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The provincial legislature at Queen's Park in Toronto. Don Drummond’s report on Ontario’s economy got most of its attention for its warning of a $30-billion deficit. (Deborah Baic/Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)
The provincial legislature at Queen's Park in Toronto. Don Drummond’s report on Ontario’s economy got most of its attention for its warning of a $30-billion deficit. (Deborah Baic/Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)

What's wrong with Ontario - and how to make it right Add to ...

The problem now is that there are plenty of smart technology ideas to run with – they just don’t have the private sector capital to get them off the ground. Innovative ideas have little value if they can’t be commercialized and marketed.

A similar situation has played out in the clean-tech sector, which Premier Dalton McGuinty made one of his key priorities. The government subsidized clean energy to lure green businesses to the province, but there hasn’t been much action other than Samsung’s big wind energy deal.

“It's my belief that government has done a lot of things that they needed to do to set the table,” said John Armstrong, a long-time management consultant and managing partner at Capco. He is also a member of Ontario’s task force for competitiveness, productivity and economic growth. “I lay a lot of it at the feet of businesses to step up.”

Health care

Health care is not usually top of mind when Ontarians think about strong business sectors, but a number of influential thinkers say it could be one of our best opportunities.

From health care itself to medical devices, technology, nursing homes and drugs, there are vast markets to be tapped into. Canada’s pension plans have begun to show an appetite for investments in this sector, which promises to be high-growth as the baby boomers’ medical needs grow.

When Mr. Drummond was still chief economist at Toronto-Dominion Bank, he wrote a report that identified the health system as an increasingly important economic driver.

But, it’s politically sticky: “The key to building a health care cluster will be to throw the door open more widely to private sector involvement.”

Many of the elements required to create a world-class health care cluster already exist, including a competitive tax environment and investments in research and commercialization, but a concerted strategy is needed to pull all the pieces together, Mr. Drummond wrote in that 2010 report.

Ilse Treurnicht, the CEO of MaRS Discovery District, said the health care sector is growing. But she called on Ontario to adopt more of this province’s own health care innovations so that Canadian companies can garner the evidence that they need to make their innovations successful. “Right now they can’t penetrate our own system, they can only come back once they’ve sold elsewhere,” she said.

Resources

Ontario’s once thriving mining community has lost some of its lustre. Not only have Western Canada’s vast oil sands and gas deposits stolen the spotlight, but foreign giants such as Vale and Xstrata swooped in in 2006 and bought out Ontario mining stalwarts such as Inco and Falconbridge. In the years since, mining has felt more like a part of Ontario’s past than a focal point of its future.

Yet just one province to the east, the provincial government is embarking on an audacious project to double down on mining and resources. Rather than shun its expansive north, Quebec is emphasizing it, hashing out an ambitious 25-year project dubbed “Plan Nord.” Quebec is betting its future on developing mining, energy and forestry resources located far north of its major cities.

Ontario could adopt a similar scheme. Its other viable sectors – technology, financial services and health care – are all based in the south, and the sizable population that still lives near places such as Sudbury and Timmins have little else but resources to rely on.

Plus, there remain resources to develop. For those who believe that Ontario’s northern mining deposits are tapped, look no further than a company like Detour Gold, which is developing a gold mine north of Timmins. The firm already has a market value of $2.7-billion and it easily raised $270-million a few weeks back because investors believe in its potential.

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