Good afternoon, everybody. We have a long session ahead of us, so we're going to start on time.
Welcome, everybody, to meeting number eight of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology.
First, I'd like to thank everybody for coming today. Today, we have several witnesses to welcome to our committee, along with a number of people in our gallery all the way to you guys in the back and Canadians who are watching live from home on their TV sets.
I would like to welcome the Hon. Bardish Chagger, Minister of Small Business and Tourism; the Hon. Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science; and the Hon. Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development.
Along with the ministers, we have several senior public servants, officials from each department. I'd like to welcome you all for appearing before the industry committee. I'd also like to thank everybody working behind the scenes as well who have helped get all three ministers here today.
The mandate of our committee is vast and covers all three of your portfolios. We're thrilled that logistically it worked out so that we could meet you all at the same time. In fact, three ministers for three hours may be a committee record.
As a committee, we understand that a question may not pertain to just one ministry. Please feel free to ask any of the ministers questions, or the ministers can have other ministers answer those questions too, if it crosses over. We have a lot to accomplish today. There will be a lot of great discussion and perhaps some tough questions asked today, but I expect that we can do so respectfully. Everyone is eager to learn what the goals and priorities of each of our ministers are within the mandates that have been given to them by the .
I know we're all eager to ask a lot of questions, so I will keep this brief and I will explain how we're going to do this. We're going to start off with the ministers. Each minister will have 10 minutes. At the end of all three ministers, we will begin our line of questioning and will go from there.
Go ahead. Who will go first?
I'll start, if that's okay with the chair.
The Chair: Thank you, Minister Bains.
Hon. Navdeep Bains: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
I really am pleased to be here in front of such esteemed colleagues and committee members. I truly do appreciate the opportunity to speak about my mandate letter, as you mentioned, and of course, about budget 2016 and the main estimates.
I'd like to take this opportunity to also acknowledge my colleagues here with me this afternoon: Minister Chagger, responsible for small business and tourism; and Minister Duncan, who is responsible for science; and of course my deputy minister John Knubley and my associate deputy minister Kelly Gillis.
Mr. Chair, I am here today as Canada's first Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development. As you know, this is a department that over the years has had different names, most recently Industry Canada. The new name underscores that innovation and scientific discovery are key drivers of economic growth across Canada.
Our new name is also a clear signal of this government's recognition that the global economy is changing and changing fast. The speed and scope is absolutely phenomenal. Thankfully, Minister Duncan is helping shoulder a great deal of responsibility for making sure science has a strong place in the business of government; and Minister Chagger is working to stimulate economic development for small businesses across the economy and particularly in the tourism sector, where we're seeing tremendous growth opportunities. Of course, all of us do this with a keen eye on encouraging innovation across the economy, Mr. Chair.
Since being appointed last November, I have had an opportunity to engage my colleagues as we tackle our mandate and work to deliver on our priorities. For the first time in Canadian history, our mandate letters were made public. Our government is about openness and transparency; about performance and results. We are focused on outcomes.
Immediate action was taken to address many items in my mandate letter, including my announcement on the first official day.
I must confess, Chair, that this was a point of pride. The first official government announcement was to reinstate the mandatory long-form census, coupled with ongoing work to update legislation governing Statistics Canada whereby we're reinforcing the institution's independence.
I must say I've been quite impressed with the breadth and talent within the portfolio, including that in our department, the regional development agencies, and regional offices. As minister, I've had the opportunity to travel the country and visit our public service. I want to take this opportunity to thank them for their hard work and to say how much we value their input.
When the decided to bring together all the regional development agencies under one portfolio, it made a lot of sense to me. I strongly believe that effective collaboration is one of the best ways to drive innovation. I happily accepted the responsibility of representing our RDAs at the cabinet table. Every year they invest close to $1 billion in communities across the country, helping to develop and diversify our economy.
