Evidence of meeting #52 for Industry, Science and Technology in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was technology.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Robert Walker  President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories
Karna Gupta  President and Chief Executive Officer, Information Technology Association of Canada
Jean-Marie De Koninck  Special Advisor of the scientific director, Mitacs
Walter Di Bartolomeo  Vice-President, Engineering, Pratt & Whitney Canada
Robert Annan  Chief Research Officer, Research and Policy, Mitacs
Kelly Hutchinson  Vice-President, Government Relations and Policy, Information Technology Association of Canada

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Daniel Conservative Don Valley East, ON

I agree fully with that, but the question is how this government can help small businesses make sure they secure the IP that will allow them to actually get to the next level of growing their businesses, getting more jobs, doing all the things that would make that possible.

12:35 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Information Technology Association of Canada

Karna Gupta

I'll give you two specific examples. One is that I think our intellectual property regime needs to be a lot more nimble and faster for the Canadian companies to process. Second, one of the comments we put forward in our budget submission was that if I was a small business and I generated $2 of revenue—$1 from regular business and $1 from selling intellectual property—that revenue should be taxed at a lower rate to create incentives for our companies to promote and commercialize the intellectual property they have, not only locally but globally. That is a policy instrument we could use to promote greater use of our intellectual property.

That's very simple. The U.K. is already going down this path on intellectual property. They're seeing a lot more SMEs using intellectual property for commercial purposes, so all of the development now is not going to esoteric IP protection of all kinds. They're creating IP that is more relevant to the business use.

I'll use the example of mathematics. Certicom's IP was all in encryption. Your BlackBerry used to be encrypted by us and NSA's encryption was done by us. Mathematics is not protectable. Mathematics is public property. The IP is done by protecting how you implement process and all of that, so you create a fence around how it is used. If that is done right and I generate revenue from it, I should be incented. I'm creating jobs. I'm giving more work to the local graduates. I'm hiring more locally from local universities. There is a very direct linkage between how we treat IP and business outcomes.

12:35 p.m.

Vice-President, Engineering, Pratt & Whitney Canada

Walter Di Bartolomeo

I'll add a couple of things. We had a quick discussion around CARIC. The IP framework around that collaborative network is really links to domains of expertise. If we do a collaborative project with a university and a small or medium enterprise, then for the use in gas turbine engines really Pratt & Whitney Canada would look to retain that IP. But for non-competitive areas, really the subject matter expert, the small or medium enterprise, could exploit that. In order for that to be done, the level of investment and the repartition of risk should be commensurate with what an OEM would put in. If Bombardier is going to put in a fair number of dollars, we would expect the small or medium enterprise to do the same.

What the government could do is to support small and medium enterprises to a level that's commensurate in that respect. That allows a sharing of that IP that's in line with the risk being taken. Then they could exploit it beyond the specific domains of interest of that OEM. For Bombardier, that would be aircraft. For Bell Helicopter, it would be helicopters. For Pratt & Whitney, it would be gas turbine engines. It could be used in other parallel industries. It could then go ahead and do that. I think that's a framework that has worked well.

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Daniel Conservative Don Valley East, ON

Let me phrase my question slightly differently. Should the government provide funding for small businesses to secure their IP with the hope of actually getting that money back once they've taken that IP and developed their business?

12:40 p.m.

Vice-President, Engineering, Pratt & Whitney Canada

Walter Di Bartolomeo

I would say it's more to develop the IP. The securing of IP through the IP protection capabilities is probably sufficient. It's really to develop the IP. You have to develop that IP.

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Daniel Conservative Don Valley East, ON

To develop the IP, if you have to patent it, it's tens of thousands of dollars. For a small business that could be quite difficult.

12:40 p.m.

Vice-President, Engineering, Pratt & Whitney Canada

Walter Di Bartolomeo

The short answer is yes.

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Daniel Conservative Don Valley East, ON

Okay.

Let's go to the nuclear side of things. There are disruptive technologies coming along, such as thorium salt reactors. What are your comments about that in terms of the nuclear industry and power generation?

12:40 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories

Dr. Robert Walker

Thank you for the question.

The nuclear industry is an industry that is highly innovative. Many of the reactors in operation around the world today are first- and second-generation technologies. The ones on the drawing board are fourth-generation technologies that deal with fundamental issues of waste and safety and assured shutdown in the event of accidents. These are the ones that will be the game-changers as we move forward to decarbonize global economies over the next many years.

One of the unique realities of nuclear technologies is that an investment in a nuclear power plant is actually a 60- to 90-year investment. Thinking in the long term and how one upgrades the capabilities of reactors on that scale of timeframe is among the issues, but frankly emerging solutions, to address. A myriad of technologies are being examined around the world and here in Canada, ones that build on our pedigree in CANDU and its strategic advantage in the flexibilities of fuel cycles. As well, there's a potential game-breaker in what are called small modular reactors that introduce a variety of technologies for safe, affordable operation, including off-grid applications in the north of Canada, for example, that can dramatically address some of the issues we have with cost, affordability, capital investments.

