Nova Scotia

Atlantic ocean companies win piece of $950M competition, but details lacking

A consortium of Atlantic Canada-based companies has won a share of nearly a billion dollars in federal government innovation funding, but it's not clear how much that funding will amount to for the group.

Who will receive money and how much hasn't been disclosed yet by federal government

Around 75 ocean technology companies from Atlantic Canada are hoping to receive money from the federal government that would match dollar for dollar what they spend on projects. (CBC)

A consortium of Atlantic Canada-based companies has won a share of nearly a billion dollars in federal government innovation funding, but it's not clear how much that funding will amount to for the group.

The so-called Ocean Supercluster was one of five winning proposals in a Canada-wide competition.

The consortium of big companies is uniting to overcome common challenges when operating in the ocean. It's expected to push projects like underwater autonomous vehicles and advanced ocean sensors.

Ottawa has pledged to match private-sector spending dollar for dollar on projects that use emerging technologies.

"There is [a] tremendous economic development opportunity for the region to become globally competitive and develop international clients around the world for the ocean-technology organizations that will be participants," said Robert Orr, CEO of Cuna del Mar, an open ocean aquaculture company.

Who are the leaders 

Cuna del Mar is one of four private-sector leaders in the Ocean Supercluster consortium. The others are energy conglomerate Emera, which is looking to develop tidal power from the Bay of Fundy, seafood producer Clearwater and Petroleum Research Newfoundland and Labrador (PRNL), which represents the oil companies operating off Newfoundland.

Each has committed to spending at least $15 million over the next five years.

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)

PRNL CEO Alan Clarke was on hand for the announcement made Thursday by federal Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains at the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa.

"We've learned from each other so much to bring big industries from fisheries, aquaculture, oil and gas, even defence and shipping," Clarke said.

"People who never talk to each other before, but we have an opportunity here to learn from our neighbours who are working in the exact same environment."

Dozens of companies participating 

Seventy other companies from the region, large and small, are also on board.

In all, $200 million has been committed by the private sector as part of the Ocean Supercluster application, said Sheila Paterson of the Centre for Ocean Ventures and Entrepreneurship (COVE).

The newly created centre has been set up on the Dartmouth, N.S., waterfront by the Nova Scotia government to incubate ocean tech startups.

COVE helped quarterback the Ocean Supercluster bid.

Paterson said the next-generation technological advances being pursued require deep pockets.

"In technological advances, in a lot of cases, you've got uncertainty. If you are collaborating, you are sharing those risks," she said.

Energy Minister Geoff MacLellan says generating tidal power in the Bay of Fundy is one of the things the Ocean Supercluster will focus on. (Cape Sharp Tidal/The Canadian Press)

Nova Scotia Energy Minister Geoff MacLellan said the payoffs could be monumental, pointing to the effort to generate electricity from the Bay of Fundy tides.

"We haven't solved that puzzle yet, so to have big players at the table who are looking at first steps and really settling and identifying how we harness the tidal energy that we have, that's what is going to happen," he said.

"That's going to affect people, that's going to affect power rates, that's going to affect the grid. The supercluster is going to focus on those type of things."

What we don't know

First, the Ocean Supercluster has to get up and running.

Over the next six to eight weeks, the management team will meet with federal officials to work out the terms and conditions of funding.

A non-profit entity will be created to manage the projects submitted to Ottawa.

None of the projects has been identified yet and the federal government has not disclosed how much money each of the five winning superclusters will receive.

It's not clear how or if the companies will share the intellectual property generated by the innovation research.

'Massive vote of confidence'

Promoters of the Ocean Supercluster have set lofty goals, hoping to triple the value of the ocean economy in Canada by 2050.

That means increasing it from $30 billion in direct and indirect GDP (2013 figures) to $90 billion, and doubling employment from 60,000 jobs to 120,000 jobs.

"Essentially, it's a massive vote of confidence," said Paterson.


Paul Withers


Paul Withers is an award-winning journalist whose career started in the 1970s as a cartoonist. He has been covering Nova Scotia politics for more than 20 years.