As you know, this is a new portfolio with a new name, and we're building on a solid foundation. It's clear to me that Canada is well positioned for success. We have world-leading research institutions, we have the most creative and innovative entrepreneurs, and we have businesses and incubators and accelerators that transform breakthroughs in the laboratory into products that enhance the lives of millions of Canadians. We make R and D investments for the development of leading-edge technologies, including in the most traditional Industry Canada sectors, which continue to make a vital and an important contribution to our economy in sectors such as automotive—I know Brian will be happy to hear that and I support it—aerospace, and defence.
Another important initiative that we are supporting is the promotion of a stronger engagement in the digital economy, including by continuing to expand and improve broadband Internet access across the country, and by providing computers for schools and not-for-profit organizations to better teach digital literacy.
We understand the importance of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM. As a father of two young girls, I must say we must encourage more participation of more young women when it comes to STEM.
In terms of making investments, this is very key in budget 2016.
Ours is a forward-looking government. We know there is far more to do, as the made clear on March 22 in our first budget.
We are taking a positive and optimistic approach to our future. That is why, in my first months on the job, I reached out to hundreds of CEOs from both small and large companies and in a variety of sectors. Fundamentally, they are looking for government to invest in people, in infrastructure and in innovation. And the response I received from them was very positive.
As I have told the CEOs, my number one priority is to build Canada as a centre of global innovation that is renowned for its science, technology, creativity, entrepreneurial citizens, and globally competitive companies. It's all part of our department's mandate.
I want to emphasize the word “our” because this truly is a team effort, and it's strongly reflected in the budget. The title of the budget 2016, Mr. Chair, as you know, is “Growing the Middle Class”. It is clear recognition that for Canada to succeed, our middle class needs to succeed and that we as a government can and must do more, not simply for those people in the middle class but for those who want to join the middle class as well.
For our part we're defining a bold new plan to help achieve that goal, our innovation agenda. Through this plan we will redefine how we support innovation and growth in the economy and this will be undertaken in collaboration and coordination with the private sector; the provinces, territories, and municipalities; as well as universities, colleges, and the not-for-profit sector, civil society. It truly will be a holistic approach.
I think most important for today's discussion is that we're looking forward to working with the members of this committee, which has a long history, a tradition of providing intelligent and insightful analysis on some of the most pressing issues that face our economy.
I note with great interest, Mr. Chair, that the committee will soon undertake—as you mentioned earlier today to me—a study of Canada's evolving manufacturing sector. As one of the largest investors in R and D annually in Canada, this is a sector that understands the importance of innovation and technology for its continued success into the future. What's more, manufacturing today is not what it was 30 years ago. New entrepreneurs, new approaches, and new markets—in other words, innovation—has reshaped the sector. I look forward to seeing the results from your work.
Beyond the manufacturing sector, Mr. Chair, I'd like to take some time to talk about how the government is taking action through the budget to help realize this vision of Canada as an innovation nation. For example, we are providing a $2-billion commitment to enhance and modernize research and commercialization facilities on Canadian campuses.
Minister Duncan can also tell you that we are providing the highest amount of new annual funding for discovery research in more than a decade, through an additional $95 million per year to the granting councils. This recognizes the fundamental role of investigator-led discovery research in an innovative society.
What's more, to promote clean technology and climate change adaptation we're providing over $1 billion to encourage investment in clean tech in the forestry, fishery, mining, energy, and agriculture sectors. Clean technology is key to sustainable economic growth and will play a critical role in Canada's transformation into a low-carbon, globally competitive economy. By supporting clean tech, we're seeking to reduce the environmental impacts of energy production in a way that will create jobs and leave future generations of Canadians with a sustainable and prosperous future.
To bring new forms of these technologies to market faster we're investing $50 million to support an organization new to the ISED portfolio, and that's Sustainable Development Technology Canada and its new SD tech fund. Specifically the money will go toward developing and demonstrating new technologies that address climate change, air quality, clean water, and clean soil.
We will also deliver on the government's priority of increasing high-speed broadband coverage by investing $500 million for a new program to extend and enhance broadband service in rural and remote regions across this diverse and broad country.
