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Layoffs hit Alberta Innovates in wake of provincial budget

Layoffs were announced at provincially funded agency Alberta Innovates Monday.

It's estimated that up to 125 people will lose their jobs

Alberta Innovates is laying off employees following last month's provincial budget. (YouTube)

Layoffs were announced at provincially funded agency Alberta Innovates Monday.

It's estimated that up to 125 people will lose their jobs, the agency confirmed in an email. 

In a recording of an address to staff obtained by CBC, Alberta Innovates CEO Laura Kilcrease announced notices would be delivered to non-union staff beginning Monday, and that unionized employees would receive notices in early December.

Kilcrease thanked departing staff for their efforts on behalf of the organization.

"Today we have to deal with the fiscal reality of a significantly reduced budget, and the resulting significant changes in staffing levels and programs," she said. 

"We must continue to deliver meaningful results but with fewer resources."

The agency and its subsidiary InnoTech Alberta are tasked with supporting innovation through funding, offering advice, networking and technical assistance, as well as applied research services. 

According to its 2019 annual report, Alberta Innovates employs 670 people at 11 locations. Its total expenditures for 2018-19 were $278 million, but it reports it created over 2,000 new jobs and that every $1 of funding it awarded generated $29.83 in follow up investment.

Laura Kilcrease, chief executive officer of Alberta Innovates, spoke to staff about layoffs on Monday. (Supplied)

A spokesperson for Alberta Innovates declined a request for an interview with Kilcrease late Monday, stating they are not in a position to speak about the layoffs yet.

"The realities of this budget require us to innovate how we operate and structure our organization to deliver outcomes. We are acting quickly to align strategies with the priorities of this government and a smaller budget," spokesperson Dwayne Brunner said in an email.

The layoffs come on the heels of the release of a four-year provincial budget in October. As part of a plan to return to Alberta to balance by 2023, 2,100 public service positions are on the chopping block — a 7.7 per cent reduction. 

Alberta Innovates is facing millions in cuts to its operating budget through 2023.

Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism Tanya Fir was unavailable for an interview late Monday, as she is preparing to depart on a trade mission to the United States. 

A spokesperson for the minister directed questions to Alberta Innovates. 

'Dumbfounded'

Union members will get their notices on Dec. 3 and Dec. 4, said Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) vice-president Mike Dempsey. 

Dempsey said about 60 members are expected to lose their jobs.

He said members are "dumbfounded" by the notice.

"This is an agency of the government that actually generates revenue for the Crown, and it seems to me they're going to be generating a lot less without these folks," he said.

He said many of the members are technicians and technologists. AUPE has about 287 members working in Alberta Innovates and InnoTech Alberta — 62 of whom work in a large lab facility in Vegreville. 

Dempsey said the province originally asked Alberta Innovates to give the layoff notices on Dec. 23.

"The company itself said that's pretty inhumane and said 'can we knock it back a bit so they have more time?'" he said. 

History of cuts

Deron Bilous, the NDP's opposition critic for economic development, trade and tourism said the cuts will have "real consequences" for Alberta businesses.

"They play a very, very critical role in helping to diversify our economy, and this massive cut that they've just been delivered from the Kenney government means fewer boots on the ground, which means fewer supports for Alberta businesses," Bilous said. 

Alberta Innovates wasn't immune to cuts when Bilous oversaw it as the minister of economic development and trade under the former NDP government, either. The NDP carried out a major restructuring of the agency, consolidating different branches into one, cutting both jobs and spending.

-with files from Charles Rusnell

About the Author

Paige Parsons is an Edmonton-based reporter and web editor. She can be reached at paige.parsons@cbc.ca.

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