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Finance Minister Bill Morneau tabled his new budget. Photo: CC, US Embassy Canada

Former parliamentary budget officer weighs in on ‘innovation agenda’

The Liberal government released their first budget on March 22. It contained a variety of changes—more funding for Indigenous communities, childcare, employment insurance, along with a $30-billion deficit.

But it had important news for post-secondary students as well.

Kevin Page, chairholder of the Jean-Luc Pepin Research Chair on Canadian Government at the University of Ottawa, and former parliamentary budget officer, said that the new budget seems to be setting up an “innovation agenda” going forward.

“On the post-secondary side there’s money for research, there’s money for infrastructure, and there’s a commitment, which I think could be really important to try and set up the 2017 budget on an innovation agenda,” he said. “You cannot build an innovation agenda without being connected to places of higher learning like the University of Ottawa,” he said.

He said that while this budget hinted at an innovation agenda, it could be indicating that innovation will be an even bigger part of future budgets.

“I think the next budget will be even bigger for universities,” said Page. “The child benefit program is probably the core element of Budget 2016, I think innovation will probably be their Budget 2017 primary initiative.”

“There are good initiatives in the budget too,” he said, “to help students manage debt, get better access for students from lower income families it’s good, I think it also encourages opportunity in society.”

Page said that though the budget is out, it’s still going to go through parliament, and that’s when things will start changing. Once this happens, it could mean good things for infrastructure at universities.

“You’ll have to pass appropriation acts to make this money available so we can let the University of Ottawa have a chance at some of that money to continue the development of buildings here,” said Page.

The U of O is currently working on a number of infrastructure projects, including the construction of its new learning centre and the creation of a green space in front of the Faculty of Social Sciences building, and opening a new residence building in the fall.

At a recent meeting, the university’s Board of Governors agreed that in the wake of a larger-than-expected deficit, some construction projects would have to be stopped, though it did not say which ones.

The new government has said that improving the economy and growing the middle class are two of its goals, and Page said that funding post-secondary education and research can help accomplish both of these goals.

“I think what they’re saying is productivity in the future and the knowledge economy is going to come through innovation,” said Page. “I think they know that they’re going to have to support research, science, universities, higher education in general.”

Page said he thinks that universities could take on an involved role in a future knowledge-based economy.
“I think the future is businesses developing ideas, working closely with universities,” said Page. “In a university you’ve got people including engineers, people in the sciences, math, health groups, people that we need to actually create the opportunities for the future, they’re all here.”