Of course finally in this budget we have a mandate whereby we made a downpayment on one of the signature elements of our innovation agenda, supporting firms with an ambition to grow beyond our borders, ensuring they have the resources and support they need to reach their potential. Specifically we will invest $800 million to support innovation networks and clusters, and we will boost the highly successful industrial research assistance program, known as IRAP, by $50 million. This was really well received by small businesses.
I hope that it is clear that we have an ambitious goal of enabling innovation in all ways possible. This budget is right for its time, a time to be building our economy and investing in our future.
We believe a long-term approach will improve productivity and competitiveness across our economy.
I firmly believe that innovation is the key to the kind of sustainable and inclusive growth that we need to thrive in the global economy. That is why you see it at the core of our mandate and at the heart of everything we're doing across this portfolio. Ours is an ambitious set of goals, but I have every confidence in the capacity, ability, and talent of Canadians to work together to achieve them.
Again, Mr. Chair, thank you very much.
I'd like to thank the committee members for your time, and I'd like to thank my honourable colleagues, Ministers Duncan and Chagger, who will now say a few words.
I'd be happy to answer any questions following their remarks. Thank you very much.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I'd like to thank the committee for having us. It's an honour and privilege to be appearing today. Like my colleague Minister Bains, I'm really looking forward to working with you all.
Before I start, I'd like to acknowledge my colleagues Minister Bains and Minister Chagger, as well as John Knubley and Kelly Gillis, with whom we have the privilege of working.
I appreciate the opportunity to speak today on the occasion of the tabling of the main estimates.
Mr. Chair, I am part of a government, and part of a team within Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, that believes in science. We know that science and empirical evidence must inform government decision-making.
It is not common for a team to open its playbook to the public, Mr. Chair, but that is just what we did in sharing our mandate letters. We want to change the tone of how we communicate and interact with Canadians by being more open and transparent. Of course, there's no better example of openness than our immediate action to allow federal researchers and scientists to discuss their work. As Minister Bains said, our first announcement was to reinstate the long-form census, and the next announcement was to allow our federal scientists to speak freely.
But there is so much more to our commitment to science. Just take, for example, Budget 2016.
Budget 2016 invests up to $2 billion to improve our research and innovation infrastructure at colleges, universities, and polytechnics. There's an additional $95 million per year to the granting councils to support discovery research. I'm proud to say that this is the highest amount of new annual funding for this purpose in over a decade.
To ensure that federal support for research, including through the granting councils, is strategic and effective, budget 2016 announces that I will undertake a comprehensive review of all elements of federal support for fundamental science over the coming year. The review will ensure that the full spectrum of research, from basic to applied, is balanced and is fully supported. Our goal is to ensure that investments in science are strategic, effective, meet the needs of Canada, and meet the needs of our research community.
We will also be establishing a new chief science officer position. This position will be key to ensuring that scientific analyses are considered when the government makes decisions and that the work of government scientists is openly communicated. This is a top priority of mine. I have conducted significant consultations within the research community, sought views from all members of Parliament, and examined best practices. I will be providing advice to the , and hope to be launching a search for the chief science officer within the next few months.
Mr. Chair, as per budget 2016, I will also work with Minister Bains to establish two new Canada excellence research chairs in clean and sustainable technologies. To ensure that youth pursue careers in STEM, in science, technology, engineering and math, the budget commits $73 million to help employers create more co-op placements for students in these important areas.
You will also see us focusing on encouraging the participation of under-represented populations, including women and indigenous peoples.
In budget 2016, we also committed to supporting Canadian leadership in genomics by investing $237 million for genomics research and applications through Genome Canada. From space and brain science to clean technology, stem cell, and climate change research, and so much more, we are delivering on our mandate and supporting a real innovation culture in this country.
The made a commitment to Canadians to pursue our policy agenda in a renewed sense of collaboration.
This will involve a large degree of teamwork and partnerships. We will work with other members of the cabinet, with provinces and territories, with foreign governments and international forums, and of course, with Canada's excellent universities, colleges, polytechnics, and non-profit research organizations.
