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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

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Sweet

Thank you, Minister. That's all the time in that round.

Madame LeBlanc, now you have the floor.

You have seven minutes.

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Hélène LeBlanc NDP LaSalle—Émard, QC

Thank you, Minister Goodyear, for this presentation.

As you mentioned when you talked about the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, that organization received a fairly large investment at the outset from the founders and co-founders of RIM. It then received funding from the Government of Canada. You may say that this is a case of a private-public partnership. It is fairly special.

I was wondering whether the government saw that type of partnership as a model to follow.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Conservative Cambridge, ON

Thank you.

I'm getting the last of the interpretation here, but I believe I understand your question. In fact, I believe this is a very good example of a private-public partnership. The science and technology strategy that the Prime Minister introduced in 2007 had a number of initiatives to it, three of which I spoke to earlier.

One, of course, is to support basic discovery-type research, which is known, as many will know, as blue-sky research. We're not really sure what you're going to find, but we need to invest in basic research so that we have those discoveries to build and to enjoy into the future.

The Perimeter Institute was supported by the previous government. We looked at it when we took government. We felt it was a very good initiative with incredible possibilities and probabilities. As a result of that, in our budget we supported the Perimeter Institute with $50 million over five years. That was in 2007. Indeed, that was also matched by the Province of Ontario.

I'm assuming, though I can't speak for Mr. Lazaridis.... Mr. Lazaridis and his colleagues put $120 million of their own personal money in to get this Perimeter Institute going. As far as I'm concerned, it is an example of a private-public partnership that has significant benefits to society, not just at the discovery end, but in the ability to attract top minds from around the world who will come to Canada, work here, discover things here, allow us to make them here, and create jobs. As well, those top minds will train our current students, who then will be the teachers and the leaders of tomorrow.

The outreach Perimeter does to help teachers do a better job of teaching physics and sciences is always a good idea. Encouraging young people to take science and technology courses is extremely important, particularly since Canada graduates fewer PhDs per year than we actually need. Going forward, these are problems we have to find solutions for.

So the Government of Canada's investment in such things as the Perimeter Institute is one way for us to not only create jobs and economic benefits today, but also build for the future economy and make sure that folks are trained to meet the needs of that future economy.

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Hélène LeBlanc NDP LaSalle—Émard, QC

Thank you.

If you don't mind, I will share my floor time with Mr. Caron.

December 7th, 2011 / 3:50 p.m.

NDP

Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Thank you very much.

I want to begin by taking a moment to correct an earlier statement. The honourable member representing Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie never said that the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics had misused public funds; on the contrary. My colleague actually tried to show accounting irregularities in the figures related to program expenditures and the Department of Industry's operating expenditures. He did point out that a number of expenditures had been recorded in the Perimeter Institute's budget line, but that the organization never received that money.

That reveals disturbing deficiencies in terms of departmental and federal transparency when it comes to the accounting processes used. I must point out that those processes make it possible to fully inform parliamentarians about government expenditures, so that they may do their job properly.

In addition, I would be pleased to submit a document, in both official languages, to exemplify what my colleague wanted to show. I am certain that my committee colleagues share his concerns when it comes to information quality and the lack of transparency in government.

That said, I would like to submit the document in question, in both official languages.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Conservative Cambridge, ON

Yes, thank you, Mr. Chair.

I appreciate my colleague's intervention. However, I'm not sure if the member remembers the dialogue in the House of Commons at the time, but I did stand up and tell the member that he was mistaken, that he was wrong, that the facts were right here, and I offered to show him those facts. In fact, I asked if I could table them.

The next day the questions continued. So my point is that people do make mistakes. I get that. I understand that. But when the facts are put forward to a member, that member should do what other members of Parliament have done previously and apologize. They should say they made a mistake and they're sorry, that the record is correct and they were wrong, and everybody moves on.

My concern is that's not what happened. In fact, today the inaccurate information is still on the NDP website. This tarnishes the Perimeter Institute. It puts the Perimeter Institute one or two pegs below its stellar reputation, and there's an easy fix. The NDP should say they made a mistake and that in fact I've shown them the facts and they accept the facts. The facts are correct, and the member should apologize. I don't really see the problem with that.

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Minister, the issue is not knowing what figures are in public accounts, but rather determining what accounting methods and processes were used and then raised by the Parliamentary Budget Officer. That is what my colleague wanted to say. He did actually specify, during question period, that he knew that the Perimeter Institute had not received that money and had therefore not spent it. He never made an accusation against the institute. He was actually questioning the accounting methods used. The Parliamentary Budget Officer picked up on the same thing.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Conservative Cambridge, ON

My response is the same, Mr. Chairman.

I pointed out to the member that he was wrong, why he was wrong, and where he could find the facts. He continued with the questioning for one or two more days, and to date, the wrong information is on the NDP's website.

What concerns me is that this not only tarnishes the Perimeter Institute, but if there's one place we need to be honest and up front, it's in the House of Commons.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Sweet

Minister, I'm sorry, but time is always our enemy. I allowed a little bit to make sure that was aired sufficiently.

