Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. It is a pleasure to be here with you today.
My name is Ray Bouchard. I am the chair of EMILI, the Enterprise Machine Intelligence & Learning Initiative. I'm also the president and CEO of Enns Brothers, a John Deere dealership based in western Canada.
Enns Brothers is an ag equipment dealership with over 350 employees. We are involved in and supportive of many community-based activities across western Canada. EMILI is one of these.
EMILI is a CEO-led, not-for-profit headquartered in Winnipeg, Manitoba. EMILI's mission is to develop the most advanced and productive ag economy in the world through combining our natural strengths as a country in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and agriculture. Our board consists of business leaders in our community, along with university and college presidents.
EMILI's regional focus is western Canada but with a pan-Canadian impact. We are a broad sector initiative combining over 70 industry and technology partners both in research and talent development as well as incubators, accelerators, associations, government, and academia from across Canada.
We welcome the committee's focus on the topic of productivity and competitiveness, and in particular your focus on what federal government measures would help Canadians and Canadian businesses to be more productive.
Productivity is a topic EMILI has been concerned with since its formation in 2015. This is particularly critical as the world shifts to embrace more automation and artificial intelligence. The opportunity for AI to drive more productive Canadian businesses and more productive Canadians is immense, but so are the risks for our industrial sectors that wait on the sidelines.
The nature of business is changing. Inefficiencies and gaps in production, processing, and markets are being driven out or minimized through the adoption of new technologies and tools.
Amazon's recent purchase of Whole Foods is an example of this in the agrifood sector. No one in the Canadian private sector wants to be the next business or industry to get “Ubered”. We know we can't prevent automation. We need to adapt and lead in this evolution of technology, but we can't do it alone. EMILI believes we need the federal government to support initiatives to allow our agrifood industries to become leaders and not laggards in this evolution of automation. EMILI is focused on the following six measures or actions to improve Canadian talent and business productivity.
First, generate awareness about the changing nature of technology and global business interests, especially in agriculture. This is an industry that is poised for tremendous growth.
Second, create a collaborative framework that connects all sectors of agriculture to technology solutions designed by Canadians. There is much activity in the AI space in Canada, recently enhanced by the additional investments in budget 2017, but these need to be business-led to allow us to move beyond an academic and research focus to an all-inclusive approach. As Leah Olson of Agricultural Manufacturers of Canada has said, the sector is willing and wanting to embrace technology. They need help in identifying who to talk to and what opportunities are available to them in Canada. When Canadian ag companies work with Canadian technology companies, we can both improve productivity at home, create good middle-class jobs, and new goods and services for global markets. We can be the owners of global productivity.
Third, we believe we need to provide funding to de-risk pilot projects, innovation development, and adoption. We need a co-investment model to incent the various sectors to work hand in hand rather than in silos. From a programming perspective, EMILI's commercialization and partnership model has adopted the model of SDTC, which I believe you are familiar with.
Fourth, we need to support IP formation, protection, and freedom to operate, working with AiX out of Ontario to help companies capture some of the $280 billion global IP market and expand global markets in both agri-food and technology products.
Fifth, we believe we need to scale successful candidates through venture. We believe a collaborative government and private sector venture strategy will be a key catalyst for success.
Government needs to adopt the first in and last out venture strategy to drive the Canadian private sector to invest at home. There's lots of money from Canadians that goes abroad. We need to keep these funds in Canada.
Canadian start-ups are left to fend for themselves and seek money from Silicon Valley, inevitably diluting Canadian interests. Venture funds need to be direct investment funds to keep our technology companies here in Canada so they are available to work on the retooling of traditional sectors and deliver on the benefits and productivity gains that are possible. If we lose these companies too early in their innovation growth cycle, the benefits for Canada never materialize.
We have the opportunity now to leverage the advantages we have in agriculture and technology, to be the seller rather than the purchaser of future ag AI innovation. EMILI has designed a $90-million venture fund along with the Province of Manitoba as a sidecar to our main commercialization platform.
Finally, there's working with provinces and territories to train students and existing workforces for future jobs, not just computer programmers but middle-class, digital economy jobs. We can't build an economy based on Ph.D.s. We need to train the retail outlets, processing units, agronomists, managers, and farmers in how to use the new tools to achieve the desired productivity gains. Experiential learning with platforms and retraining are a big part of this.
EMILI's co-investment ask of the federal government is $155 million over five years. This will leverage over $500 million in investments to collectively pursue the above measures, transform the agrifood sector in Canada, keep Canadian technology companies in our economy, improve Canadian productivity, and promote environmental sustainability.
Today, we are working with 18 agricultural companies ready to embrace AI and machine learning through our commercialization platform with many more undertaking internal research on how AI and machine learning can improve productivity of their workers and business lines or help to diversify operations and develop new processes, IP formation and additional product lines.
Canadian agriculture is poised to take the first mover position. Federal investments in the measures EMILI is focused on will enable Canada to become the world's leading producer of ag AI technology. In business, you want to be the producer, not the purchaser. We believe that we have this opportunity in Canada right now.