Canada’s ocean economy presents both immense opportunity and considerable challenges. Industry, business, research organizations and governments are dealing with costly and difficult technical and sustainability issues, many of which are being tackled head-on right here in Halifax.
When a core group from large industry — ocean tech — and the university sector started meeting more than a year ago to put together Canada’s Ocean Supercluster proposal, they discovered a great deal of common ground and a spirit of collaboration that could make an enormous difference in the economic future of Atlantic Canada.
What is Canada’s Ocean Supercluster?
The Canadian government created the Innovation Superclusters Initiative to mobilize innovation among business of all sizes, post-secondary and research institutions and governments. The goal is to establish business-led “superclusters” that strengthen the economy and promote growth through partnership and collaboration. The government will co-invest with industry to create a hospitable environment for bold and ambitious projects and technological advancement.
With a promised federal government investment totalling up to $950 million, nothing like this has been done in Canada before. After a rigorous two-stage application process, in February Canada’s Ocean Supercluster was named one of five winning applicants. This national undertaking is largely based right here in Atlantic Canada.
The key to positioning Canada as a global leader in the knowledge-based ocean economy is investment from companies across the country and partnerships with post-secondary institutions, Indigenous groups and international partners. Collaborations among fisheries, aquaculture, oil and gas, marine bio-products, transportation, defence, marine renewables and ocean technology are all on the table. Shared knowledge, tools and research will lead to shared solutions to the common challenges and requirements of working on and in the ocean.
What could the Ocean Supercluster funding mean for Atlantic Canada? “Ultimately, it’s GDP growth, which means jobs,” explains Jim Hanlon, CEO of the Institute for Ocean Research Enterprise (IORE) and the Centre for Ocean Ventures and Entrepreneurship (COVE), a collaborative facility for applied innovation in the ocean sector set to open this spring. He and his team have been working with the founding investors as “worker bees” behind the scenes since the beginning of the proposal process.
The objectives of the Supercluster include strengthening links between ocean-based value chains and providers of enabling technologies; developing, deploying and exporting innovative technology platforms applicable to multiple ocean industries; filling capability gaps in the innovation ecosystem through the attraction, recruitment, training and retention of diverse, highly qualified personnel; extending the global reach, attraction, network and market opportunities for Ocean Supercluster partners; and addressing global challenges related to sustainability, reducing carbon foot-print and improving energy efficiency.
“Exactly how we measure success will be subject to discussion in the final terms and conditions with the federal government,” Hanlon continues.
“The leading indicators will be more dialogue, more interaction, more awareness between tech companies and ocean resource companies. We want to grow business-enterprise research and development, because we’re punching under our weight in this area.”
In addition to developing and commercializing technologies to address shared challenges, ocean sector companies will co-invest and collaborate to develop talent, improve supply chain opportunities and foster more ocean startups.
What is the Ocean Super-cluster’s secret to success?
Canada has the longest coastline and the fourth largest ocean territory in the world, but compared to other countries we don’t benefit economically as much as we could. In other words, we’re not living up to our potential in terms of ocean resources and ocean technologies.
A group of four initial private-sector investors in the Ocean Supercluster funding bid decided to change that: energy conglomerate Emera, seafood producer Clearwater, open ocean aquaculture investors Cuna del Mar and Petroleum Research Newfoundland and Labrador (PNLR). In addition to help from COVE, Dalhousie University played an essential role in bringing everyone to the table, supplying hours of staff time and expertise.
Clearwater’s John Risley credits Dalhousie president Richard Florizone as the catalyst in convincing the original four partners to mobilize.
“We were really lucky to count on Dal’s resources because they seconded people to help us do all of this — staff resources and intellectual horsepower,” Risley explains.
Matt Hebb, assistant vice president, government relations and economic development, Dalhousie University. (CONTRIBUTED)
Matt Hebb, assistant vice president of government relations and economic development at Dalhousie, helped galvanize the effort by bringing together key partners and demonstrating the potential.
“This is part of Dalhousie’s mission-driven effort to support the growth of the economy in the region,” says Hebb. “As much as this is a business-led coalition, universities are critical partners in these kinds of clusters. They are really important providers of human capital, research and innovation facilities and capacity for science.”
