Thank you very much, colleagues, ladies, and gentlemen.
Mr. Chair, I appreciate that. I'm very pleased to be here with this opportunity to speak to all of you about the main estimates for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario or, as we prefer to call it, FedDev Ontario.
Since its launch in the summer of 2009, FedDev Ontario has been working very hard to help the region recover from the global economic downturn, which hit us fairly hard, and to set in place the foundation for future prosperity. We began by delivering immediate assistance to communities and businesses though a number of different programs. Following our initial onslaught, if you will, of partnerships with reputable organizations who had a history of working in partnership with the government, we launched a series of new programs in 2010 after consulting with many stakeholders. In fact, seven specific initiatives were tailored on the advice we got from stakeholders to help position southern Ontario to compete in a global marketplace.
Our approach to this pattern of initiatives was basically wrapped around four key areas of focus. The first was our people advantage. We face a number of pressures in the country, certainly in Ontario, from an aging population. We have fewer workers in the skilled trades, and there is a strong need to retrain employees for more technologically driven and advanced jobs.
While we have world class post-secondary educational systems in Ontario and across the country, we do in fact fall behind the OECD and our peer countries in degrees that foster innovation—education that fosters innovation like science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or what is commonly referred to as the STEM fields
We are addressing this problem by getting our children and our youth interested in science, technology, engineering, and math, and helping our post-secondary students and graduates who already have knowledge in the STEM fields, helping them to apply it to the business world and to improve its innovative capacity, not only immediately but also over the long term.
Through our youth STEM initiative, in particular, we are working with organizations like Let's Talk Science that teach children in the kindergarten to grade 12 range in these fields, not just to get them interested in science and technology but also to provide them a choice of fields that do in fact have rewarding jobs. I'm very thrilled to tell you that in the 18 to 20 months of this program we have already reached two million children in Ontario.
This brings me to the second area of focus, the knowledge advantage.
While it's important for small and medium sized businesses to have access to skilled and well-trained workers who generate new ideas, they also need the research and development capacity to get those ideas onto the factory floors, test them, and produce them, and successfully enter them into the marketplace. As a result of this, we have devoted significant attention to establishing partnerships between research institutions, our colleges and universities, and the private sector. A number of these programs include the applied research commercialization initiative and some other specific projects I'd be happy to discuss with you, such as the water consortium in southern Ontario, which now includes seven or eight universities working with seven or eight municipalities and somewhere in the neighbourhood of 70 private sector companies.
Through our third focus, the entrepreneurial advantage, we address the barrier faced by small businesses in southern Ontario, who have a lack of access to capital for new ventures and private sector investments in start-up businesses. We developed the investing in business innovation initiative where we are helping businesses to leverage investment and grow—companies such as Toronto's Nulogy corporation who have increased their capacity to research, develop, and market their innovative new packaging software. This program, I'm very happy to say, is around $29.5 million so far but has been leveraged up by other VC and angel investors to close to $100 million of new venture capital in southern Ontario.
Last but certainly not least, we are focused on the larger picture, that of making southern Ontario companies and communities competitive with international markets such as China and India. We saw the opportunity to push this envelope and invested in the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters' SMART program, designed to support the vital manufacturing industry in southern Ontario and others, and help them become more competitive on a global scale. Our funding currently is supporting 300 different firms that would otherwise have been left waiting to increase their productivity—perhaps not having the ability to do it all given the global climate—and of course save jobs.
The final focus was our prosperity initiative. This is helping companies like Ivaco Rolling Mills in L'Orignal to expand, develop, and enter new products into a growing marketplace. This project, which I'd be m happy to discuss later, Mr. Chair, pretty much saved the company and ultimately the community. This company is now a leading edge technology steel producer with a vast opportunity in global markets.
Through various projects like this, we are improving the productivity of our workforce and helping our businesses and communities diversify.
I would like to address the fact that FedDev Ontario's 2012-13 main estimates do not reflect the decisions announced in the current budget 2012. We will utilize, however, the supplementary estimates and that process to adjust FedDev Ontario's authorities, and of course the quarterly financial reports, as our tools to provide Parliament with the regular and timely reporting on the applications of these measures yet to be decided upon.
Mr. Chair, as someone who was born and raised in southern Ontario, who was born and raised in my own community and went to school and owned businesses and raised a family in southern Ontario, I have seen first-hand the opportunities and potential that exist in southern Ontario. I believe that we are working in the right direction and I'm very proud to see the work of the federal government to create jobs in this area and long-term economic opportunities.
When the global economic downturn hit, our government took action by creating FedDev Ontario. This is a brand new economic development agency for southern Ontario. Since then, we've invested in hundreds of projects in southern Ontario to create jobs and grow the economy. Even in some of the hardest hit areas of southern Ontario, municipal leaders have noticed our approach.
Recently, in fact, the mayor of Windsor, Ontario, one of the hardest hit areas in the country and, prior to our intervention, the number one unemployment area in Canada—it no longer is—recognized FedDev and our government's success, when he said, “The feds have done a very good job of identifying the projects that require funding and directing funding to them.” That was Mayor Eddie Francis, of course, of Windsor.
Mr. Chair, I could continue. As you can tell I'm very excited about the work of FedDev. I believe we are on the right track and doing very good work to date. We will continue to do that, but I think it's an opportune time to end here and just open up for questions from my colleagues.
Mr. Chair, thank you for that opportunity and I await all of your questions.