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Report On Business ‘We are in this as a country’: Navdeep Bains discusses the $950-million superclusters initiative

Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development announces proposals under the $950-million Innovation Superclusters Initiative in Ottawa on Feb. 15, 2018.

Fred Chartrand/THE CANADIAN PRESS

On Thursday, federal Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains revealed the winners of the government's big-ticket innovation item, its $950-million superclusters initiative. He spoke afterward with The Globe and Mail's Sean Silcoff. The following is a condensed and edited transcript of their conversation.

Mr. Bains: "This was a very competitive process. We were very clear this was about ambition, this was about demonstrating not only success in Canada but how do we succeed globally as well. We are in a global innovation race. This was also seeing about how the private sector can step up. We put $950-million on the table, [the winning consortia] exceeded that amount by [pledging to invest] $1.5-billion. This is what we wanted to see – more collaboration, we wanted to see more ambition, we wanted to see people talking about research and development, how they can improve economic growth, how the jobs can be created, and that's what we looked for and what really drove our decision-making process."

Globe: How will you hold the groups accountable for the money they will receive?

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Mr. Bains: "[It's] fairly comprehensive. There are for example economic benefits – so we're going to be looking at their ability to contribute to GDP [gross domestic product]. We're going to be looking at jobs. Over the next 10 years at minimum, there will be 50,000 jobs created. So we're going to be tracking that number closely as well. We'll also be focusing on innovation benefits. For example, are they really spending on research and development as they committed to, are they commercializing that intellectual property in a way that is benefiting supply chains, small businesses. It's really a combination of Canada's strengths and technology coming together. Those are the aspects we'll be looking at.

Globe: It sounds like there is still negotiating left to do. You haven't decided which groups will get what amount of money. What needs to still be worked out?

Mr. Bains: "The final contribution agreement. Based on a very rigorous assessment process, a competitive process, we were able to conclude these were the five superclusters that were going to have the most positive impact on our economy, in creating jobs going forward, and that's really important. Already you can see today the collaboration that is taking place, the sense that we are in this as a country."

Globe: Are you surprised by the outcome of the competition?

Mr. Bains: "It exceeded my expectations. This is the first time we've done such a thing where we brought together industry, academia, civil society together. From our perspective we thought a $1-for-$1 match was very ambitious. The fact they exceeded that … speaks to how competitive the process was, how ambitious the proposals were and the benefits we will see for generations to come."

Globe: What will be the ultimate measure of success of this program?

Mr. Bains: "Jobs, jobs jobs. That's the basic goal of this."

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