February 22, 2018

Let’s Not Complain about “Superclusters” yet. They might work, says CATA Sr. VP, Russ Roberts

Let’s Not Complain about “Superclusters” yet. They might work.

The discussion of the role of clusters as successful wealth generators goes back decades.  The importance and advantage of having strong anchor firms involved in them is well established.  At the same time, we are hearing a lot of comment and concern that this exercise is not another example of government trying to pick winners.  Perhaps this is just an old mantra resurfacing

What I do know is that some of the anchors at the centre of the structures like Microsoft and Dow/DuPont have demonstrated world leadership in the core technologies and sciences which are the focus of their superclusters just announced by the Government.

They bring a history of having contributed to successful business partnerships like those envisaged in the superclusters.  It’s unfortunate that the Honourable Navdeep Singh Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, did not release a report on the track record of participants selected for these superclusters and why they were chosen.

According to the Minister Bains, the companies in the superclusters have made very significant commitments which more than match the Government’s.  Again, it would help if some more details and metrics were provided.  

For me, the challenge is not the concept of superclusters itself but the missing details and whether/how proactive management of the superclusters against milestones will occur.  You would think that the two anchors I have mentioned would have the experience to give these superclusters a good chance to work with the right management model.

Let’s not simply dismiss this effort as a choice of government officials picking winners, but rather encourage Minister Bains to explain why he believes that these initiatives can work, how they will be managed and assessed.  Let’s learn from this undertaking and try something a little different, assuming that the Minister can show that his team has done its due diligence and  businesses are given the opportunity to lead.  

It appears that a huge issue is being ignored in this discussion of the superclusters.  Even if these investments are reasonably successful at creating value added technologies, the Government appears to be doing little to nothing to see that the businesses in these clusters have a real incentive to grow and commercialize their innovations here in Canada and the resulting IP (Intellectual Property) to the full benefit of Canadians.  For that matter, they have not addressed the issue that small Canadian business does not have an even and constant playing field in which to grow and commercialize its innovations to their fullest economic potential here in Canada, rather than in the U.S. and elsewhere.  

Stay tuned as I continue in my next Op-Ed to examine IP and current tax based incentive structures, in particular Canada’s SR&ED tax credits program.


Dr. Russ Roberts serves as CATA’s Sr. VP, Advocacy, Tax & Finance, drawing on more than 30 years of public policy expertise as he advances thought leadership for innovation and competitive success in Canada.