Science plays a central role in a thriving, clean economy and in providing evidence for sound policy decisions. To be successful in a highly competitive global economy, Canada must continue to attract and development highly qualified, talented people performing world-leading research and generating new breakthrough ideas.
We believe that Budget 2016 represents a great step forward in achieving these goals.
To my colleagues here, again, I thank you for having us and I look forward to your questions.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and members of the committee for inviting me to speak with you today. It is indeed a privilege to be here. It's great to be here with my colleagues as well at the same table.
I just want to take a quick moment to recognize the same people that my colleagues have also recognized, as well as the teams that we come with. Any good work is done because of all the work that we do and the teams that help us do that work, so I sincerely appreciate all the efforts.
I'm pleased to be part of an ambitious team here today to discuss the government's commitment to innovation, science, and economic development. My goal, as our country's first full Minister of Small Business and Tourism, is to work with my cabinet colleagues to foster a climate of success for small businesses and engage directly with our Canadian entrepreneurs and tourism operators.
To that end, in the fewer than six months since being sworn in I have already met with close to 250 stakeholders, entrepreneurs, and small business owners. Whether it's one on one or a great discussion around a table, their stories are inspiring and help our government deliver on what they need.
I am pleased to be part of an ambitious team here today to discuss the government's commitment to innovation, science and economic development.
My goal is our country's first full is to work with my cabinet colleagues to foster a climate of success for small businesses across this country.
Budget 2016 sets us on a path to reshape the Canadian economy for the 21st century. This is a budget for the middle class, and that means it is also a budget for small business. If you own a small business, you work for your money, and especially if you are starting out, what money you have often goes right back into your business, not to mention the time, effort, and personal sacrifices small business owners make trying to grow and expand. When small businesses grow, they hire more people from their communities. Ninety per cent of all Canadians working in the private sector are working at a small or medium-sized business. SMEs account for about 40% of the GDP. They are the backbone of our economy.
Budget 2016 sets us on a path to reshape the Canadian economy for the 21st century.
This is a budget for the middle class. And that means it is also a budget for small business. Entrepreneurs work hard for their money and, especially if they are starting out, what money they have often goes right back into the business.
Not to mention the time, effort and personal sacrifices small business owners make trying to grow and expand.
When small businesses grow, they hire more people from their communities. Ninety per cent of all Canadians employed in the private sector work in small or medium-sized businesses. SMEs account for about 40% of GDP. They are the backbone of our economy.
When small businesses succeed, middle-class Canadians succeed, and that's what our economy needs.
We are boosting funding to the industrial research assistance program, which helps SMEs access technical advice and research and development project financing. As my colleague said, it has been very well received.
The budget also proposes to help business accelerators and incubators develop much needed research into performance. This information is not only crucial in helping these institutions benchmark their success and drive improvement, it also helps companies to choose their best options for support and government at all levels to increase the effectiveness of public investments.
With research, knowledge, and innovation, SMEs are well equipped for the next crucial steps in growing their businesses: exporting to global markets. This is a task our government is committed to making easier by working closely with our international partners to open new markets, and with the tools such as CanExport, which we launched earlier this year, a program that helps small businesses research global markets and find buyers for their products and services.
In line with the innovation agenda's goal, budget 2016 proposes a new initiative to help high-impact firms scale up and further their global competitiveness. With entrepreneurs and small businesses at the centre of this approach, firms will be able to access coordinated services tailored to their needs at each of the crucial steps of research, development, production, and expansion.
With research, knowledge and innovation, SMEs will be well-equipped for the next crucial step in growing your business: exporting to global markets.
Our government is committed to making this task easier by working closely with our international partners to open new markets and providing tools such as CanExport, which we launched earlier this year.
Mr. Chair, the second but no less important part of my title is tourism. The tourism industry is an important economic driver for Canada. It is a $90-billion industry sector.
Last year was an outstanding year for Canada's tourism sector. In 2015, overnight arrivals to Canada grew by 7.5% to 17.8 million, compared to that same period in 2014. If we consider that all international tourist arrivals globally grew by 4.4% in 2015, Canada is outpacing global growth. This is a tremendous accomplishment.
