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Unleashing Innovation

Mr. Speaker, last year we released our White Paper on Post-secondary Education, a strategy to improve accessibility and the quality and range of programs at the College of the North Atlantic and Memorial University. These are the public institutions in which the quest for knowledge and skills is focused toward success. This year, we will put into action our new Innovation Strategy, a broad plan to extend that preparation for success deep into the business sector where innovation can open up whole new worlds of opportunity and prosperity in both urban and rural communities.

In order to ensure that our graduates are prepared to take on the tremendous opportunities emerging in Newfoundland and Labrador in a wide range of industries, we are this year establishing a Skills Task Force at a cost of $100,000. This broadly-based Skills Task Force will identify our province�s future skills requirements, particularly those associated with large-scale development projects; identify skills gaps and their potential impact on attracting large-scale development projects; assess the province�s current ability to respond to these requirements; and identify and develop strategies to ensure a proper training, education and support system to meet industry demands.

We already recognize there are tremendous opportunities for women in nontraditional trades. Therefore, we will provide funding of $270,000 to support initiatives such as the �Women in Apprenticeship and Skilled Trades� initiative proposed by the Women in Resource Development Committee and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. This electrical trades pilot project is a first step in helping to increase the low participation rate of women in the skilled trades and help all our people take advantage of the opportunities that education and innovation bring.

The ideal incubator for innovation is our public post-secondary system. This year, in building on the policies of our White Paper, we will invest $8.5 million in the College of the North Atlantic to make its seventeen campuses stronger and even better able to produce the skilled graduates our economy needs. Once again this year, we have frozen tuition fees. Our investments include new programs at the College: $1 million to target industrial needs and build on regional strengths, $1 million to develop two technology programs targeting the oil and gas sector, and $650,000 to expand the Comprehensive Arts and Science College Transition Program to the campuses at Placentia, Bay St. George, Baie Verte, Gander and Carbonear. We will invest in upgrading the skills of College faculty members and provide $1 million to modernize the College�s industrial trades shops plus a further $500,000 to enhance the support services, equipment and resources that students with disabilities need. We will significantly increase the College�s budget for recruiting and publicizing its exceptional programming and the career paths these programs open up for our young people.

We are also investing heavily in Memorial University. With $32.2 million this year, Memorial will be able to maintain the freeze on tuition fees. We will strengthen the Industrial Research and Innovation Fund with another $7.5 million this year in matching and startup funding as part of a three-year escalating commitment. Each provincial research dollar generates five dollars in external research funding. Memorial�s Marine Institute is at the cutting edge of marine education and innovation. We will invest $1.1 million to replace the Institute�s research and training vessel and another $500,000 to upgrade the Offshore Safety and Survival Centre in Foxtrap, both of which are critical to students and industries throughout Newfoundland and Labrador.

In total, we are investing more than $100 million of additional funding in our province�s education system this year.

With this rock-solid commitment to post-secondary education as the backdrop, we are proceeding to implement our new $20 million Innovation Strategy with a commitment this year of $5 million. Through an aggressive and comprehensive approach to innovation, we will grow our productivity, enhance our global competitiveness, stir the imagination of entrepreneurs and investors alike and provide a strong foundation on which people and communities can prosper and thrive.

With our new Innovation Strategy, we are also focusing on harnessing new opportunities in sectors throughout our economy. We are this year committing $2.85 million to a Commercialization Program to allow companies to leverage funding and financing from a variety of sources to support innovative projects. We are providing $500,000 to prepare the Centre for Environmental Excellence in Corner Brook for research and commercialization opportunities in the environmental sector. We are committing $2.15 million to an Innovation Enhancement Program to support public sector institutions, not-for-profit groups, community organizations and industry associations that are working to enhance the innovative capacity and efficiency of the province. We are increasing funding by $200,000 for the Ireland Business Partnerships.

Innovation within the government is being spearheaded by the Office of the Chief Information Officer and the Public Service Secretariat. The 21st century workplace is one characterized by rapidly advancing technology, global competition and enlightened leadership. We cannot meet the service expectations of the public unless we give our employees supports to continue to rise to the challenges and demands of an ever-changing workplace. We value and understand the critical importance of our public service. We recognize that there can be no growth or transformation in this organization without continual investment. Therefore, we must manage our talent wisely and take strategic measures to create tomorrow�s public service. Through significant investment in our government-wide human resource strategy, we are supporting the exceptional public service work that occurs every day.

In the next fiscal year, this government will invest significantly in initiatives aimed at strengthening the public service and ensuring it continues to achieve excellence: extensive learning and development programs to help frontline program staff within departments enhance their knowledge and skills in support of their departments� service delivery priorities and also to address occupational health and safety within the workplace; executive and management learning programs aimed at enhancing the overall management and accountability of the public service; and completion of another round of government-wide human resource planning to build upon the successes achieved since the current human resource plan was approved in 2003 and develop strategies to address further human resource needs in the public service. Through specific, strategic approaches to employee development and succession management, we continue to support the professionalism our employees have demonstrated and to build upon our strengths. We are also setting a foundation for the identification, selection and development of our future leaders. This calculated investment is ultimately aimed at supporting a robust and accountable public service.

We are also excited about the efforts of Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, hand-in-hand with the Department of Natural Resources, to expand its mandate to encompass a broad array of energy development opportunities. In order to make our Crown corporation a competitive player in the international marketplace, our government will invest in Hydro�s financial health by allowing it to retain $54 million in dividends this year, giving our public utility the leverage to pursue opportunities that will bring new industrial developments and economic wealth to Newfoundland and Labrador. As Hydro leads the charge on hydro energy, wind energy and petroleum energy development, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians will reap the rewards through new industrial projects and new economic wealth in our province. This year, we are investing $350,000 to complete and activate the Provincial Energy Plan and $550,000 to supplement professional services to better align the province for future growth in current and emerging energy developments.

These initiatives to promote innovation and growth will build on those we funded last year, including the Small and Medium Enterprise Fund, the Regional / Sectoral Diversification Fund, the Business Market and Development Program, increased support for tourism marketing, the aquaculture working capital loan guarantee program, the mineral incentive program and grants for rural economic development.

This will also be the first full year of operations for our new Department of Business, which has a mandate to promote growth and investment in all regions and produce a provincial business strategy. The new department is also taking the lead on our Red Tape Reduction project, which will further reduce the costs of doing business. Already this year, we are moving ahead effective April 1st to cut a variety of fees at a total savings to businesses and individuals of $1.5 million a year. Among this year�s fee cuts, we are eliminating the licence fee for food premises through an investment of $600,000. The Red Tape Reduction Committee has been tasked to conduct a thorough review of all fees in the province and recommend even further reductions, if appropriate. In addition this year, we are eliminating the licensee levy on wine, spirits and beer through a $1.95 million investment.

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