Evidence of meeting #104 for Industry, Science and Technology in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was investments.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

John Knubley  Deputy Minister, Department of Industry

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

As you know, Matt, I was delighted to undertake the first consultation with the research community in a decade, as well as with Parliament and with Canadians, to get a chief science adviser. That position was abolished by the previous government.

We asked what this position should look like, and it was an advisory role. We could not have a better chief science adviser than Dr. Mona Nemer—

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Matt Jeneroux Conservative Edmonton Riverbend, AB

I'm talking about the adviser position.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

I'm going to answer you. For example, the member for Beauce said she was an excellent candidate. She reports directly to the Prime Minister and to me. She can also be tasked by the Prime Minister, by me, or by cabinet. It is an advisory role.

We have brought forth a new environmental assessment process after environmental legislation, I'm sorry to say, was gutted by the previous government.

4 p.m.

Conservative

Matt Jeneroux Conservative Edmonton Riverbend, AB

Minister, I don't have much time. How many times has she been consulted?

4 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

After the legislation is passed on the new environmental assessment process we've put in place, there will be a review, and of course our chief science adviser will be weighing in on that.

4 p.m.

Conservative

Matt Jeneroux Conservative Edmonton Riverbend, AB

She will be weighing in after the process.

4 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Dan Ruimy

Sorry, Mr. Jeneroux, we're a little over time, but we will get back to you.

Mr. Masse, you have seven minutes.

4 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Minister, for being here.

You mentioned the GE brilliant factory in your presentation. What type of commitment have they made in terms of investment?

4 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

I would have to get you the details of that. I can tell you what I know on my side. When I met them, they were really excited because of the opportunities the college offered in terms of faculty, state-of-the-art infrastructure, and the access to students who could work to solve their real-world problems. That is why we have made the investment of $140 million. That is the largest applied research investment in Canadian history.

4 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Are you aware that they're laying off 350 workers in Peterborough?

4 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

I cannot comment on that.

4 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

This leads to my further question. There seems to be frustration for a lot of people with regard to the involvement of the private sector. On the one hand, there is an investment in the public with regard to the facility you referenced, the GE brilliant factory; on the other hand, down the road, in Peterborough, they're actively laying off 360 people and closing a factory. It becomes a little difficult.

My next question relates to what I'm hoping to see over the next year, which is some accountability. You're talking about $2.8 billion in renewing federal laboratories. What specifics can you provide right now in terms of where this is going and how we're going to ensure Canadian content for those investments? What I really want to know is what types of structures are being put in place, so that when we have this type of investment, it's not going to be absent of Canadian jobs and Canadian participation.

4 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

We're really excited, Brian, about this investment in federal labs, and we are just at the initial stages. I talked about this full-day retreat we have. I brought that in. This had never been done before in government, bringing together the science-based departments. Some of the things we've looked at are the age of some of the infrastructure and how research was done in these single-use labs. We want to make sure we bring together environment and health so we have a multidisciplinary perspective.

One thing that has come out of that yearly retreat is a new science infrastructure strategy. It was important to get the money in this budget for the work that's being done.

4 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

I appreciate that. I guess my concern is about a lens on procurement, and that's why I'm looking for specifics. If you don't have it now, I wonder whether it's even being done. I'm also wondering about the use of small and medium-sized businesses to participate in that procurement.

I imagine that the nearly $3 billion is going across the country, and I'm looking for measurement processes in terms of that. That's what I really would like to hear.

4 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

I appreciate your questions. This line of questioning is really for PSPC. We are at the beginning of the process on the science side, but I do want to stress how important accountability is. In budget 2016, we announced $2 billion for research and innovation infrastructure across the country, and there was a two-year window. I want you to know how carefully we watch, so there is that accountability mechanism.

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

I've had a chance to sit on other committees, and I know that procurement is a mess right now. There's no doubt about it.

I guess I'll move on to another question. The reason I used the General Electric example is that, if we just leave it to another department or another minister, there is no guarantee that there would be an actual business plan for the money to be used in procurement for the advancement of small and medium-sized business and other businesses in Canada.

I'll just leave that out there. I would hope that, as a minister, you have an interest in making sure that the procurement really is reflective of Canadians.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Our departments are working very closely, as are all the science-based departments, and we have the chief science adviser also feeding in to make sure we get the right infrastructure. Understand that this is bringing all these departments together. That's really new.

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Okay, thank you.

I will move on, then, to the pan-Canadian artificial intelligence strategy. I received a briefing with regard to the superclusters. One of the concerns I had about artificial intelligence investment was the lack of detail, at least at this point in time, about whether there would be communication and sharing with manufacturing and the other clusters.

I'm wondering whether there's going to be a connection to these investments in terms of AI across Canada, or whether they're going to be individual one-offs. I'm looking for a little more detail as to how that will work.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

You asked first of all about the pan-Canadian artificial intelligence strategy. That was announced in budget 2017. It was $125 million to invest in artificial intelligence research. I'd like people around the table to know that Canada is really a world leader in this area. Government began funding AI in Canada in the 1980s. No one was really sure what that was, even in the late 1990s, but Canada kept investing in it.

AI is now at the tipping point, when it will affect how we work, live, and play, and Canada is really at the forefront, because of the investments in discovery research and because of the training of our researchers. The $125 million was for a corridor from Montreal through Toronto and Waterloo to Edmonton.

You're also asking about the superclusters.

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Is the $125 million for individual, one-off investments, or are they going to be succinctly connected in some capacity for the overall funding?

You're calling it a strategy. I'm just trying to understand that part.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Dan Ruimy

Answer very quickly, please.

4:05 p.m.

John Knubley Deputy Minister, Department of Industry

The short answer is that CIFAR is playing a role in administering the $125 million. As part of that, Alan Bernstein is very much encouraging coordination across the three centres. With respect to the superclusters, each of the three areas has proposed investments related to three of the five superclusters.

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Thank you.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Dan Ruimy

Mr. Baylis, go ahead, for seven minutes.

May 1st, 2018 / 4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Baylis Liberal Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Thank you, Chair.

Thank you, Minister Duncan, for being here.

Since getting to know you over the last two years, I know that you have been a tireless advocate for research. You've been ringing that bell about the investments we need to make. As we're talking about the mains, I would delve a bit into the investments that you see coming.

Specifically, let's talk about infrastructure. You can't have leading research if you're using old stuff. It just can't work. Before we even talk about hiring more scientists doing anything, if they're not working on the latest infrastructure, they can't be advanced.

Can you talk specifically about the $2.8 billion that's in the estimates just for infrastructure? How do you see that impacting Canadian research in general?