Canada needs to build on this momentum over the next year as we move toward our country's 150th birthday celebrations in 2017. This is an opportunity to showcase what Canada has to offer so tourists don't just visit, they keep coming back. It is an opportunity our government is seizing.
Last year was an outstanding year for Canada's tourism industry. In 2015, overnight arrivals to Canada reached 17.8 million. That's a 7.5% increase compared to 2014. If we consider that international tourist arrivals globally grew by 4.4% in 2015, Canada is outpacing global growth. This is a tremendous accomplishment. Canada needs to build on this momentum over the next year as we move forward towards our country's 150th birthday celebrations in 2017. This is an opportunity to showcase what Canada has to offer so that tourists do not just visit, they keep coming back. It is an opportunity our government is seizing.
Destination Canada continues to work with partners to enhance Canada's marketing in the U.S. It will also carry on its efforts in other international markets including China, the U.K., France, and Germany. What's more, the budget provides $50 million to Destination Canada to bolster marketing initiatives in important international markets around the world. Global travellers want to explore, live a life less ordinary, and leave their cares behind. That's what Canada has to offer and that's what will keep them coming back long after 2017.
Mr. Chair, let me join Ministers Bains and Duncan in again thanking the committee for this opportunity.
We welcome questions at this time.
Minister Duncan, Minister Bains, Minister Chagger, deputy minister, and assistant deputy minister, thank you for making the time today. We are privileged to have you joining the committee and sharing your thoughts with us.
At the outset, I'd like to thank Minister Chagger for making a special visit to my riding, the riding of Richmond Hill. We had the opportunity to be able to showcase some of the capabilities we have in being able to help with the innovation and growth agenda. I would also like to invite the other two ministers to join us, because we would be able to showcase that we have the building blocks to be an active participant in the growth of research development and innovation, and the growth of the economy.
I would like to also thank the for sharing your mandate letters with us, which gave us the vision and the general direction that your ministries will be taking, along with the sense of collaboration among many different departments.
On that note, I would like to start with you, Minister Duncan, and ask two questions. One is on the sense of the priorities, which I'll touch on shortly. The other one is about one of the things I understand we share a passion for, stem cell research, as well as the collaboration between the ministries.
Let's start with the first question. You touched on the office of chief science officer. Can you give us an update, aside from your starting to recruit for this position, and perhaps give us the findings from all the consultations you did? I know you reached out to all the MPs' offices to ask for some feedback.
The second question is specifically around stem cells. Can you expand on the scope of stem cells and how you are collaborating with other ministries, specifically the , to be able to promote that across Canada?
I'd like to thank my honourable colleague for the question.
I'll start by talking about the chief science officer. You're correct that as part of my mandate letter I am to create this position. Over the last several months I have met with hundreds of stakeholders, and have been busy travelling the country. We also reached out to chief science advisers and chief science officers in other countries to get ideas of best practices—for example, in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the U.S., and Israel. Our officials spoke to officials in other countries, and I spoke minister to minister. We wanted to see what was being done overseas that we might be able to incorporate.
We also did a large consultation with stakeholders across the country, with all our major stakeholders. What should a chief science officer position look like? What tasks should they undertake? What tasks should be undertaken first, and how should they engage with the research community? As you pointed out, I also reached out to all parliamentarians. I've been here for seven years, and I've never seen that.
We really wanted to get a broad consultation, and I'm pleased to see that those consultations are now complete. We're at the analysis stage—a term I don't use lightly. We are, after all, a ministry of science, so we're doing a real analysis. I hope to be starting a search in the coming months.
You also asked about stem cells.
For the committee, stem cells were really Canada's science. The breakthrough discovery occurred here in Canada in the 1960s by Drs. Till and McCulloch. Canada has led in this area. In the seventies and eighties they trained people who became international leaders. In 2001 these researchers came together to create the stem cell network, with 225 researchers and $80 million. I'm pleased to say that in budget 2016, there's $12 million for the stem cell network.
