B.C. shutters innovation commission after two years

Alan Winter (far right), B.C.'s first innovation commissioner | Submitted

What happened: The B.C. government has decided not to reappoint its innovation commissioner after two back-to-back terms

Why it matters: The creation of an innovation commission was among the requirements outlined in the confidence and supply agreement between the BC NDP and B.C. Greens

B.C.’s first innovation commissioner will not be returning for another term.

The province extended its thanks to Alan Winter upon completing his second term heading the two-year-old innovation commission on February 4.

“B.C. has certainly benefited from Dr. Winter's tenure as innovation commissioner and his contributions to building B.C.'s tech-enabled economy,” Michelle Mungall, the province’s Minister of Jobs, Economic Development and Competiveness, said in a statement.

Mungall, whose ministerial portfolio also includes the technology sector, added Winter has met with almost 450 organizations throughout the course of his duties.

That included meetings with international companies, federal agencies, as well as investment and trade missions to the U.S., Europe and Asia.

The creation of an innovation commission and commissioner were among the requirements laid out in the May 2017 confidence and supply agreement between the BC NDP and the B.C. Greens.

Winter, the former CEO of Genome BC and MPR Teltech Ltd., subsequently got the nod to head up the new commission for a one-year term in February 2018.

The province said at the time that it had the option to reappoint the commissioner based on performance.

Winter was appointed to a second one-year term in February 2019.

Business in Vancouver reached out to the Ministry of Jobs, Economic Development and Competitiveness to find out why the commissioner’s term was not renewed for a third term and whether it would consider appointing another commissioner.

The ministry was not able to provide responses before deadline.

Meanwhile, Winter told BIV last year he considered the mandate of the innovation commission to be a work in progress.

“Part of my job this year particularly is trying to make sure the senior people in Ottawa I’ve developed relationships with understand that we do have some areas of emerging interest here,” he said in February 2019.

Those areas of interest included federal-provincial overlap on quantum computing, fusion power, blockchain, precision medicine and ocean science.

Bruce Ralston, the province’s former Jobs, Trade and Technology minister, told BIV last year Winter had provided him with good advice during the course of that first term and the commissioner’s office had been influential in pointing the province to more federal programs it hadn’t been taking advantage of.

The end of Winter’s tenure, however, comes at a time the province’s commitment to the technology sector has come into question.

Mungall and Ralston traded ministerial duties in late January, while the Ministry of Jobs, Trade and Technology changed its name to the Ministry of Jobs, Economic Development and Competiveness.

The newly renamed ministry said Mungall would not be available for an unspecified number of weeks to discuss the reason behind cutting the word ‘technology’ from its name or what signal it might send to industry.

Updated February 6, 2020, 11:30 a.m.: In a phone call with BIV, Mungall clarified that Winter decided not to extend his term as innovation commissioner and that the province would be looking for a new commissioner. She said there was not presently a timeline set for the hiring of a new commissioner. Mungall added that an exit report from Winter would be made publicly available at some point in the future.