AIs, oceans and proteins: Ottawa announces winners of $950 million 'supercluster' competition

The Trudeau government has unveiled the winners of a competition to form technology 'superclusters' — a title that will guarantee the victors a piece of up to $950 million in federal funding.

'It's a job magnet,' says Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains

Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains announced the winners Thursday of a competition to form technology 'superclusters', a prize that will guarantee the chosen groups a piece of up to $950 million in federal funding. (CBC News)

The Trudeau government has unveiled the winners of a competition to form technology "superclusters" — a title that will guarantee the victors a piece of up to $950 million in federal funding.

The winners are:

  • AI-powered supply chains supercluster. The Quebec-based proposal is focused on defining a global supply-chain platform that will boost artificial intelligence and data science in Canada, particularly in the retail, manufacturing and infrastructure sectors.
  • Advanced manufacturing supercluster. The goal of this Ontario-based bid is to drive collaboration between the tech and manufacturing sectors, using technologies like Big Data, intelligent machines and the so-called "internet of things" to scale up production and improve efficiency.
  • Digital technology supercluster. This British Columbia-based consortium aims to boost competitiveness in precision health, manufacturing and resource and environment technologies by advancing data collection, analysis and visualization.
  • Ocean supercluster. This Atlantic Canada-based finalist aims to maximize the potential and sustainable development of the ocean economy. It would invest in digital technologies for industries such as aquaculture, fisheries, offshore oil and gas and clean energy.
  • Protein innovations supercluster. The Saskatchewan bid would harness technologies to help Canada become the world leader in supplying plant-based proteins and related products.

Thursday's announcement closed out a nine-month contest central to the Liberals' so-called innovation agenda. The project was designed to encourage academia and businesses to work together on strategies to boost fast-growing sectors.

"We have an opportunity here to learn from our neighbours who are working in the exact same environment," said Alan Clarke, a representative of the ocean supercluster.

Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains announced the winners at an event at the Canada Science and Technology Museum.

"The response was incredible. Over 1000 business particpated," Bains told the crowd at the museum.

Last fall, the government narrowed a field of about 50 applicants to nine finalists — groups that pitched projects in many different areas, including advanced manufacturing, artificial intelligence and clean technology.

The money will be distributed over five years to the winners, which will have to match the federal funding they receive, dollar for dollar.

Economic boost

Ottawa has faced some criticism over its plan, including concerns that it would see government picking winners and losers. But Bains has defended it by saying the superclusters will be led by industry.

The government is hoping to leverage its $950 million commitment to help unlock business investment in research and development as a way to lift the economy.

"Fundamentally, ladies and gentlemen, superclusters — it's a job magnet," Bains said.

Bains has said he was looking for bids that would promote research, create high-quality jobs and feature intellectual property strategies structured to keep benefits for Canada.

The other finalists included:

  • Clean growth through mining supercluster. The bid promises to make Canada a global leader in clean resources, clean tech and responsible sourcing of metals by using technology to address issues such as energy and water use. It's based in Ontario, Quebec and B.C.
  • Mobility systems and technologies supercluster. The proposal seeks to leverage technologies to improve Canada's leadership in mobility products and services. It also will focus on serving market needs in aerospace, ground transportation and manufacturing. It's based on Quebec, Ontario, B.C. and Atlantic Canada.
  • Smart agri-food supercluster. The Alberta-based applicant has an objective to make Canada the preferred global supplier of sustainable, high-quality, safe food. To get there, it would build information technologies, such as data analysis and quality control platforms.
  • Smart, sustainable and resilient infrastructure supercluster. This Alberta finalist pledges to revolutionize the design, construction and operations of infrastructure to make Canada a leader in the use of advanced digital communications and interconnected applications and services.

With files from CBC News.