I think my colleague Minister Bains would probably like to talk a bit about stem cells, but I briefly want to say that there's so much promise. The reason the stem cell network is so important is that they are now ready to go to clinical trials. I know that for some people, stem cells are concerning. But people need to understand that today a skin cell can become a stem cell and possibly treat 75 conditions—that's the promise—from cancer to heart disease to immune disorders.
We do share, you and I both, a strong interest to support that research and hopefully one day to deliver on the promise of stem cells.
Chair, through you, I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge Brian's advocacy and hard work when it comes to the Windsor region. I very much understand your concerns around the corridor between Windsor and Detroit.
But specifically around CAPC, if I may, I've had an opportunity to meet with members of CAPC. This was during my visit to the Detroit auto show where I met with global executives and OEM heads to speak to them directly about investment opportunities. I think the key part is this. How do we brand Canada? How do we create opportunities? How do we demonstrate that we're serious about investment in the automotive sector? And we are.
I think the point I made earlier is very relevant, because not only do we extend the automotive innovation fund by an additional three years. The profile change sends a clear signal that we were very serious about making sure that we wanted to be part of the production cycle for these OEMs going forward. Not only the OEMs, Minister Chagger and I had the opportunity in Kitchener a few days ago to make that investment in the automotive supplier innovation fund, and there were multiple companies from Windsor that received funding.
Again, the idea is to say, five years from now where is the industry going to be and where do we want to be? Because when I went to Detroit, it wasn't necessarily horsepower. It wasn't necessarily about how big the vehicle was. It was about software and it was about technology and it was the autonomous vehicle.
Rapid change is taking place in the industry, and we want to make sure that we're at the head of that game. We want to make sure of Canada's position as an innovation hub, so we're working very closely with the OEMs to say we're serious about it. One example is GM. I met with Mary Barra, the chair of GM, and we made it very clear that this is an area we have leadership in and we want to make investments in.
It's very important, because it's not simply about the OEMs, but it's the supplier base. If you look at the footprint in Canada, we have 700 suppliers that feed into the OEM. Then above and beyond that, we've created unique partnerships with universities and colleges, 40 of them, that do research directly with the sector.
We have this comparative and competitive advantage and it's focused around innovation. This is a priority for us and that's why the automotive innovation fund and the automotive supplier innovation fund are two really good tools that we're going to utilize. We're not simply announcing them. We want to make sure those funds are available for industry.
Thank you for the question. It's an excellent question.
I can start off by saying that small business is implicit throughout the entire budget. I've made the statement time and again that it's important that we recognize that middle-class Canadians are small business owners and are the people who work for them.
The commitment and investments we are making within the nation actually all help small businesses. We say they are the backbone of the economy, and this goes to prove that point. No matter who it is, everyone either knows a small business owner or knows someone who is related to a small business owner. We all have that in common.
As for what defines a small business, a small business is defined as having fewer than 100 paid employees. Medium-sized would be the next step up, having fewer than 500 paid employees.
My mandate clearly states that it's important that we help these small businesses grow through innovation and trade. We need them to be more productive. We need it to be easier for them to grow and be successful. I've said on several occasions that the success of small business is the success of the nation, and I wholeheartedly believe that.
Within the budget, there are many different places I can point to. I will start off, and Minister Bains may choose to step in as well.
The innovation agenda actually will be driving our economy forward. A healthy economy is good for small business.
If I can touch on the middle-class tax cut, the middle-class tax cut puts more money into the pockets of Canadians. One thing I hear time and again is that small businesses want to sell their products and services. How do we help make that happen? We help make it happen by allowing consumers to be strengthened. One way to do that is by allowing them to have more dollars in their pockets.
The Canada child benefit helps those same families who end up buying from local businesses. Anywhere I've had the opportunity to travel across this nation, I try to stay at a small business and I try to shop at a small business, because I know this not only helps them and their families but helps their community. It helps them create jobs within those communities. That is what will strengthen our nation.
