Evidence of meeting #18 for Industry, Science and Technology in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was perimeter.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Sweet

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

Welcome to the 18th meeting of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, but the first meeting regarding our study on the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics.

Before us today we have the Hon. Gary Goodyear, Minister of State for Science and Technology, who is also the minister responsible for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario. Joining him is Robert Dunlop, assistant deputy minister for the science and innovation sector.

We will begin with the minister having approximately 10 minutes of opening remarks, and then we'll go until we hear the bells this afternoon.

I would also like to advise committee members that you'll have a draft report coming out tomorrow by e-mail regarding our previous study. That'll give you some time to take a look at it before the first meeting for us to consider the draft, and that will be on Monday. This is to give you a heads up to watch your e-mail for that so you can take a good in-depth look at it over the weekend.

Minister, we're glad to have you here today. Please begin your opening remarks.

3:30 p.m.

Cambridge
Ontario

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Minister of State (Science and Technology) (Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario)

Thank you, Chair, and thank you, colleagues, for this opportunity.

Good afternoon. I'm very pleased to be here today to assist the committee's study on the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. As was mentioned, with me today is Rob Dunlop from our department. Should you have any technical questions, I may refer to Rob to ensure you get the answers you are looking for.

I also appreciate the opportunity to talk about the important role the Perimeter Institute is playing in making Canada a location for world-class research. This objective is a cornerstone of the federal government's science and technology strategy, and it explains why we support the work undertaken at the Perimeter Institute.

The science and tech strategy rests on fostering three distinct S and T advantages for Canada. The first is a people advantage, the second a knowledge advantage, and the third is the entrepreneurial advantage. These three advantages are critically important for bolstering the prosperity and quality of life for our nation.

Let me first talk about each of these advantages in turn.

Fostering a people advantage means turning Canada into a magnet for developing and attracting talented, skilled, creative individuals. This is one of the most critical elements of a successful nation's economy.

The Perimeter Institute is playing a significant role in this regard. In 10 short years, it has been successful in attracting scientists of the highest international calibre to Canada—not merely reversing the brain drain, ladies and gentlemen, but actually becoming a powerful magnet for talent. This is shown by the successful recruitment of Dr. Neil Turok, a renowned South African physicist and former chair of mathematical physics at the University of Cambridge, to the director's position at the Perimeter Institute in 2008. In addition, Stephen Hawking himself has chosen Perimeter and Canada as his second research home.

The Perimeter also engages with researchers throughout Canada's physics community, cooperating extensively with its academic partners via cross-appointments, adjunct appointments and professorships, joint post-doctoral fellowships, and graduate training. In this regard, Perimeter is truly helping to build Canada's people advantage.

The second pillar of the federal S and T strategy is fostering a knowledge advantage. This means ensuring that Canadians are at the leading edge of the important discoveries that generate health, environmental, societal, and economic benefits for all.

Now, as you may be aware, Perimeter's activities are focused squarely on the promotion of world-class research excellence in theoretical physics. Indeed, Perimeter's goal is to bring together the world's best minds to advance our knowledge of physics and develop new ideas about space, time, matter, and information.

Since being established, the Perimeter Institute has built a global reputation for exceptional research. The institute has become a focal point for theoretical physics, both within and outside Canada. The research conducted there is both ground-breaking and transformative. A recent independent evaluation concluded that the Perimeter has markedly improved Canada's science capacity and global reputation in the field of theoretical physics. To date, almost 1,700 articles have been published in over 50 journals.

This brings me to the third advantage outlined in the federal science and tech strategy, and that's the entrepreneurial advantage. Fostering an entrepreneurial advantage means translating knowledge into practical and commercially applicable ideas that generate better health outcomes, for example, wealth for Canadians, and, at the end of the day, a better quality of life for all of us.

Now, you might think that theoretical physics is just about something as far from commercial application as you could possibly get, but you would be wrong. Breakthroughs in theoretical physics have the potential for significant commercial applications.

