The Semiconductor Industry Leadership and Innovation Canada Action Network (SILICAN) has published its first policy report, laying out a series of recommendations for how the federal government can bolster the country’s chip industry.
“It’s been very much pray-and-spray in terms of where the government looks at supporting the semiconductor industry.”
Launched this summer, SILICAN is a group of chip industry and postsecondary associations that aims to work with Canada’s federal and provincial governments to promote semiconductor industry priorities. SILICAN’s policy report identifies a number of ways that Canada could reinforce its existing strengths in important semiconductor niches, help Canadian chip companies scale, and grow the country’s semiconductor talent pool.
Its release comes as the United States (US) has ramped up efforts to strengthen its domestic chip industry with the $50-billion USD-plus CHIPS and Science Act in the wake of pandemic-fuelled supply chain shortages and recent geopolitical developments in Asia, which is responsible for manufacturing much of the world’s semiconductors.
In an interview with BetaKit, Council of Canadian Innovators (CCI) president Benjamin Bergen noted that because Canada can’t compete with the US in financial support, this policy report offers guidance on where the country can focus its available resources to better compete on the world stage.
“It just comes down to where do you want to place your bets and where do you want to support winners,” said Bergen. “The three areas that we have found the most consensus are compound semiconductors, the photonics space, and its packaging.”
According to CMC Microsystems president and CEO Gordon Harling, Canada already has capacity in each of these areas. “But it could be it could be expanded, it could be enlarged, we could grow the volumes and capture a global market share,” Harling told BetaKit.
SILICAN’s members include CCI, CMC Microsystems, Deep Tech Canada, Canada’s Semiconductor Council (CSC), the Alliance for Semiconductor Innovation Canada (ASIC), Optonique, U15 Group of Research Universities, Canadian Innovation Network, ISEQ, and SECTR.
The SILICAN policy report details a number of asks from the federal government: scale up the National Research Council’s Canadian Photonics Fabrication Centre (CPFC) and allow it to operate as a standalone commercial pure-play fab independent of government; make more targeted investments in scaling firms through tools like the Strategic Innovation Fund and its semiconductor challenge; and fund chip talent development, including through the creation of scholarships, co-ops, and internships, and research.
“For a very long time, Canada has had a pretty agnostic approach,” said Bergen. “It’s been very much pray-and-spray in terms of where the government looks at supporting the semiconductor industry.”
Harling believes targeted support matters most. “You win through having knowledge, trained people, and trade secrets,” he argued. “You don’t win through massive capital infusions.”
“In light of the American CHIPS Act, doing nothing carries a very high cost,” Optonique executive director Madison Rilling said in a statement. Rilling and SILICAN believe that the right path forward involves strategically building on major prior investments.
For his part, Bergen believes that Canada needs a “whole-of-government approach” to understand the chip industry and its needs and become more strategic about investments that cut across various departments, agencies, and initiatives.
To help ensure that, SILICAN is recommending the creation of a dedicated office or strategy table responsible for chips policy either within the Government of Canada or its new Canada Innovation Corporation.
“We’re just trying to keep the government pressed on semiconductors so they don’t forget about it and run after something else shiny,” said Harling.