Mr. Braid now for seven minutes.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Braid Conservative Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Thank you, Mr. Minister.

Did the Perimeter Institute receive more than the committed amount from the Government of Canada?

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Conservative Cambridge, ON

Absolutely not, and the records are very clear on that.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Braid Conservative Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Do you believe that there's any ambiguity in the public accounts?

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Conservative Cambridge, ON

Absolutely not. In fact, if there's any ambiguity, it's in the research tactics of the NDP, which I pointed out to them, because that can happen and I understand that.

The preferable way to deal with that is to come to me before question period and sort it out—ask me the question. But when you go to question period and do this in front of the world, I think there is a premeditated purpose to it. And the purpose is not to find out the truth; the purpose is to create headlines. So, okay, that's fine. That sometimes happens. Again, I can see that.

But when the first question was asked, I was very clear that this was incorrect. I was also clear about where the correct research can be found by anybody, and that if you look at the correct research, it does not say that the Perimeter Institute received more money or didn't. It says exactly how much the Perimeter did, in fact, receive, which is exact, with no ambiguity and no lack of transparency.

What happened here was that the research was incorrect. The member potentially took figures from somewhere else. I pointed out that this was the case. The proper thing I think to do at that moment was to stand up and not ask the next question until you had your facts straight.

I did ask the member to apologize, and that hasn't happened. I guess my concern really rests with—

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Sweet

I'm sorry. There's a point of order.

Mr. Caron.

4 p.m.

NDP

Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

When we were planning this meeting last week, the item relating to this specific issue was removed.

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Sweet

Mr. Caron, this is just a respectful comment. Please be sure that you separate the conversation from when it was in camera to what is public. This is just a professional courtesy.

4 p.m.

NDP

Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

You're right.

Yes, go ahead.

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Sweet

Sorry, Minister. Go ahead.

4 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Braid Conservative Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Minister, let's move on. Let's talk about the important impact that the Perimeter Institute has—if you could elaborate on this, the impact that the Perimeter Institute has had, not only on the Waterloo region, but on Canada.

4 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Conservative Cambridge, ON

Besides all of these bright minds coming and renting space and having their meals and training students, some two dozen distinguished research chairs, 43 post-doctoral fellows, and all that economic benefit locally, perhaps the best way to answer the question, colleague, would be to cite some of the information I heard watching one of the Perimeter's Friday night shows. They do a lot of public outreach, so literally 40,000 students can be online watching a physics lecture.

One of the lectures I watched was a discussion on transmitting electricity without a wire. Now all of us plug our toasters into the wall and we get our heat to make our toast. Can you imagine if we could do the same thing without actually using a wire plugged into the wall to transmit electricity? In other words, I could have a charger for my BlackBerry in my home, and no matter where I was, my BlackBerry would charge because the charger would transmit electricity. This possibility requires a level of understanding of electron movement that we don't actually have today, but the experts say it's possible. That could allow us to have energy plants 100 years in the future on the moon and transmit power safely back to our cities. It sounds like science fiction, but so did X-rays 100 years ago.

This is the type of research that's happening at the Perimeter. And in partnership with quantum computing—I'm sure all of us remember the binary code of ones and zeros. Perhaps the chair doesn't remember binary code, but it's ones and zeros. That is the basis for all computation on our planet today. If you knew that an electron was rotating to the right and another electron was rotating to the left, the right rotation could be the one and the left rotation could be a zero.

Second, most electrons have a charge, positive or negative. I don't want to get too complicated, because I'm not a physicist, but what I'm telling you is the potential for having a computer more powerful than anything we have right now, the size of a pin. Because we're not using ones and zeros, but instead we're using electrons with a positive charge that rotate to the right and electrons with a negative charge that rotate...and we've just quantified the next generation of computers.

So I don't know how to explain the value of that technology. It's really the difference between having a light bulb and not having a light bulb to the future of the world. But to me, having that intellectual property in Canada, producing it and building it here, is invaluable to providing the high-paying, high-quality jobs that this nation needs to have to compete with what is a changing global environment.

I hope I didn't go overboard there, but these are the kinds of real dreams that quantum computer physicists have every day.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Braid Conservative Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Thank you, and thank you for the science lesson.

One of the important policy objectives of our government is, as you well know, given your responsibility, to help foster and encourage the commercialization of technology. Do you see our support for the Perimeter Institute as contributing towards that goal over time?

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Conservative Cambridge, ON

Absolutely. The good news story, though, is that there is a spectrum of research, the pure-sky basic on this end and the applied commercialization on the other end. Our science and technology strategy and our funding for science and technology in Canada cover the whole range. We have to do all of it, both for jobs today and of course for jobs and the economy tomorrow. And we do all of it.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Sweet

Thank you, Mr. Braid.

Now we'll move on to Mr. Regan.

And by the way, before we start the time for Mr. Regan, I just want to let you know that I do remember punch cards from high school. Remember the punch cards?

4:05 p.m.

An hon. member

Mr. Chair, you're old.

4:05 p.m.

An hon. member

I think my grandfather told me about those.