These are frankly game-changing technologies. The international panel on climate change says it needs to be part of the answer. I think the technologies are emerging to make it part of the answer. It does come back to a point I made in my remarks about the risk factor and how the public perceives risk.

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Sweet

Thank you very much, Dr. Walker.

Mr. Masse, you have nine minutes.

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to the witnesses for being here.

I'd like to continue with the nuclear issue. One of the things I've taken an interest in is the deep geological repositories for radioactive material. I'm wondering how far off we are with new technology to deal with what's taking place. In Germany, the Morsleben and the Schacht DGRs have been decommissioned because they've been deemed unsafe. The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, or WIPP, in New Mexico recently had a breach contaminating over 20 people. Thank goodness it was an isolated location.

OPG right now is considering Kincardine as a DGR. It's never been done before. It's within about a mile and a half of the Great Lakes. It's created quite a problem. There are about 153 resolutions representing 20 million people who are opposed to this, including the U.S. Congress and Senate, which has two distinctive bills about this. Canada once promised, under the Joe Clark regime, that they would never do this type of activity within 10 miles, I believe, of the Great Lakes. We seem to be breaching that agreement.

I would ask whether or not there has been any type of breakthrough. What we're doing now is that basically a shaft about the length of the CN Tower goes down into limestone. It doesn't seem like a very high-tech solution to take the secondary nuclear waste, bury it as deep as we possibly can, and hope that nothing happens for 100 million years. How far away are we from maybe some new technology that could actually deal with this waste in I think a little bit more of a sophisticated way? The minister now has our report on her table. She's put it off until after the next election and is actually calling for more hearings because of the complexity of this.

I'm just eager to hear whether there's any new technology on the forefront out there that could help deal with this problem, because I think it's a very crude way to deal with nuclear waste.

12:45 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories

Dr. Robert Walker

That might be a question that's directed at me.

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

It's for Mr. Di Bartolomeo.

12:45 p.m.

Vice-President, Engineering, Pratt & Whitney Canada

Walter Di Bartolomeo

I don't deal with nuclear waste.

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

You mentioned risk in your report here.

12:45 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories

Dr. Robert Walker

Perhaps that was my remark.

June 16th, 2015 / 12:45 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Maybe it was. I'm sorry; I could be corrected.

12:45 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories

Dr. Robert Walker

Thank you for the question. I put this in the category of some of those grand challenges that industries are facing with technologies that address big social issues. The social issue here is not the DGR; it's how to provide clean, safe, reliable energy at scale. Nuclear technology is one of the answers to that. It, unlike, for example, the fossil fuel energy source, has no externalities. One sees the waste at the end of the equation and says, here it is. It's not in the air. It's not in the oceans. The question is how best to deal with it.

The issue of DGR technologies has been examined over many years, previously by AECL and now by CNL, to understand the science around keeping this material isolated for long periods of time, understanding how radiological materials migrate in the environment. These have been put forward as solutions that are believed to be safe. Those go through regulatory reviews to gain an opinion on whether that's considered acceptable for moving forward.

To the point I made in my remarks, oftentimes, and not just in this case but also I would say in the case of child vaccinations or genetically modified foods, we end up with case studies that are indicative of how a risk is perceived by the public. On the one hand, science comes forward to try to explain that risk and the risk versus the benefits and it looks at how society accepts that. I've seen times where society's response to that is that no risk is acceptable. How do you find the right answer to move forward on these issues?

I don't have the answer to this but I suggest that among the policy and legislative and regulatory issues that governments will struggle with as we move forward to find technology answers to some of these big challenges with public health, energy, and climate change, we are going to struggle to find answers to the question of whether society will accept the risk-benefit equation in moving this forward.

To your point about ongoing research on ways to recycle fuel, I made reference to reactor technology going forward. Much of that research is built around what is called the closed fuel cycle. In other words, you burn the fuel, you take it out, you do some work on it, you put it back in the reactor, and you burn it again. You actually diminish the volume of waste. You dramatically extend the lifetime before you're into a DGR kind of problem. Ultimately the view is still that you'll need deep geological repositories but perhaps with less footprint, less radioactivity, etc., and perhaps with greater public acceptance.

I think the profound question here is whether this is a discussion around DGRs or a discussion on finding solutions to decarbonize economies. We tend to be having only the first discussion and not linking it to the second discussion.

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Gupta, it was interesting to hear your testimony with regard to interaction with kids and students who are younger. How, though, do we go about getting more fairness? Say, for example, my kids go to what's called a comp ed school. A comp ed is an inner-city school that doesn't have a lot of money. They have two smart boards, for example, or three smart boards compared to other schools that will have iPads and smart boards and all kinds of different things.

What do you suggest? Is part of it a question of resources or is part of it getting them to students and getting them early access to technology and things that can actually grow them? Is that something you think there should perhaps be national involvement in, to level the playing field? The way things currently stand, in the Ontario education system, often these are things fundraised for by families. If you're a family in a newcomer area, often there are not as many supports there or they are still getting going in life, so the school doesn't benefit from some of the fundraising. The schools simply don't have enough money right now. Is that really a barrier to kids getting a jump on technology and robotics and so forth?

