‘Supercluster’ becomes an election target

The head of Protein Industries Canada says his office will conduct business as usual, despite suggestions that PIC and a $950 million federal supercluster program would be part of a review of federal business subsidy programs if Canada elects a Conservative government.

“I’m not going to make specific comments on the policy platforms of any of the federal political parties,” said PIC’s chief executive officer, Bill Greuel.

“We’re here to support the growth of the food processing and value-added processing sectors in Western Canada and that doesn’t change.”

Last week, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer announced that if elected, a Conservative government would reduce “corporate welfare” by eliminating $1.5 billion from federally supported business subsidy programs.

“We will find this $1.5 billion by conducting a thorough review of all business subsidy programs and rooting out the ones that leave Canadians with no benefits,” Scheer told reporters in Hamilton, Ont.

“A new Conservative government will also review innovation programs to make sure that they support Canadian companies with patents, technologies and economic benefits that remain in Canada.”

Scheer said regional economic development agencies will remain in place and will be strengthened.

“We need these agencies to focus on real economic development and on helping small- and medium-sized businesses to grow,” he said.

“Our review will be focussed solely on eliminating grants for those that don’t need the help.”

When asked for examples of federal subsidies that might be considered corporate welfare, Scheer mentioned multimillion-dollar loan write-offs to the Irving family, a $12 million grant to Loblaws to upgrade freezers, $40 million for Blackberry, $49 million to the Canada Kuwait PetroChemical Corp. and a $950 million investment in the supercluster program.

Protein Industries Canada, based in Regina, is one of five newly created organizations selected to receive a share of federal government funding under the $950 million superclusters program.

The program was designed to promote innovation by providing financial support to business-led “superclusters” that have the potential to become engines of economic growth.

PIC was selected to distribute as much as $153 million in federal funding over five years.

The majority of that money will be used to partner with outside organizations — including private sector companies — involved in projects that add value to proteins contained in agricultural products, such as peas and lentils.

Funds allocated by PIC will be used to leverage private sector investments and will be matched on a dollar-to-dollar basis by approved supercluster partners.

Ralph Goodale, Liberal MP for Regina-Wascana, said he was disappointed by Scheer’s reference to the supercluster program.

“I was shocked by it and really disappointed because this is an initiative that a great many people in Saskatchewan have invested a lot of time and attention to bring about,” Goodale told the Regina Leader-Post.

“Businesses, particularly in the agricultural sector, have been intensely involved.”

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