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British Columbia B.C. clean-tech alliance ask Trudeau to change economic stimulus priorities

Governments like to talk about the importance of diversifying the economy, but when it comes to providing stimulus, the same old sectors usually top the priority list.

The resource, auto and aeronautics industries are where governments typically put most support.

But in British Columbia, an alliance that represents some of the smartest technology companies the province has ever produced is hoping to change all that.

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In a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the heads of 51 technology and investment firms have laid out recommendations they feel will give British Columbia's emerging clean-tech industry a much-needed boost. The letter is to be released on Monday, just before this week's meeting of the Prime Minister and premiers in Vancouver, and an international conference on sustainable business that begins on Tuesday.

The B.C. Cleantech CEO Alliance is not thinking small. It proposes that the government invest more than $3-billion in loan guarantees, venture capital programs and development funds and provide billions more in tax credits.

Over the past decade, a whole cohort of technology companies has taken root in the Metro Vancouver area, developing new ways of doing everything from treating industrial waste to tracking power use to developing commercial fusion energy.

In the letter to Mr. Trudeau, the CEO Alliance notes that the global market for clean technologies has grown to more than $1-trillion over the past 10 years.

And in that time, they write, exports from Canada's clean-tech sector have expanded and are now comparable to those of forestry, livestock and mining.

But there are problems. Growth has slowed, with Canada falling from 14th to 19th in terms of total market share.

The United States, China, Germany, Singapore and other jurisdictions, the CEO Alliance writes, have "been pouring investment dollars" into developing new technologies.

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But Canada has not.

It appears Canada has been so intensely focused on becoming a petrostate that it is losing an edge most of us did not even know the country had.

"Canada faces a critical decision: to invest in the continued growth of clean-tech and the path to sustainable prosperity, or to hold back and see our leadership eroded as other countries develop the technologies of the future," the CEOs write.

The executives have four key requests.

First, they want a $1-billion loan-guarantee program for clean technology to help projects in the early stages. Models, they suggest, already exist in the United States and Switzerland.

Second, they call for a $500-million allocation "to establish Canada as a powerhouse of clean-tech venture capital." The funds they say could leverage up to $3-billion in total capital, enough to support the growth of several hundred new tech companies.

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Third, they call for an investment of $1.25-billion in Sustainable Development Technology Canada, the independent agency funded by the government and chaired by Jim Balsillie. The SDTC already supports clean-tech companies, but the CEOs say it needs enough funds to become "a global flagship of clean-tech development."

Finally, they ask the government to level the playing field on tax credits.

"Billions of dollars of investment flow to Canada's mining and oil and gas industries as a result of federal and provincial tax credits including exploration credits, investment tax credits and others," the CEOs write. "It's time to make these same tax credits available to Canada's cleantech industry."

The CEO Alliance suggests the federal government form a task force made up of government and private industry leaders to design and launch a national clean-tech strategy by June.

The bold request comes as the federal government is looking to launch projects to help stimulate the economy. If Ottawa sticks to old ways of thinking, that probably means things such as transportation infrastructure. Building roads and bridges provide good jobs, but once the construction is finished, the jobs are gone. Investing in clean technology will diversify the economy and create jobs that create more jobs.

In its letter, the CEO Alliance is challenging government to do two things it has not done well in the past: to think differently and to move with speed.

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That's how the CEOs who wrote the letter – people such as Jonathan Rhone of Axine Water Technologies, Nathan Gilliland of General Fusion and Marty Reed of Evok Innovations – created their dynamic, exciting companies.

Why can't Canada be more like that?

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