Budget earns mixed reviews from tech community

Finance Minister Paul Martin’s budget is leaving a sweet and sour taste in the mouths of information technology industry supporters.

Overall, the technology and sciences sector will share $7.4 billion. But it’s not enough for an industry that is considered critical to the success of the Canadian economy say those directly affected by yesterday’s budget.

“We’re very disappointed. They (the government) need to modify their definition of The Strategic Infrastructure Foundation, it shouldn’t just include roads and bridges,” said Gaylen Duncan, president of the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC) in Ottawa. In past budgets, technology has not been included under the definition of infrastructure and its inclusion does not appear imminent, he added. The Foundation received $2 billion in funding for its projects.

“This budget is not good for the new Canadian economy,” Duncan said.

For rural Canadians awaiting high-speed Internet access, the wait continues. Duncan said of the $4.5 billion asked, $35 million was allocated to the National Broadband Task Force. However, no money will be dispersed in 2002, and funds are not scheduled to kick in until 2003. The breakdown of the original amount was intended to be $1.5 billion for rural communities with the remainder going to the rest of the country.

The events of Sept. 11 and subsequent developments had a profound effect on the budget. If there was a winner, it was the security industry, which will now see a huge influx of federal dollars for circumstances some say are temporary.

“We were hoping for more infrastructure investments in building platforms for future growth, as opposed to responding to a short-term need,” said Greg Lane, national executive for the Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS) in Ottawa, a professional organization for IT professionals.

The mood was more upbeat at Canarie, an Ottawa-based Internet development organization that was generally pleased with the budget. “The reason why the government has been supportive is because of the great success we’ve had with the CA net 3 network. And that has generated business for our industry partners,” said Bill St. Arnaud, director advanced networks for Canarie in Ottawa.

The CA net 3 network was first to provide Internet traffic over optical wavelengths in Canada. Of the $150 million the company was asking for, $110 million was granted to help in the building and operation of CA net 4.

Universities have long been considered the breeding ground for intellectual capital in any country. However, the Canadian government, unlike its U.S. counterpart, does not seem to put the same stock in retaining the educators of the educated, according to Tony Stansby, team leader for eMPOWR in Ottawa, an organization dedicated to increasing faculty and students in the information sector.

Stansby said the budget has not addressed the need to retain faculty. “We’ve (already) lost a lot of professors. We’ve got a declining number of teachers in universities in an area of (IT) that is producing a very large percentage of the economic growth in the country,” he said.

While funding to universities has increased over the past several years, Stansby said the damage inflicted by the flight of top talent is already evident. eMPOWR had asked the federal government for an eight-year financial commitment for university research funding as part of an overall plan to triple university faculty, a plan that called the hiring of 350 new professors over the first three years alone.

Even those outside of eMPOWR were certain that its requests would be granted. “There was an understanding that there would be significantly more money available for chairs and funding for universities not only to attract students but also professors,” CIPS’ Lane said.

eMPOWR in Ottawa can be reached at http://www.empowr.ca. Canarie in Ottawa can be reached at http://www.canarie.ca. CIPS in Toronto can be reached at http://www.cips.ca. ITAC in Ottawa can be reached at http://www.itac.ca.