Federal government to invest almost $1 billion to encourage more job-creation by Canadian companies

Superclusters are regional economic hubs where innovative, high-tech firms gather together to form strong local economies

by Gerry Warner
Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains.

Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains. — Photo courtesy Ministry of Innovation, Science & Economic Development

Could Ottawa’s new “Supercluster” program open the floodgates to cleaner and more sustainable mining and energy production in Canada and create a job-rich Silicon Valley North?

Superclusters are regional economic hubs where innovative, high-tech firms gather together to form strong local economies like the famous California valley near San Francisco that leads the software industry. The $950-million program was announced last May by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains, who said the Supercluster initiative will generate more middle-class jobs and help Canada to develop more world-wide brands.

At a news conference in Halifax May 24, Bains said the government is looking for “bold proposals with ambitious visions and missions.” The government wants “transformational change” that will bring new products and processes to the market and create high-quality and well-paying jobs, he said.

Since then, the government has announced a shortlist of nine Supercluster proposals from different regions of the country with proposals focusing on fast-growing sectors of the economy like artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced manufacturing and clean technology. Five of the proposals will receive Supercluster funding, with the winners to be announced in early 2018. The government initiative received some 50 proposals representing over 1,000 firms and 350 participants from all across Canada. Applicants that don’t make the list are being encouraged by Ottawa to “partner up” with those that did.   

The program is the centrepiece of the federal government’s “Innovation and Skills Plan” and represents one of the largest investments ever made by Ottawa, said Bains at the Halifax press conference. “The historic Superclusters initiative announced today will create well-paying middle-class jobs and help grow the economy. Our government's Innovation and Skills Plan will equip Canadians with the skills they need for the jobs of today and tomorrow, and this investment in innovation will create those jobs."

One of the organizations that made the Supercluster shortlist is the Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation (CEMI); it partnered with the Canadian Mining Innovation Council (CMIC) on a resources supercluster called CLEER (Clean, Low-energy, Effective, Engaged and Remediated), which has the potential to lead the industry towards sustainable, zero-waste mining, said CEMI president and CEO Douglas Morrison. Sustainability used to mean environmental impact only but now it means more, including social impact, said Morrison.

Douglas Morrison, president and CEO of the Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation.

Douglas Morrison, president and CEO of the Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation. — Photo courtesy Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation

Mining industry is committed to reducing its impact on the environment

“As the public has become aware and more concerned about environmental issues, the mining industry has had to spend more time to explain their practices,” he said. Mining, by its very nature, involves large volumes of waste produced, which is unavoidable, Morrison said.  But with more innovative mining processes, it’s becoming achievable to eliminate the chemical impact of waste on the environment. “The industry as a whole is committed to reducing the impact of their operations on the environment,” he said, adding that if public expectations aren’t met projects can be held up for years. “I think the industry is committed to change and is making progress every year,” Morrison said.    

Other applicants that made the Supercluster shortlist include Agrium Inc. with 50 innovation partners in Alberta, Stantec Consulting Ltd., with 25 innovation partners in Alberta, Telus with 70 innovation partners in B.C., and five others.  All the applicants must put forward strategies to increase jobs in a wide range of innovative industries and match dollar for dollar whatever federal funds they receive. The deadline for detailed proposals was November 24, 2017, with funding to begin in early 2018 and continue over the next five years.

In an October 12 news release, the BC Tech Association said it was “excited” to hear that the B.C.-led Telus Digital Supercluster Consortium had made the shortlist: “The collaborative effort of the consortium has been exemplary with national corporate and industry leaders sharing a vision to position Canada as a global digital technology leader.”

The Telus consortium will leverage Canada's strengths in data collection, analytics and visualization technologies across industries including natural resources, health care, transportation and more. The consortium consists of several provincial technology leaders including Telus, Microsoft Corp., D-Wave Systems Inc. and PHEMI, while industry leaders include Teck, TimberWest and Avcorp. Several post-secondary institutions also participate in the consortium including the British Columbia Institute of Technology, Simon Fraser University, the University of British Columbia and the University of Victoria.

Supercluster initiative has the potential to make Canada a global leader

Kootenay-Columbia MP Wayne Stetski.

Kootenay-Columbia MP Wayne Stetski. — Photo courtesy Wayne Stetski

B.C. Jobs, Trade and Technology Minister Bruce Ralston said he strongly supports the Telus proposal. "I support the Canadian Digital Technology Supercluster consortium in its effort to position B.C. and Canada as a global leader in digital technology that will translate into new growth opportunities for B.C. companies and new jobs for British Columbians.” The project also has the potential “to drive innovation and growth across all of our province's economic sectors and, if successful, will be good for the B.C. economy,” Ralston said.

Kootenay-Columbia MP Wayne Stetski said he’s happy to see the mining industry supporting the Supercluster initiative because it will help the industry to reach its “very aspirational goal” of reducing waste emissions 50 per cent by 2027. “I also like the approach because it requires industry to match what it receives dollar for dollar.” Stetski said increasing  innovation is the key to the mining and energy industries moving forward. “I’m very happy to see how these industries are responding to the program.”

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