Is Canada ready to take the quantum leap?


  • Canada is home to the world’s first quantum computing company.
  • The National Quantum Strategy will solidify Canada’s global leadership in quantum science and technology.
  • The $360M investment is expected to create thousands of new jobs in Canada. Canada needs to be strategic about attracting and retaining talent in this competitive market.
  • Research partnerships will be key to creating a sustainable quantum ecosystem.

The rise of quantum technologies

The quantum era is upon us, and recent scientific breakthroughs have opened doors to possibilities we never knew existed. A ferocious competition is underway between major geopolitical powers to secure a bigger and more colourful portfolio of quantum technologies. In an effort to win the quantum race, academic institutions around the world are launching Quantum Information Science and Engineering (QISE) programs to nurture a new generation of talent that can pave a clear path forward. Canada cannot afford to lose this race if we consider the possible consequences on our digital infrastructure security.

But what is quantum technology? And how will it shape the future of innovation?

Quantum technology applies the principles of quantum mechanics — primarily quantum entanglement, superposition, interference, or tunneling — to build new technologies based on one or more quantum phenomena. Technology verticals include computation, communication, sensing, imaging, and materials.

To fully leverage the power of quantum computing machines, we need sophisticated hardware capable of working in extreme conditions, along with quantum-compatible algorithms and software.

In 2019, Google, NASA, and D-Wave Systems joined hands and inched closer to achieving quantum advantage, i.e., the ability to solve complex, large-scale problems that a classical computer cannot solve in a reasonable timeframe. According to the study, this particular quantum computer took 200 seconds to solve a problem that would have taken 10,000 years for Summit 3, the world’s most powerful commercially available IBM-built supercomputer.

But if twenty years of research has taught us anything, it’s that quantum evolution takes its sweet time.

While Google and NASA’s study shows tremendous potential, it ultimately lacks practical utility. When that changes and industry-relevant problems are solved using quantum technologies, it will indeed be a watershed moment in the world of high-performance computing — with major implications on economic development and global competition.

Canada’s National Quantum Strategy

On January 13, 2023, the Minister of Innovation, Science, and Industry launched Canada’s National Quantum Strategy (NQS), which will shape the future of quantum technology and help create thousands of new jobs. The strategy is backed by an investment of $360M committed in Budget 2021, making Canada one of thirteen countries in the world with a national plan for quantum growth. It also tops nearly $1B in federal funding for quantum over the past ten years.

Led by Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Canada, the NQS is focused primarily on the development of quantum hardware and software, quantum communications, and quantum sensing technologies. These goals will be supported by strategic investments in:

  1. Research: $141M to advance basic and applied quantum research
  2. Talent: $45M to develop and retain quantum expertise in Canada
  3. Commercialization: $169M to translate quantum research and solutions into scalable products and services for Canada and the world

As part of the strategy, Mitacs will deliver $40M to attract, develop, retain, and deploy highly qualified personnel in quantum science and technology through innovation internships and opportunities for professional development.

Typically, federal funding for quantum comes from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), and research organizations such as the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR).

As it turns out, provincial governments are also attractive sources of funding for quantum science, investing heavily in groundbreaking quantum technologies — with Quebec alone committing over $200M between 2019 and 2027.

New ideas and novel research

Academic institutions are Canada’s greatest resources when it comes to quantum inquiry and experimentation. Here are some institutes and research centres with cutting-edge programs advancing quantum innovation across the country:

  1. The Institute for Quantum Computing (Waterloo region)
  2. The Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics (Waterloo region)
  3. The Institut Quantique in Sherbrooke University (Quebec), deemed the next quantum hotspot in Canada
  4. The University of British Columbia, home to the Quantum Matter Institute ($66.5M investment from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund)
  5. Quantum Alberta (a joint effort between the University of Calgary and the Government of Alberta)
  6. Joint Centre for Extreme Photonics (JCEP)
  7. Security and Disruptive Technologies research centre (SDTech), Advanced Electronics and Photonics research centre (AEP), and Metrology research centre (METRO), funded by the National Research Council Canada (NRC) with contributions from the Nanotechnology research centre (NANO).

The list may be short, but its impact is undeniable.

Currently, Canada ranks 11 among a list of G20 nations with the highest number of quantum-based publications, with China, the United States, and Germany at the top. Another study, conducted between 2000 and 2018, suggests Canada ranks 6 in a list of countries with the highest number of quantum publications around the world. It is also counted among the top ten nations in the world with the highest number of quantum computing patents — thanks to tremendous contributions by D-Wave Systems and the Perimeter Institute.

As for the highest number of quantum-related scientific papers divided by province, Ontario takes the lead, followed by Quebec and British Columbia in second and third place, respectively. Plus, a growing number of Canadian researchers are publishing high-impact quantum papers in collaboration with international partners.

