Canada’s most renowned tech hub, Toronto, was ranked sixth in the world in Savills' Tech Cities 2017 report, and 12th in KPMG’s Global Technology Innovation 2018. However, talent is evenly spread across Canada, with a variety of world-class sub-sectors in Vancouver, Montréal, Ottawa, Edmonton, Waterloo, Calgary, Québec City and Winnipeg.
From the invention of the telephone to IMAX cinemas, Canada has been at the forefront of technological innovation since its foundation 151 years ago. The first settler communities were forced to innovate, co-operate and share knowledge in order to survive, according to Virginie De Visscher, director of business development, economic sectors, at Business Events Canada (a division of Destination Canada, Canada’s federal tourism marketing agency).
Fast-forward to 2018, and Canada’s 39,000 ICT companies provide almost 600,000 jobs, turning over C$181bn ($137bn) in annual revenue and C$73bn in GDP contribution, according to Statistics Canada. In short, Canadians are tech savvy. Ranked as the OECD’s ‘most educated’ talent pool, generally speaking, 88.5% of Canadians use the internet, with an average of 34 hours spent online weekly among 16 to 24 year olds, according to Media Technology Monitor.
Canadian ICT companies – among them CGI, Blackberry and Celestica – account for an average of 53% of Canada’s total ICT revenue. Foreign companies make up the remainder, and include among their ranks the world’s largest multinationals, such as Samsung, Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft.
Canada is the world’s 11th top destination for greenfield FDI in ICT, with $10bn invested between 2014 and 2017, and the eighth largest source of FDI in the sector, according to greenfield investment monitor fDi Markets. Montreal and Toronto ranked first and third, respectively, for FDI Strategy in fDi's Digital Economies of the Future 2018/19 ranking.
To boost these strengths, the Trudeau government launched the ‘supercluster initiative’ earlier in 2018, pumping C$950m into priority industry clusters, two of which are in ICT – digital media and artificial intelligence (AI). Collaboration between government, industry and academia in Canada, especially in ICT, is strong.
Toronto is the country’s largest ICT hub and a North American leader alongside San Francisco and New York. It is home to one of the largest clusters of mobile application companies in North America and has the world’s highest concentration of AI start-ups. Montréal is a global hub for AI research and deep learning, as well as digital sound and media, commstech and data centres. It boasts 250 researchers at Université de Montréal and McGill University – the largest number of researchers in the country.
Meanwhile, Vancouver is emerging as a digital technology supercluster characterised by digital media and gaming, virtual reality (VR), cryptocurrency, cloud computing and Software as a Service (SaaS). The Electronic Arts campus in Vancouver employs 1300 people. Capital city Ottawa is another tech hub. With almost one-tenth of its workforce in ICT, Ottawa is the most technology-intensive city in Canada, according to local newspaper the Ottawa Citizen. The capital is a leader in autonomous vehicles, communications technology, digital media, fintech, govtech, 5G, photonics and SaaS.
Edmonton is a major innovation hub for AI, bioinformatics and human-machine interaction. As well as offering state-of-the art research into bionic limbs, Edmonton boasts one of the world’s leading 4D medical simulation labs. Waterloo, a powerhouse for ICT innovation, is home to Canada’s leading Internet of Things cluster and the world’s highest concentration of mathematical and computer science talent. It hosts software giants BlackBerry, D2L, Google and OpenText, and more than 70 automotive innovation leaders.
Much of Calgary’s ICT work is geared towards its oil and gas industry, and the city has Canada’s highest concentration of start-ups per capita. Its strengths lie in agri-technology, cleantech, geospatial, communications technology, data analytics, digital media and VR. Québec City offers a thriving optics-photonics industry and Canada’s largest national defence research centre. It is a world-class centre for geospatial companies, software integrators and designers, and is home to companies such as CGI, Oracle and Microsoft.
Last but not least, Winnipeg nurtures a community of small and medium-sized ICT enterprises, with strengths in machine learning, data collection, robotics and interactive digital media/video game development. The city also houses data centres for many of the largest Canadian companies and, recently, gaming giant Ubisoft opened an office there.
Benefits beyond tourism
Though Canada’s stunning scenery is recognised throughout the world, making it a popular tourist destination, this image has meant that its technological prowess has been somewhat overlooked by investors and decision makers, says Ms De Visscher. “We are breaking that perception. We have big neighbours, but the developments being made within our world-leading subfields are changing the discussion. We’re seeing huge talent from the US into Canada. Our work environment is different, in terms of diversity, triple helix, and going from incubation to market.”
In 2018, the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto among the world's top 10 most liveable cities. Moreover, Vancouver and Toronto ranked 15th and 16th, respectively, as top cities in the world to start a tech business, according to Startup Genome.
This is borne out by the growing number of international ICT events being held in Canada, such the World Summit AI North America, the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence, Collision, and the International Cybersecurity & Intelligence Conference.
Tech professionals from around the world will, once again, flock to the annual C2 Montreal that marries Cirque du Soleil with technology, so to speak, according to Ms De Visscher. “[In 2017] they bio-printed a 3D nose right in front of me," she says. “Attracting outside business to meet in Canada means another step towards potential investment. We’re not trying to be everything to everyone. We’re specific to our strengths and are we matching them with those who are interested.”