Ottawa's most controversial corporate subsidy fund is greatly benefiting the Canadian economy despite the program's poor repayment record and repeated government efforts to make major changes, according to a consultant's report that has never before been made public.
The report, commissioned by Industry Canada's audit and evaluation branch, concluded that Technology Partnerships Canada has produced a net benefit of $32.3-billion to the Canadian economy over most of its existence, or 8.6 times the program's total costs.
The 93-page document -- which was written by Ottawa-based economics and technology consultants Hickling Arthurs Low and obtained through an access to information request -- said that benefits to Canadian taxpayers go much further, including in such areas as public health, sovereignty and security, environment, social, physical assets and advancement of knowledge."
Good news for TPC:
Although Ottawa has chosen not to release the consultant's report, even though it was submitted almost a full year ago, the document could help bolster the case for TPC supporters trying to salvage its existence.
Industry Minister Maxime Bernier, a staunch supporter of free markets, is reviewing the program. He has said all options, including its cancellation, are on the table.
Tim Weil, a TPC spokesman, said the report's results are encouraging.
The results are encouraging. They are also entirely predictable. As far as I can tell, there isn't a government subsidy program that Hickling Arthurs Low doesn't like.
First you have to understand that Hickling Arthurs Low has taken contracts from all sorts of ministries: Industry Canada, Altantic Canada Opportunities Agency, the Canadian Space Agency, Health Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Public Works and Government Services, National Research Council Canada, and Human Resources and Social Development Canada. Those are the ones I could find. There are probably others.
So just how much criticism does Hickling Arthurs Low level at the government when it comes to spending money? Would it surprise you to think that Hickling Arthurs Low thinks it's just fabulous!
Consider the Canada Foundation for Innovation, funded by the Canadian government. In 2002, Hickling Arthurs Low reviewed the New Opportunities Fund managed by CFI:
The NOF program has been a timely initiative that has enabled universities to hire some outstanding young researchers and has given those new investigators an opportunity to accelerate their careers through access to state-of-the-art equipment and other facilities. The NOF has been an even more significant factor in allowing universities to retain these top researchers. The demand for NOF funding is increasing as universities step up recruitment to replace the current high spate of retirements and university administrators are having to turn down more applications within their institutions. There is a need to continue infrastructure investments if Canada is to be able to attract the new talent and upgrade the scientific equipment needed to maintain and improve its research competitiveness.
In 2004, a review of the Innovation and Skills Development Initiative run by the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency:
The ISDI is a unique, useful and timely program that is being well received by client firms (SMEs) in Atlantic Canada as a means of boosting their innovation management and technical skill levels. The ISDI's success is evident from the:
- high percentage of survey respondents who consider the ISDI to be addressing the most critical skills gap in their firm (83.9%), and who do not see a better way of dealing with the gap (94.3%); high percentage of firms (63.9%) that intend to retain their ISDI experts;
- high percentage of firms (90.5%) that see early indications of their projects resulting in additional innovative activity being carried out by the firm; and
- majority of firms (53.1%) indicating that they have already made additional investments in skills development as a result of their ISDI projects.
Recommendation: ACOA should continue to fund the ISDI, taking into account recommended improvements to the delivery of the program contained in this report.
And then CANARIE, the advanced Internet development organization funded by the federal government. Here is the conclusion of the 2006 review of CA*net 4, the program to get a high-speed optical network all across Canada:
CA*net 4 has been successfully established across the country and to a large degree has met the objectives and goals established for the network in the Funding Agreement for the period 2002- 2007. In providing intelligent infrastructure that combines network capacity, middleware and service interfaces, CA*net 4 is supporting world class research and enabling Canada to maintain a global lead in advanced networks....The cancellation of CA*net 4 in 2007 would have serious consequences for Canada.
The Communications Research Centre report of 2003? It quoted a Hickling Arthurs Low report:
Hickling Arthurs Low, an independent consulting firm, released a report on the use of technology advice at Industry Canada. The report credited CRC for contributing to Industry Canada's capacity to make sound public policy decisions and regulations. The contribution cited, as an example, was CRC's research and development of Digital Radio Broadcasting technology, which led to the establishment of national and international standards and regulations.
Bravo Communications Research Centre!
The Canada Research Chairs Program, a $900 million federal program to create 2,000 university-based Chairs for outstanding researchers, evaluated in 2003?
Although the Program is just two years old, it is seen by those consulted as a very successful initiative. It is providing universities with an incentive to develop further research capacity following a planned and coordinated approach. It is helping to create and develop centres of research excellence that are leading to a strengthened and more internationally-competitive research environment in Canadian universities and related research institutions.
Bravo Canada Research Chairs Program!The 2003 report on the federal government's Research Grants Program run by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada?
The Research Grants program should receive increased financial support to enable larger research grants and counter the decreasing purchasing power of grants, thereby permitting the research community to more readily engage in world-class research, especially the outstanding researchers, and reinforcing the program’s role as the key national instrument in developing Canada’s research capacity in the natural sciences and engineering.
Honestly, I could not find a single report in which Hickling Arthurs Low concluded that a government program was wasteful or poorly managed or where the goals could be better accomplished by the private sector. Maybe such a report exists, but I haven't found it.
Is Technology Partnership Canada a good idea? Well, if that's what you want your report to say, your best bet seems to be to go to Hickling Arthurs Low.