After federal program's cancellation, Alberta business community watching Ottawa for more digital adoption assistance

The Alberta government meanwhile secured a deal that will bring a global cybersecurity giant to set up an office in Calgary

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Alberta’s business community is waiting to see whether more small-business tech adoption incentives are on the way after the federal government cancelled a $4-billion program last month.

The federal government closed the Canada Digital Adoption Program in February because it had been oversubscribed, said federal Innovation, Science and Industry Minister François-Phillipe Champagne, who was in Calgary on Friday.

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The program offered a slew of funding options for small businesses, including grants for website creation, digital consultants and interest-free loans supporting technology upgrades.

Media reports said the federal government ended the program with spending far below what it had budgeted, spending $274 million on grants and providing $280 million in loans from the Business Development Bank of Canada. The original program had a $4-billion budget.

Calgary Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Deborah Yedlin said the business community was “surprised it was stopped so early,” but added it was successful.

“The question is, what’s the next iteration, and when does it show up?” Yedlin said. “If we are going to address that economic productivity issue, we have to do it by increasing technology adoption and decreasing barriers to it.”

Productivity, measured by a country’s gross domestic product (GDP) created per hour, has become a growing concern in Canada for several years. The country’s overall productivity lagged behind the U.S. by about 15 per cent in 2022, according to OECD data.

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Champagne said he expects to see more digital adoption from companies in the future. Ahead of the federal government’s budget, set to be tabled in April, the government will “have to make choices,” he said, but didn’t refer to specific plans for the program.

“We’re going to be looking at what we can do to continue to support these companies.”

Champagne said his ministry is focused on making it easier for businesses to bring products to market. He said Canada performs well at creating and inventing, but struggles to bring those products to consumers.

“I think there’s issues around funding — we’re pretty good at the beginning, we’re not so good at the phase of commercialization and thinking about global markets.”

Alberta Technology and Innovation Minister Nate Glubish said there are plenty of small- and mid-size businesses to adopt more technology. He didn’t cite any plans from the province to replace or create a similar program.

Alberta minister of jobs Matt Jones
Matt Jones, Alberta Minister of Jobs, Economy and Trade looks at his mobile phone before the Alberta government announces an investment in cybersecurity at SAIT in Calgary on Friday, March 8, 2024. Jim Wells/Postmedia

Provincial agreement brings cybersecurity firm Fortinet to Calgary

The Alberta government meanwhile secured a deal on Friday that’s bringing a cybersecurity giant to set up an office in Calgary.

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The province is investing about $3 million in cybersecurity company Fortinet, which is establishing a new office downtown. It will contribute to Fortinet’s overall $30-million investment in its Calgary setup, which will bring 85 permanent jobs and 80 temporary jobs.

The California-based cybersecurity company earned $5.3 billion in revenue last year and has a more than $55 billion in market capitalization.

Alberta “wasn’t the only region that was in contention” for Fortinet’s business, said Joyce Chow, vice-president of talent at Fortinet.

“It is a business decision in the end. When you’re establishing a data centre, there is an option to go within any province within Canada,” Chow said, adding the government’s $3-million contribution “helped with the decision-making.”

Alberta increased its budget for cybersecurity by about 21 per cent for the coming year’s budget, going from nearly $13 million to about $15.5 million.

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