Ontario Budget: Cities, Creativity & Innovation

The interesting times continue in the technology and creative industries in Ontario and the Toronto region. I thought I would post a summary of today’s Ontario provincial budget speech, as it relates to research and innovation, the technology and creative industries and creative communities.

The big theme here is that cities, creativity and innovation are becoming major areas of government attention and investment. This is necessary to help transform the Ontario economy from it’s industrial present to its knowledge and creativity-driven future. Livable cities, cultural vitality and social inclusion of disenfranchised communities are central to achieving these goals. (See Richard Florida)

Given the macroeconomic context and the nature of global competitiveness, I expect that future budgets and governments will continue to invest in these areas. This is not a momentary blip or flavour of the month, but the beginning of a steady march of change. This transition marks a historical opportunity for creative professionals, innovators, community builders and social entrepreneurs to step up and carve out a place for themselves in this future.

A long-ish overview of some key areas that won’t be extensively covered in mainstream media follows, along with my thoughts and perspective on the underlying issues. After the jump…

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Context & Background:

Recently, the Premier announced the appointment of John Honderich as “Special Advisor on the Future of the GTA and Creative Cities” to help guide plans to put the Toronto region on the global map as a creative city. Last year, McGuinty created the Ministry of Research and Innovation, with himself as Minister. That followed the funding and creation of the MaRS Discovery District, which is a major hub of research, commercialization and collaboration in a number of advanced technology areas. These are important signifiers of a renewed emphasis on innovation and the cultural vitality that supports innovation, creativity, entrepreneurship and the knowledge economy.

I applaud these moves. In an economy where the manufacturing sector is in decline due to outsourcing of manufacturing jobs and continued high energy prices and in the context of a future that will challenge us to find ways to pay for healthcare for our aging population, we must transform our economy in a fundamental way. We simply have no choice but to innovate and cultivate the vitality of livable cities and creative communities that provide the raw material of the next economic age, which is human knowledge, creativity and ingenuity. Cheap energy, plentiful raw materials and honest labour built this place, but it is the people of Richard Florida’s Creative Class that will make it thrive in the future.

Urban/Suburban Transit:

The cities agenda is well represented in the budget, through the creation of a Greater Toronto Transit Authority (GTTA) and some serious investments in public transit expansion. I am a New Urbanist, and have always been embarrassed by our antiquated public transit system. In particular, I am looking forward to a harmonized single fare system that should create an opportunity to offer innovative new fare structures. I always found it ridiculous that my quick streetcar jaunts around the downtown core cost the same as an hour-long commute from the city fringe. Big money for other municipal infrastructure, which will probably be swallowed up pretty quickly by all the monster potholes. This means summer traffic jams, as usual. Take the train instead.

Research, Innovation & Commercialization:

As expected with the creation of a whole new ministry, these areas got some major new funding for some very interesting stuff, including $100M to the Perimeter Institute of Theoretical Physics and the Institute for Quantum Computing, which blows my mind whenever I try to comprehend it. Of course, quantum mechanics is built on embracing paradox, so mind-blowing is probably the right way to think about it. We have leadership in these areas at the University of Waterloo, and major funding is needed to make progress in these areas of fundamental research. Both of these institutes were partially built with Blackberry-fueled donations from the Laziridis clan, demonstrating the long-term benefits of innovation and wealth creation. Along with serious new money to support other kinds of research in existing programs, this is a major new investment in research capacity. Good to be a scientist in Ontario these days.

Startups, listen up: there’s new money aimed at getting new investment flowing, $160 million over four years. $46M to support investment readiness through entrepreneurship and commercialization assistance. $90M for early stage financing in partnership with VCs and pension funds. Good news, details yet to be announced. $24M dedicated to alternative energy commercialization, which is a good move considering anticipated continued high energy prices.

Entertainment & Creative Cluster:

Near and dear to my heart, the diverse and vibrant cluster of creative industries includes the traditional cultural sectors of books & magazines, film, TV, music production as well as emerging digital media and video games and related industries in industrial and graphic design, architecture, fashion. This cluster is also closely linked to the computer software/hardware and telecommunications industries – all of which are strong in Ontario and the Toronto region. Significant investment here, which will impact many in the traditional copyright content production sectors and particularly for those who work on the transformation of traditional content to the digital platforms of the future, including:

  • Entertainment & Creative Cluster Partnerships Fund, $7.5 million over 3 years to promote strategic collaboration among the various industry silos
  • Much more inclusive Ontario Interactive Digital Media Tax Credit, now available to larger companies across more industries including interactive video games
  • Extension of the enhanced Ontario Production Services Tax Credit for film
  • Funding for major cultural attractions
  • $1M Funding for the 2007 Toronto International Arts Festival

Conclusions & Analysis:

It appears that the McGuinty Liberal government is setting the stage for a big idea election year budget next year. These moves affect many people that I know and love, people who create new ideas, new products and new cultural expressions. These initiatives represent a downpayment on what should be an increasingly intensive process of a new social contract and a new collective project: the transformation of our communities and our economy to compete in a new global market of ideas. I invite the other political parties to enter this important policy debate and compete for the attention and vote of the Creative Class in the next election by addressing these same issues.

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