Canada: Investing In A Cleantech Future Up North

Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) is investing $25 million in nine startups, part of an effort to position Canada as a global cleantech leader.

By the BF Staff
From the September/October 2020 Issue

Canada has made clean technology a priority in its economic growth and is continuing to position itself as a global cleantech leader so that all Canadians can benefit from this fast-growing market.

Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, recently announced an investment of $24.8 million in nine small businesses across Canada that are using innovative solutions to tackle climate change, support well-paying jobs and create a more sustainable future. The nine projects are receiving funding and support from Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC), which finds, funds and fosters the game-changing technologies that are critical in a low-carbon economy. SDTC helps Canadian entrepreneurs accelerate the development and deployment of globally competitive clean technology solutions.

The announcement came as Canadian and international clean technology leaders and entrepreneurs were meeting virtually for the SDTC Annual Public Meeting. The meeting features discussions around the commercialization of Canadian clean technologies, which will help Canada transition to an economy with net zero carbon dioxide emissions and help entrepreneurs tap into the growing global demand for carbon-neutral solutions.

The COVID-19 pandemic has offered an opportunity to think about common priorities within communities, mobilize Canadians’ ingenuity to solve tough challenges together, and reflect on the kind of future we want to build. Investments such as this one will build a fairer and more resilient Canada that works for everyone.

Investments in clean new market technologies are part of the Government’s Innovation and Skills Plan.

Canada is number one in the G20 for clean technology innovation. In January 2019 and again in January 2020, 12 Canadian companies were recognized on the Global Cleantech 100 List. Ten of these were funded by SDTC. The clean technology market is set to exceed $2.5 trillion by 2022.

Clean technology companies currently employ more than 195,000 Canadians in well-paying jobs that help reduce Canada’s environmental impacts and meet its climate change goals.

As Canada’s largest funder of cleantech entrepreneurs, SDTC took decisive action to support Canadian small businesses navigating this unprecedented economic reality during the pandemic crisis. SDTC is an arm’s-length foundation created by the Government of Canada to support Canadian companies with the potential to become leaders as they develop and demonstrate new technologies to address some of our most pressing environmental challenges.


The world is a vastly different place than it was a year ago. 2020 has been characterized by disruption and transformation in an economic context and these rapid changes have drawn a distinct line between winners and losers in business. Companies and industries that are becoming early adopters of emerging technologies and embracing a digital first approach are seeing substantial growth, while others who are unable to shift their business models are struggling for survival.

“Being in a traditional industry does not mean you have to act traditionally,” says Malcolm Bruce, CEO of Edmonton Global, the Edmonton Metropolitan Region’s FDI attraction corporation. “We’re seeing industry leading companies across our region not just adopt but lead in the digital space. The opportunities to disrupt are there and the payoffs have the potential to be huge.”

Malcolm points to companies like PCL, an international construction company founded in 1906 and headquartered in the Edmonton Region with $9 billion in active projects underway. “PCL is applying AI to many of their processes and you might not expect an industry that’s so established to be where innovation is occurring.”

Mark Bryant, PCL’s CIO agrees. He’s leading a team that is working directly with the Edmonton region’s AltaML to examine PCL’s data to drive efficiency and add value for their clients. “The architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry historically has not been a large investor in technology—pretty resistant to change, pretty frugal,” Mark says. “We see the value of investing in technology for PCL, our workers, the environment, and especially for our client’s bottom line.”

PCL has developed a series of AI based technologies that detect things like humidity in drying concrete to optimize construction times and improve performance, and AI based tools that monitor water flow to detect leaks before they impact construction. These may seem like small initiatives, but they add up to impressive results.

And this is true for businesses adopting AI technologies across the board. AI’s greatest impact isn’t in creating things in the traditional sense. It doesn’t build factories or warehouses and it doesn’t manufacture products that can be sold in the global market. Rather, its strength lies in its ability to provide added value to companies operating in all sectors of the economy—providing the tools to make businesses safer, more efficient, and more productive.

Naseem Bashir, president and CEO of Edmonton-based engineering consultancy firm Williams Engineering Canada (WEC) is seeing this first-hand. They’ve also partnered with AltaML to use machine learning (ML) to build efficiencies in the proposal phase of their operations.

“Typically, one of the most time-consuming parts of what WEC does is the proposal phase,” says Naseem. “We have 180 employees who write between 2,500 and 2,700 proposals a year—this takes a lot of time. An ML tool has the capacity to pull a ton of data together, learn from it and help our engineers make better and faster decisions—leading to better work and the ability to bid on even more projects.”

“Digital transformation is a huge opportunity for the AEC industry, including applying machine learning to streamline and augment decision making,” adds AltaML CEO and Co-Founder, Cory Janssen. “Time saved can then be used more effectively within the organization. We’re very excited to be working with forward-thinking organizations like Williams Engineering and PCL on new ways to reduce costs and risks.”

And this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Edmonton region’s strengths in AI and ML. The Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii) is working closely with some of the world’s largest companies to help them develop and implement AI and ML into their products and processes. Led by investments from Google DeepMind and Google Brain, Microsoft and Apple and anchored by the University of Alberta—ranked 3rd in the world for AI research—the Edmonton region is one of three national hubs that make up the Canadian AI Strategy. The region is attracting a lot of attention with large multinationals like Toyota, Volkswagen and IBM looking to chase that talent.