Indeed, past discoveries in theoretical physics lie at the root of many and most of our modern technologies. This includes our computers of today, the BlackBerrys we all wear on our hips, magnetic resonance imaging machines, and many other discoveries. It's very, very clear that Perimeter is making strong contributions to fostering Canada's people, knowledge, and entrepreneurial advantages.

I would also add that the Perimeter Institute is playing a very major role in helping to inspire and educate young Canadians about the importance of science and the possibilities that exist in that field. Its extensive and award-winning outreach programs provide outstanding educational resources for youth and educators. Getting our youth excited about pursuing careers in science and technology is quite crucial to ensuring that Canada has the skilled workforce that tomorrow's economy will demand.

I believe that my remarks at this point have quite amply addressed one of the elements of your study, namely, the Perimeter Institute's positive effect over the past decade on science, technology, and advanced research, not only in Canada but around the world.

While the focus and impact of Perimeter goes far beyond the greater Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge region, the institute has a very strong local impact. The University of Waterloo established the Institute for Quantum Computing shortly after Perimeter opened its doors. Researchers in these two institutes are working closely together in quantum-related research, and that has strong local benefits.

For example, the International Summer School for Young Physicists, held in Waterloo, brings together promising Canadian and international students aged 16 to 18 for two weeks each year. At a time when they are actively weighing career decisions, these young people get a first-hand view of leading-edge research, including lessons in modern physics, mentoring sessions with top scientists from around the world, and of course laboratory tours.

As well, every summer, teachers from across Canada and around the world come to Waterloo to attend the Einstein Plus national teachers' workshop on modern physics. This very intensive one-week residential workshop for high school educators focuses on how to better convey key concepts in modern physics to engage the interests and minds of students.

Our government has been very pleased to support the Perimeter Institute and its activities. This includes the most recent announcement of $50 million over five years of funding provided through Budget 2011. All of the federal funding has been matched by the Government of Ontario and an unprecedented private donation of $120 million from Mike Lazaridis, Jim Balsillie, and Doug Fregin, all operators, as you know, of Research in Motion.

Support also comes from the Canada Foundation for Innovation and has been used to expand the Perimeter's facilities through the construction of the brand-new Stephen Hawking Centre. Perimeter is now the largest theoretical physics research and academic organization in the world, and with that comes a world-class reputation.

Mr. Chair, unfortunately that reputation has been somewhat tarnished by unfounded accusations in an unfortunate and inaccurate news release, which was still found on the NDP's website as of this morning. False claims are made that more funding was given to the Perimeter Institute than was committed by our government in Budget 2007. This is totally false and misleading.

Our government provided the Perimeter Institute with the funding that is consistent with our promises in Budget 2007, and the public accounts records clearly show this. Despite being presented with these facts, the NDP has yet to apologize or remove this inaccurate information from their website.

Mr. Chairman, I sincerely hope the NDP members here today will take a moment to apologize first to the Perimeter Institute, to the scientific community of Canada, and of course to the Comptroller General of Canada and our government so that we can move past this and the Perimeter can maintain its world-class reputation.

The Perimeter Institute is truly something that Canada, the Waterloo region, and the Province of Ontario can be very proud of. It is an essential part of our nation's economy, its economic possibilities, and job opportunities for Canadians going forward.

Thank you very much for this opportunity, colleagues and Mr. Chair. I look forward to any questions you may have.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Sweet

Thank you very much, Mr. Minister, for your opening remarks.

We'll go to our regular round now, a first round of seven minutes.

Mr. Braid.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Braid Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Minister, for being here and speaking to the very important role that the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics plays, not only in the Waterloo region but across our country, and to the contribution this important research institute is making to not only our national but our international reputation.

Minister, in September you were fortunate to attend the opening of the Stephen Hawking Centre, the new wing at the Perimeter Institute. I was also very fortunate to be there with you. Could you speak to the importance and the significance of having someone as renowned as Stephen Hawking affiliated and associated with this research institute in Waterloo, Ontario?

