Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to rise in the House this evening to talk about the budget.
First of all, on behalf of the people of LaSalle—Émard—Verdun, as well as all Canadians, I would like to extend my condolences to all those affected by the tragic event that has befallen Humboldt, Saskatchewan. This was an absolute tragedy. We offer our prayers, condolences, and thoughts to all those it has affected. We hope that, through this tragedy, we will forge stronger ties across the nation.
It goes without saying that my constituents in LaSalle—Émard—Verdun will benefit from many elements of this budget. Some of my colleagues have already discussed these measures, such as housing, the child benefit, and benefits for workers seeking retraining. I would like to talk about one element of the budget that I personally think is very important for Canada's future. I am often asked why I went into politics. I used to be a university professor. I was full professor in a fantastic faculty with an exceptional teaching staff and amazing students, whom I must admit I miss very much. It was a good gig. Why change careers to go into politics?
The answer often turns, at least in terms of part of the answer, on funding for fundamental research in this country. As a university professor over the 10 years under the previous Harper government, I saw the literal destruction of research funding in Canada. There were cuts to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, cuts to NSERC, cuts to CIHR. Colleagues and students across Canada whose funding was compromised by these very radical cuts in our education system struggled. Colleagues struggled, but worse was that students struggled. Graduate students struggled.
My funding for graduate work for my doctorate was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council in a period when funding was more generous. How many people were unable to have that education that I was fortunate enough to get through SSHRC funding during the period of the Conservative government? How many are out there that we just do not know about, because they did not get the funding? How many good research projects that would have funded graduate and post-graduate students did not get funded in Canada because of the Harper cuts? How many good, innovative, brilliant students and academics went to other countries and never came back because of the budget cuts to basic research funding under the Harper government?
What is worse is the number of academics, intellectuals, and experts in various domains who left simply because they were sick and tired of hearing academics being run down by Stephen Harper and the people around him. That is why I jumped into politics. I gave up a good gig because I thought that everybody had a responsibility to make sure that we could do everything in our power to make sure that we could change that government, and we succeeded.
Before I go on, I just want to inform the House that I will be splitting my time with the member for St. John's East.
The election day came in 2015. Immediately, in budget 2015, we stopped the gap in terms of the deficit in basic fundamental research funding in Canada.
David Naylor and his colleagues were tasked with reviewing the state of basic research in Canada. In budget 2017, we invested a great deal of money in that part of the puzzle, specifically in innovation and skills. Budget 2017 really was about innovation and skills. Still, basic research in this country needed additional support.
We waited for the Naylor report, and once we received it, we appointed a new chief science advisor. This measure was very well received by the scientific community. Then we began rebuilding. In budget 2017, we invested a lot of money in superclusters and in strategic funds for innovation. We made an important announcement today at Bell Helicopter, north of Montreal. That is another very innovative company in this country. We also invested to help young people learn how to code with the CanCode initiative. However, we waited until budget 2018 to create and build a future together through basic research with a $3-billion investment over five years in Canada's research organizations.
That is $1.7 billion over five years to support the next generation of researchers in Canada. This is curiosity-based research. It is research that is driven by the intellectual curiosities of basic research. It is absolutely critical that in addition to any innovation spending and any spending on skills training that we do, we also buttress curiosity-driven research.
In Canada right now, in Montreal, Toronto, and Edmonton, we are going through a boom in the artificial intelligence economy. That is wonderful, and our government is investing in that, as are provincial governments across Canada, as are private sector partners as well. Why are we at that state? It is because 20 years ago, when Yoshua Bengio, Geoffrey Hinton, and Richard Sutton were doing machine learning and other bits of artificial intelligence and were not necessarily getting any traction in other parts of the world, they were being funded in Canada by NSERC. They managed to convince, in very rigorous competitions for funding, enough of their colleagues that their research should be funded, and it was. Having seen the other side, I can say that these academic funding competitions are tough, very rigorous, and held to the highest standard, with experts from Canada and around the world participating as a matter of academic duty. Now, 20 years later, we are beginning to see the economic fruits of that research. Sometimes it will work and sometimes it will not. However, the point is that we need to be funding basic research in a big way, and $1.7 billion over five years to the three major agencies is absolutely critical.
In addition to funding basic research, we also need to fund infrastructure for research. Hence, the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, the CFI, is receiving $1.3 billion over five years for labs, equipment, and infrastructure...I have that number wrong. It was $1.3 billion in total, of which $763 million will go to the CFI. That is critically important, because it wanted and needed a stable budget. It often does the structural work that makes the curiosity-based research possible.
To conclude, when I look at this budget, I see the fulfillment of one of the major reasons that I went into politics. It was absolutely critical to help restabilize the research picture in Canada to make Canada a destination for research. I would like to think we have succeeded.