Government also is supporting Amii with a $5 million grant to develop AI capabilities in the energy sector aimed at emission reduction technologies. Amii is working with businesses across all sectors and all growth stages, including startups and small to medium enterprises, to support their needs as they explore and drive AI/ML adoption within their organizations. This provides a variety of soft landings for international firms looking to found AI teams in the Edmonton region.

“Disruption breeds opportunity,” says Malcolm. “ML and AI have the ability to support businesses in all sectors to become more efficient and productive. Globally, we’re seeing companies that invest in digital approaches, AI and ML, automation, etc. expand and gain market share. Our region is really well positioned to be at the leading edge of this transformation because of the huge number of AI graduates from our universities and the awareness within our business community of the value these innovations offer. We’re at a real turning point in the global economy. Now is the time to take our regional strengths—like our well-developed expertise and talent in AI and ML—and use those to our advantage.”


A community situated along Lake Ontario and located in the Greater Toronto Area has reason to celebrate. The Municipality of Clarington (Courtice, Bowmanville, Newcastle, Orono) is reaping the benefits of the opportunities created by large billion-dollar infrastructure projects as well as experiencing the outcomes of collaboration and unconditional business support, creating an environment where businesses can thrive.

Canada cleantech
Ontario Power Generation is developing a 200,000-square-foot corporate campus site in Clarington. (Photo: Clarington Board of Trade & Office of Economic Development)

Several of Canada’s largest infrastructure projects in Clarington help lay the foundation for attracting investment. The Highway 407 east extension opened in December 2019, facilitating congestion-free access to markets.

Creating up to 14,200 jobs at the project’s peak, Ontario Power Generation’s Darlington Nuclear Refurbishment project is on track to be complete by 2026, allowing the plant to continue to deliver clean, reliable energy to Ontarians for another 30 years. There also are plans in place for the east extension of the regional public transit system, GO Transit (train), into the Clarington community. This investment will transform the landscape of the community, creating approximately 21,000 jobs and create development opportunities complementing this investment for decades to come. The Province of Ontario also is investing in the redevelopment of the Bowmanville Hospital. An anticipated $300 million dollar project, the Ontario government may soon be issuing an invitation for interested companies to submit their qualifications for the work.

Combined with the price of industrial land, optimal transportation networks, proximity to major markets, infrastructure and community development and access to workforce, the advantages for businesses to locate and expand in Clarington are adding up. The advantage that tips the scales is Clarington’s collaborative approach to business development. The unique business approach taken by the Clarington Board of Trade and Office of Economic Development (CBOT) to meet the needs of business, set them apart in a very competitive marketplace. Working closely with businesses, stakeholders in the real estate & development community and all levels of government helps to create a business-friendly environment which draws business investment. The team at CBOT is driven by purpose, and passion for ensuring the easiest transition to making Clarington home for businesses and their employees.

Stephen Connell, Senior Vice President, Commercial Sales & Leasing for Cushman & Wakefield Toronto states, “I have been doing industrial commercial business for 40 years and dealing with municipalities all over southern Ontario. The Clarington Board of Trade & Office of Economic Development ranks in my top three for service provided. The team responds within hours, which in my business saves me time at my end also. The accuracy of the information provided by their office, both technical and general, and full product knowledge also is tremendous, as is their ability to put me through to the right people in every department (engineering, zoning, planning etc.).”

Making reference to the decision Toyota Canada made to commit to investing in their new Eastern Canada Parts Distribution Centre in Clarington, Director of General Affairs for Toyota Canada, Warren Orton states, “They (CBOT) have been extremely helpful in guiding us through the building development process. In addition, when we needed help sourcing local talent, they assisted by directing us to local agencies as well as directing people seeking employment opportunities to our human resources team. We have several Toyota associates relocating to this new facility and they have been especially appreciative of the Clarington information package that was assembled by the Board of Trade staff and distributed to them. Overall, I cannot imagine a better welcome or support than what we’ve received from Clarington.”

Canada cleantech
The municipality on Lake Ontario also is home to Toyota Canada’s 350,000-square-foot Parts Distribution Centre. (Photo: Clarington Board of Trade & Office of Economic Development)

Between 2019 and 2024, over 750,000 square feet of industrial and commercial space for various users will be constructed in Clarington. Projects include the Toyota Eastern Canada Parts Distribution centre which is now operational. East Penn Canada, a nationwide battery distributor, currently is constructing a 200,000-square-foot facility. By 2024 Ontario Power Generation is anticipated to have completed construction of a new corporate campus, consolidating its operations from 15 existing locations across the Greater Toronto Area and Niagara Region. The above-mentioned investments plus many other anticipated developments, represent the creation of over 3,500 jobs.

Clarington is a community that is proudly defined by business diversity, opportunity and collaborative economic achievements. With a population recently exceeding 100,000, growth is expected to increase by more than 45 percent by the year 2031. As one of the fastest growing municipalities in Ontario, and home to over 6,000 businesses and counting, Clarington is looking forward to exploring options that align with your expansion goals, and look forward to guiding your business to prosperity.

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