strike in protest of province-wide cuts

Wetaskiwin Hospital staff join other front line hospital workers across the province in walk-outs.

Most Read