If I can continue, not only will the historic infrastructure investment grow our nation but it will also support small businesses, because it allows us to get to work. A few weeks ago, I was in a riding and visited a market. At that market the number one complaint was that their trucks get stuck on the highway. Fresh produce can't get to their stores, they can't sell those goods, and they therefore sometimes lose the products or are not able to provide that service.
The $500 million for broadband in rural and remote areas is a big deal. I do not believe you should not be able to do business because of where you live. We need our small and medium-sized businesses to be successful. We need all communities to be able to consider international markets. That commitment to broadband, in rural and remote areas especially, will be quite beneficial.
The industrial research assistance program has received very good news: the $50 million in the IRAP program. It is an additional commitment, which allows us to invest into more businesses that need that support.
The $4 million for Canadian technology accelerator initiatives will take us forward. It speaks to that innovation and commitment that we're making long term. We are not only trying to grow the economy for today but are trying to create jobs for tomorrow. That's part of it as well.
The list could go on, and I'm sure you probably have other questions, but if you'd like me to go on, I can.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Thank you very much for that question. I do appreciate the tone because I understand your concern.
One of the things I want to take this opportunity to highlight, and I mentioned in my opening remarks, is that this government is doing things differently. We really believe that we have a unique opportunity to bring all the regional development agencies together to really leverage them in a way that can bring about meaningful change when it comes to economic development.
As I mentioned, all the economic development agencies now have a collective portfolio of a billion dollars. We're focusing on innovation, clean tech, and scale-up, all key priorities to growing the economy. The idea is to share best practices, to leverage good will, to be able to design programs that also at a national level drive the agenda but meet the local needs.
I'm very happy to say that, when it comes to FedNor and the program we have there, we've been making meaningful investments in that region in aboriginal people, in the forestry sector, and in the mining sector. These investments are leveraging good return on investment with the private sector, with academia, and with local communities. It's really great to be able to collaborate together and to be able to leverage those government initiatives and government funds to be able to get a good return on investment, and it's creating good jobs. So far, the response has been very positive.
As I said earlier on, I have an open-door policy, so it doesn't matter where you live in the country, you can come and speak to me, my team, and my colleagues. My does a tremendous job as well in making sure we do a lot of outreach proactively. We have a tremendous team from northern Ontario who are punching above their weight, providing good input and good feedback, and making key investments for us. I'm proud to be part of that team.
I must say that economic development now has become more prominent with a portfolio that's better leveraged with innovation and science as well. I think that sends a clear signal that we have a more coordinated and collaborative approach when it comes to growing the economy and creating jobs.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you to all of the ministers and your officials who are here today.
I am going to perhaps take a little bit of a different tack. We also wish to speak about the main estimates here as well, and after spending four years on public accounts, it's something that I do have a certain amount of interest in.
Here are just a couple of the highlights. The Canadian Space Agency, there is recognition that 16.4% of its voted appropriations were not spent. This is a normal type of situation that occurs. These are things that do happen.
With the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, certainly some changes have been made there. It's a different request that you have, especially for SSHRC, in its requesting only $1.9 million for specific projects in 2016-17. Of course, there's the Canada first research excellence fund, and how it is being split within the various participating agencies.
These are some of the things that we do see. In the main estimates, we look at what is involved with the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council with increases in various areas....
In some of the discussions that I've had with these organizations and, of course, as was mentioned by Mr. Arseneault, and also our colleges and universities and polytechnics there, they're looking at ways to make sure that the dollars that are being allocated are allocated in a manner that is going to help innovation. It's to make sure that we have the incubators that are there. I think when you have your discussions with those officials they'll be very pleased to be able to expand upon some of their concerns and issues.
Minister Bains, one of the things that you mentioned in your notes had to do with supporting clean tech. As someone who lives six miles from 53 windmills, I take a look at the energy that is actually used in order to produce them, and try to find out the information on just how many years that one windmill would have to spin before we actually pay for that. For someone that lives in the province of Alberta where we have the best, the cleanest technology in the world as far as our oil and natural gas is concerned, I don't see any mention about oil and natural gas.
What I see is clean tech, as though that is the only definition that this government is able to deal with.