Canada clearly has enormous potential — so what’s next?

Barriers to quantum innovation

Translating novel research into commercially viable products seems to be the missing link. Since most of this quantum research is funded largely by the Canadian government, it is imperative that we turn research outcomes into defendable intellectual property that can fuel the economy. And it just so happens, Canada has a quantum goldmine waiting to be extracted.

As of right now, there are five major bottlenecks hindering the commercialization of quantum technologies in Canada and the world:

  1. Scarceness of highly qualified personnel ready to tackle industry-level problems
  2. Lack of sufficiently powerful hardware
  3. Lack of standardization
  4. Extremely expensive R&D initiatives
  5. Industry’s reluctance to bank on novel technologies

Ultimately, Canadian talent and entrepreneurs need strategic support to ensure quantum solutions gain commercial viability.

But there is tremendous potential for growth.

Canada is home to the world’s first successful quantum company, D-Wave Systems (with a rich IP portfolio), as well as the global frontrunner in photonics quantum computing, Xanadu. 1QBit is another prominent Canadian company which gained international recognition for developing quantum applications. Additionally, Toronto is a global hotbed for quantum start-ups, thanks to state-of-the-art research facilities, rising talent, and the Creative Destruction Lab — the world’s first quantum incubator based in the University of Toronto (UofT). Together, the University of Waterloo, Perimeter Institute, and UofT have produced the highest number of publications in quantum technologies over the past ten years — with UofT creating the greatest impact. This further proves that we have the talent and expertise needed to forge ahead.

In order to capitalize on these resources, however, more businesses, particularly tech companies, and start-ups, must collaborate with post-secondary institutes to unleash Canada’s creativity and potential. Greater research collaboration would speed up lab-to-market technologies, and give researchers a chance to hone their craft in real-world settings.

Academic-industry partnerships: a match made in quantum heaven

Despite a surge in innovation hubs across the country, vibrant and practical research partnerships remain somewhat limited. If Canada wants to remain a global quantum contender and continue to compete internationally, it is incumbent upon academia, businesses, and government to join forces and share the burden of solving perhaps the greatest technological challenges of our time.

The good news is there are a number of ways to create and sustain a thriving quantum ecosystem in Canada. One of them is to garner support from federal and provincial governments. This means developing policies that drive the implementation and adaptation of quantum technologies. It also means streamlining the immigration process to make it easier for international talent to join — and remain in — Canada’s quantum ecosphere.

Although quantum computing poses new risks to cybersecurity, it also comes with greater economic benefits in the form of technological breakthroughs, novel solutions to complex problems, and new employment opportunities in high-tech industries. Policy-makers need to understand the benefits and threats associated with this emerging technology as it can potentially make or break the safety of our financial systems, including the way we store sensitive information. Supporting policies that attract and retain quantum experts from around the world could ultimately protect our national security.

The road ahead

As these conversations gain mainstream attention, more and more industries are taking steps to gain “quantum advantage” while preparing for unprecedented threats associated with this exciting transition. This is particularly true of the automotive, materials, and aerospace industry, as well as financial institutions — some of the earliest commercial adopters of quantum technologies.

But that’s not all.

New quantum-focused research internships and co-op programs are making it possible for science and engineering students to gain experience and apply their expertise in relevant industries. This means more career opportunities are likely to sprout within the quantum sector in the next few years, especially if Canada consistently provides entrepreneurial training for aspiring quantum entrepreneurs. In fact, one of the goals of the National Quantum Strategy is to support academic institutions with the development and implementation of quantum education programs and curricula that can be integrated into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs. A solid quantum education program should teach students how to link theory and research to quantum engineering for practical outcomes.

Lastly, Canada should leverage its international connections with other nations to stimulate and incentivize an inward flow of quantum talent. Not only would this reduce the overhead cost of conducting research but also improve Canada’s visibility in the global arena. The National Quantum Strategy is a significant step in that direction.

You might think: aren’t these quantum goals a little ambitious?

Absolutely — but they’re achievable. That’s why scientists and engineers around the world are going where no innovator has gone before to develop technologies capable of extraordinary things. And Canada isn’t going to slow down just yet.

Mohammad Reza Rezaee
Mohammad Reza Rezaee

Dr. Rezaee is a Senior Advisor, Major Accounts (Quantum Lead) at Mitacs, and his focus is quantum information science and technology. He is passionate about bringing quantum research out of the academic lab and into everyday life, and supporting Canadian quantum start-ups to succeed and keep pace with the global race to quantum advantage. He is contributing to the creation of a thriving quantum ecosystem across Canada by connecting stakeholders and lowering the barrier to networking with quantum experts and founders.