As the proposal process advanced, help came from organizations in P.E.I., Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, Quebec and British Columbia. According to Hanlon, demonstrating a commitment to co-operation across the board was critical to winning the competition. “If you grow the ocean economy, you grow the Atlantic Canadian economy. It’s an opportunity to further unite Atlantic Canada. We’ve demonstrated our ability to work together this time.”
What happens next?
“The combined federal and private investment will position Canada to be a global leader in the ocean economy of the future,” says Hebb, adding that in the coming weeks and months agreements will be finalized with the federal government and a new not-for-profit entity will be set up to steward the Ocean Supercluster funding. “We want to keep as much momentum and enthusiasm as possible. We also want to ensure we’re taking the time to set it up right to be very successful.”
Hanlon explains that the Supercluster activities will fall into two categories: 80 per cent of funding will go to technical leadership projects and 20 per cent to cluster building activities. “For the projects, funding programs will be approved by a board process, then a consortium will come together and build something. The governance of that is still in flux.”
Regardless of exactly what that governance looks like, Risley emphasizes that collaboration is mandatory. “This money won’t be spent unless other members of the community are participating: a research institution, a small to medium-sized enterprise,” he says. “No one will be able to come to the window, collect a cheque and disappear into the wilderness without anyone knowing what they’re up to. This kind of accountability speaks to the need to involve community.”
Why is Canada’s Ocean Supercluster important for Atlantic Canada?
John Risley, president and CEO, Clearwater. (HERALD ARCHIVE)
There is broad consensus that we don’t get the value we could from our ocean resources. Risley acknowledges that it may surprise some people.
“The fishing, oil and gas and aqua industries are all successes, but compared to other jurisdictions we are not doing a good job of extracting the value. If this works, a lot of things will change — and that will begin with forcing collaboration at a level that hasn’t happened in the past.”
Hebb agrees. “We have all the ingredients in Atlantic Canada to be a world class centre of ocean activity, enterprise and excellence. We have a very diversified ocean economy, one of the largest concentrations of ocean-related PhDs in the world, tech companies who are leaders in their field and unbelievable natural ocean resources.”
Norway, for example, has a population about one-seventh the size of Canada’s, but has an ocean economy seven times larger. “They have a very thoughtful and integrated approach to their ocean: companies, researchers, universities and government,” explains Hebb.
This supports an economy that is sustainable, profitable and benefits both rural and urban areas. “We have every possible advantage, but historically we have not worked together in as innovative a fashion. The Supercluster can change that. We’re learning that companies share an awful lot in common with respect to the things that can make their activities safer, more sustainable and more productive,” says Hebb.
What’s in this for Halifax? Hanlon posits that many if not most businesses are already, directly or indirectly, part of the ocean economy. “Some portion of income in their pocket is from the ocean economy,” he says. “Defence, fisheries, shipbuilding, natural resources — they’re all big fundamental drivers.”
He points out that within 100 km of where he sits in his office in Dartmouth, there are 50 ocean tech companies. “At the end of the day, what we aim for is that people around the world know that the leading place in the world for ocean economy is Halifax and the Atlantic region — a hotbed of leading edge knowledge-based ocean technology.”
Halifax is already a centre of ocean excellence. “It’s important that any city with aspirations to grow and be something put up a couple of flags so the rest of the world knows what we’re trying to do in Halifax other than being a nice place to live,” says Risley. “What’s good for the region is good for Halifax and what’s good for Halifax is good for the region.”
“All Canadians should care about this. The opportunity for us to manage our oceans better is really significant,” says Hebb. “Seventy-five per cent of Canada’s ocean economy is clustered in Atlantic Canada. We can feel very proud that the federal government has signalled that our strengths have a national role to play in Canada’s future economic prosperity.”
Interested in learning more about Canada’s Ocean opportunities? Join the Halifax Chamber of Commerce on May 2nd at our Annual Spring Dinner as we discuss what this opportunity means for Halifax.
The vision of Canada’s Ocean Supercluster is to grow the ocean economy into one of the most significant, sustainable and valuable segments of Canada’s economy. The supercluster’s mission is to build an innovation-driven ecosystem in which companies across different ocean value chains are well connected to suppliers of enabling technologies. This will be achieved by developing a shared innovation roadmap, and a program of cluster-building activities to improve connections, build new digital capabilities, recruit and develop talent and solve shared challenges.