12:50 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Information Technology Association of Canada

Karna Gupta

It's a very good question. A lot of work is actually going on in this area. I was fortunate enough to come across, as part of the millennium goals, a program called Millennium@EDU. If you look into that, you'll find even within the developed countries like Spain and Portugal, they have immensely developed by having a national strategy around deploying Millennium@EDU.

What that means is that you get industry collaborating with the government, co-funding, and delivering a curriculum of prepackaged tools to schools that otherwise don't have sufficient funding. That could go to the north. That could go to inner-city schools. Now you have the full material developed, delivered, and available to students in terms of their curriculum. It's not only the private schools that have access to it. You basically equalize and democratize the process of delivering the education.

It is a program that we as an organization are trying to look at. How do we shop this around various governments? Should we do this in Canada because it has been happening in several countries in Europe? It has happened in Africa and some of the states in the U.S.

Unfortunately, we run into the barrier of the federal-provincial jurisdictional issue, but this does need a national discussion. Should we do this to democratize and equalize the delivery of programs? Big corporations like Microsoft, Intel, and Symantec, they are sponsoring this program globally through Millennium@EDU. We as a nation are not taking advantage of it. We have private sector partners at the table. We just need the government side, whether it be federal or provincial, to step up and say they will participate, engage, and roll it out to various schools.

I think part of it is that our structural issues get in the way. You not only have the federal-provincial; you also have the multiple school boards. It's just getting more complex from an administrative point of view to deliver the program, but there are programs that we can look at. It's not a new invention. Other countries have done it with results that can be looked at.

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Sweet

Thank you, Mr. Masse.

Our last questioner is Mr. Maguire.

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Larry Maguire Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Thank you to the panellists for being here today as well. I certainly appreciate all of your presentations. It was very informative for a person who hasn't had the experience of being on the committee that much.

I certainly wanted to ask you, Mr. Gupta, about one of the comments that you made. It was that obviously these types of technological advancements take place because of, in your comments, three areas: capital, markets, and talent. Rural and remote broadband was one of the things that you pointed out there as well.

Can you just expand on that a little bit more and what's needed in that area? We have programs that are out there now developing some of that and trying to get higher speeds into some of those rural areas. Certainly, in the northern areas, as my colleague across the way has indicated and she represents those areas as well, we need advancements in that.

At the same time, here's a question to everyone. In regard to your experiences and in regard to, maybe we'll call it disruptive technologies, but leaps into the future, could you describe to us where we're going and what you see on the horizon in some of your industries? You touched on a few, but can you expand on some of that as well?

12:50 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Information Technology Association of Canada

Karna Gupta

On rural and remote, I think it does need a national investment strategy. I think if you look at most of our large infrastructure carriers in the country, whether it be cable, satellite, or telephony, these companies do spend several billions of dollars a year to upgrade their technology and they continue to do so.

Given our geographic footprint, the way the country is, there is an economics question that comes to the table. How do you make it more viable and economically attractive for various companies to invest? This is where it needs to be addressed from a policy point of view and from a government point of view. How do you look at this as a national infrastructure project and collaborate with the companies to roll it out? You can't just tell the companies, “Thou shalt take infrastructure everywhere and up into the remote areas”, if the economics don't work.

If you look at most of the companies, I would submit to you that their total investments on an annual basis probably run in excess of $10 billion, when you combine them all. We still haven't reached the remote areas. It does require a support between public and private to look at this, just like roads and sewer systems. We need to build this infrastructure collectively between the private and public sector.

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Larry Maguire Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Thank you.

12:55 p.m.

Chief Research Officer, Research and Policy, Mitacs

Robert Annan

I'll jump in on this question about leaping into the future. We work with hundreds and thousands of students each year who are coming out of the universities. I feel that I am now definitely old enough to say that young people today are not like me or, with respect, many members of this committee.

People such as my kids, people coming out of universities now, just take it for granted that they have in their pockets a means to access the entirety of human knowledge and to connect with anybody on the planet immediately, including, with social media, people they don't even know. They can just make these connections. In a way, they're coming out ready and primed to change the world. They have a lot of tools at their disposal, but many of the mechanisms we use to educate, to train, and to support were built for a different time. I think one of the challenges we have is, how do we evolve?

Institutions are not easy to change. You don't change overnight. Technology changes a lot faster than universities. Universities change very slowly—very slowly—but that doesn't mean we can't find mechanisms to adapt and to support. The students, the young people today, are going to run further than we can keep up with, so how do we try to evolve the infrastructure we have, the support mechanisms we have, in order to support entrepreneurship among young people, to make transitions easier from university into the private sector or the not-for-profit sector, and to take their ideas and make them reality?

Whether it's through protecting the IP or through tools for development, and whether it's broadband in rural and remote communities or aboriginal communities, for all these sorts of pieces what we can do to connect them to the opportunities available I think is really essential, because the young people today are going to push into the future whether we adapt or not.