Ottawa wants to create superclusters
If you were asked to identify five major sectors that will create sustainable jobs and wealth in the next 150 years in Canada, would mining and related industries be on the list?
If I offered you a major chunk of $950 million over five years and you built a consortium that was willing to match the request dollar for dollar, would you be interested in helping to create a Canadian national mining cluster that will reflect the innovation and commercialization of applications that will improve safety and increase sustainability in this sector?
There is a new promise from Canada’s federal government that is calling on Industry leaders from select sectors to propose “superclusters” of technological innovation that promise to create jobs and spur economic growth.
Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains said in May 2017: “We are in a global innovation race. This is about creating a high value economy.”
Where do mining companies, supply chain companies, mining research institutions and Northern Ontario fit into this plan?
The initiative seeks to create superclusters in specific industries: advanced manufacturing, agri-food, clean resources, clean technology, digital technology, health/biosciences, and infrastructure and transportation.
What is missing is any direct reference or identification of mining and related industries, although some criteria could be levered on innovation in clean resources and clean technology as a potential proposal. Up to five superclusters will be created. Each supercluster will be a non-profit consortium created by large and small companies along with post-secondary educational institutions or non-profit organizations. Applications will be accepted from both Canadian companies and international companies with Canadian operations.
Ontario, and especially Northern Ontario, has developed the fundamental infrastructure required to make this proposal successful. Increasing the scope and critical partnerships would be an easy transition for the next five years.
Location of the central office in Sudbury (a natural, highly sophisticated mining environment) with satellite offices in other jurisdictions could be initiated quickly.
There has been a formal application by the Canadian Mining Innovation Council (CMIC) and the Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation (CEMI), which has submitted a joint letter of intent to the federal government’s Innovation Supercluster Initiative called CLEER (Clean, Low-energy, Effective, Engaged and Remediation.
This consortium has the support of four existing clusters, which combined represent eight resource companies,12 post-secondary institutions, 42 SMEs and 25 other support organizations.
There is ample evidence that Northern Ontario and Ontario have an established regime in place that has a successful history.
Some pertinent recent facts are provided by the Mining Association of Canada, the Ontario Mining Association and the Sudbury Area Mining Supply and Service Association (SAMSSA) (Doyletech Study 2011):
The mining Industry directly employs more than 373,000 workers across the country in mineral extraction, smelting, fabrication and manufacturing and indirectly employs an additional 190,000.
Mining is the largest private sector employer of aboriginal peoples of Canada on a proportional basis accounting for about 7.5 per cent of the total mining population and is poised to increase.
Canada has one of the largest mining supply sectors globally with more than 3,700 companies supplying engineering, geotechnical, environmental, financial and mining services to mining operations.
Northern Ontario boasts of its supply service sector with more than 500 companies and a special consortium of mining research institutions employing more than 25,000 skilled trades people directly in global innovative companies. More than 320 innovative companies are located in Sudbury, employing more than 14,000 people.
Mining contributed $56 billion to Canada’s GDP on 2015.
Ontario’ s leading-edge mining supply and service sector employs more than 40,000 people and has an estimated direct economic impact of $6.6 billion.
Northern Ontario mining supply and service companies pay more than $1 billion in salary and benefits annually.
There are approximately 900 mining supply and service companies in Ontario.
We are seeing a major shift in SAMSSA companies, which are providing innovative technologies that are especially adaptable for underground mining globally. The solutions are innovative and leading edge, and will increase productivity and cleaner environments. There are numerous examples, from electrification to underground fibre to sensors and data mining programs.
The greatest concern at the moment is the position mining and related-mining companies have in the eyes of the new funding supercluster and what role will Northern Ontario play in the process. It would be a major disappointment for me to see Toronto be the base of operations (Stage 2) if the mining application is successful in stage one. And will mining companies actually fund projects outside of their own concerns?
— Dick DeStefano is the executive director of the Sudbury Area Mining Supply and Service Association.