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Cambridge, ON

Thank you. Absolutely, I would be happy to do that.

The Perimeter Institute has been able, through its reputation and the decade leading up to it of building that reputation with leading physicists and others around the world, to actually have attracted quite arguably the brightest person on our planet—today's equivalent of Albert Einstein. Stephen Hawking is known the world over. He is respected everywhere. He is somewhat in ill health. For him to have chosen the Perimeter Institute in Canada as his second home for research and to have visited there to help give lectures and help train the future scientific leaders of this nation is somewhat...it's very difficult to describe.

I did meet with Dr. Hawking. It was the highlight of my life. The Prime Minister has met with him.

This is indeed a huge, huge win for our scientific community in Canada. I'm not sure there would be another person on our planet currently who could bring the level of prestige to this institute that Dr. Hawking has, and of course naming a new part of the Perimeter Institute after Stephen Hawking.... I wish I could remember Dr. Hawking's quote on the issue, but it will live long past his theories, which have improved the lives of every one of us.

This is immeasurable. I will say only that I think every scientist would say that they know Stephen Hawking, and they would say, “That is a major coup and a great win for Canada.” It speaks to our successful building of our reputation in the field of science and technology.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Braid Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Thank you.

Minister, could you clarify what our commitment, our government's commitment, to the Perimeter Institute has been in terms of levels of funding?

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Cambridge, ON

Yes, certainly. It actually started with Mike Lazaridis and the folks from Research in Motion, who put forward some funding in I believe 1999. The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council saw this as a brilliant idea and a few years later offered $25 million.

We did some auditing of the Perimeter Institute to make sure they were meeting their goals, deadlines, and mandate, and we were quite satisfied with that independent report. We put forward $50 million in 2007, over five years, that was matched by the Province of Ontario. That funding was coming to a close in fiscal year 2011, at which time we again put forward $50 million over five years.

Again the institute has been looked at by independent auditors, the latest being KPMG, I believe, who had nothing but good things to say—I'd be happy to read it to you—about the management and about their ability to meet their mandate in terms of teaching, and in terms of attracting to the institute the top researchers from around the world, not only to come here to teach the next generation, but also to do their research here in Canada, which gives us an opportunity not just to invent something but to build it here. That provides better-quality jobs for Canadians and it improves our economy. We can sell those products, those processes, and those advancements in current technology to the rest of the world.

We have an institute here that's the best on the planet. It's attracting the best on the planet. It has been supported by independents as having an excellent record in terms of its management and overall operations. We support it for those reasons, as we need to as a government supporting basic science.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Braid Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Thank you, Minister.

On October 31 in the House you received a question from the NDP member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie. In the preface to his question, he made the statement, this inaccurate statement, this claim—

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Sweet

Just one moment, Mr. Braid.

On a point of order, Madam LeBlanc.

December 7th, 2011 / 3:45 p.m.

NDP

Hélène LeBlanc LaSalle—Émard, QC

You know, Mr. Chair, it's a little difficult for me, but we had decided in this committee that we were going to stay off the partisan scale, because we are a committee that likes to work together.

Minister Goodyear, with all due respect, I appreciated your presentation, but unfortunately you have brought in the name of the party, which means it's partisan, so I would like to make this statement—

3:45 p.m.

An hon. member

That's not a point of order.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Sweet

Madame LeBlanc, I was going to let you express your point of order, but points of order have to be around procedure, not about what the debate is.

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Hélène LeBlanc LaSalle—Émard, QC

Okay. Well, the motion had two points. It was to study the Perimeter Institute and to salute its impact on Canada and also across the country. Now we're bringing back the question that we had removed at the third point.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Sweet

I understand, Madame LeBlanc, but the question is germane to the subject we have before us.

Mr. Lake.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Lake Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, AB

I think I'd just caution that we're getting pretty close to talking about stuff that happened in camera, and I think we have to be careful in terms of the reference to anything that happened at an in camera meeting.