Atlantic Canada is making a push to establish a “pan-Atlantic oceans cluster” with the hope of tapping the $950-million supercluster program announced in the last federal budget.

There’s been some scuttlebutt in economic development circles lately about such an effort. Now a subcommittee of Liberal MPs from all four provinces has trumpeted the oceans cluster as one of five of its recommendations for economic development.

The Atlantic growth strategy subcommittee on innovation released its report on May 15, having sought the opinions of stakeholders in meetings across the region last winter.

Its recommendations include establishing a new pre-seed venture capital fund, supporting social entrepreneurship, improving intergovernmental communication and tinkering with a few federal programs. The push for an oceans cluster stood out because it meshes with the new supercluster program and with the way the four eastern provinces are coming together to lobby for the program.

“There is an opportunity to further support the maturation of Atlantic Canada’s oceans expertise,” said the 44-page report. “Stakeholders strongly support the notion of superclusters and (Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada’s) approach to clusters in general, particularly to scale up and encourage more intimate collaboration across applicable entities.”

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In his March budget, Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced the government will spend $950 million over five years to support “superclusters” of innovation across the country.

The definition of supercluster was left vague. Officials working on the Atlantic growth strategy, representing the four provinces and the federal government, have recently been developing a strategy to tap supercluster funding in ways that would benefit all four provinces.

That means the Atlantic Canadian oceans cluster will incorporate economic strengths from each province, including those not often associated with ocean industries, such as cybersecurity and smart grids.

“Rather than consolidation of decision-making, the strategy’s goal should be to strengthen relationships to create a national ocean’s brand for Canada so that we can leverage opportunities, including those specifically in emerging clusters such as biotechnology/bioscience, cybersecurity, smart grid/clean growth and agri-food,” said the report.

The subcommittee — comprised of Matt DeCourcey of New Brunswick, Sean Casey of P.E.I., Andy Fillmore of Nova Scotia, and Nick Whalen of Newfoundland and Labrador — said the funding programs should support companies regardless of what phase of growth they are in.

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It supports the idea of a new venture capital fund in the region. The subcommittee also stressed that contributions to direct equity funding should not draw money away from existing programs, such as those offered by the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency or the Business Development Bank of Canada.

The Nova Scotia government has received about seven applications to set up a new venture capital fund, and is expected to announce the winner by the end of June (though the results of the current election could delay any announcement).

“The subcommittee was pleased to learn that the government of N.S. is working on the creation of a seed fund in the amount of $25 million,” said the report. “It was suggested that the other three Atlantic Provinces join to make this a bigger fund.”