I don't see it particularly in the budget, as I had gone through it. Again, you speak in the budget about how a low business investment is the biggest single drag on Canada's economic growth. This is one of the critical aspects that we have right now, where we have companies and businesses that are saying that there's no way we can invest in certain areas. The assumption is, well, don't worry. We have green tech. We have this tech; we have that tech. You'll have lots of places to put your money, but where's that money going to come from in the next few years?
These are the issues that we have. Of course, there are arguments that we have with regard to whether or not we should be able to get our natural resources to tidewater—these are critical components as well in discussions—recognizing that the oil used as people were driving here does not come from Canada. It is from countries such as Venezuela and Saudi Arabia and Iran. The dollars that are spent, the income that comes from those countries is not spent on the infrastructure that we need.
Therefore, if we can make sure that we have Canadian oil and gas industries treated fairly and looked at in a positive light rather than only this one direction, I think you'll find we'll do as we have always done, which is to lead the world as far as technology is concerned and lead the world as far as regulations are concerned. I believe we'll find there is going to be an extremely positive position from there.
I see you're very close to the button, Mr. Chair. When I get a chance later, I would then like to speak about some of the issues as far as Statistics Canada is concerned, and small businesses.
To be quick and to maximize the time, part of the mandate is to go into under-represented groups. It is something that our nation is not doing well. When it comes to the potential of our nation, I think when it comes to young people, women, first nations and aboriginal people that's who we need to tap into.
The first, and I would say the overlying issue for our business owners, our entrepreneurs is that we need to make it easier for them to do business. That's what we refer to as the red tape or the administrative burden. That's something we need to reduce and we need to do a better job at. We need to increase access. That's one point, I would say.
When it comes to the programs and services that the government offers, what I'm finding as I travel across the nation is that oftentimes by the time they find out about programs and services it's too late. They've already had to face many challenges and difficulties. That is something I would like to see us do better, allow Canadians to know what programs and services are available.
Something that excites me is the RDAs, the regional development agencies, coming under one portfolio so that we're sharing best practices. Then we can allow ourselves the opportunity to share best practices as to what's working. What I'm finding is that there are certain regions that are better at communicating than others, and this is an obstacle that we'd like to see overcome.
I work closely with Futurpreneur. Futurpreneur is reaching out to our youth. Forty per cent of their clients, if I may, are women. We're learning from them. They want to do more. They're ready for the challenge, and I'm excited to see that kind of impact.
I am communicating closely with them as to how they are engaging those groups and what challenges they are facing. For every round table or every community I visit, one thing I ask for is always to do a round table with women entrepreneurs. Not only do I meet with our, I would say routine stakeholders who have always interacted with government, but I also try to make a point of tapping into people within that community and utilizing the resources of the department to ensure that there are many people around that table who have never been invited before, so that we can see where some of those challenges are.
You will see when it comes to the programs and the way that we're communicating, we're allowing those inclusive values to be shared. Something that this government has done very well is that our cabinet has gender parity. There has been this huge opportunity to empower women like we've not seen in a long time. The has taken a great leadership role as well to ensure that the role of a woman is actually within the workforce. They are job creators and we want to empower them.
There are other challenges that all people face. We're providing the ability to allow all Canadians to know that we need to work together and we need to collaborate to overcome those obstacles.
When it comes to women, I make a conscious effort to reach out to them. Just like and , my door is open, and we are available to hear that constructive feedback. We've received a lot of constructive feedback. That's something I find when it comes to women especially, not to sound so biased. It's constructive feedback as to how we can make it easier and what is coming in the way. That's one step as well.
Then, on first nations and aboriginal communities, I feel that being given this role it's important for me to take that first step to reach out into those communities so that we are present. The government of the day cannot wait for Canadians to come to us with their concerns. I would like to see us take more of a proactive approach, and that's the style that I'm trying to go ahead with.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and I appreciate this opportunity to follow up.
I'm going to ask a question with regard to asbestos, and then how it relates to our industry. Asbestos is actually estimated to kill around 2,000 people per year, and the exposure actually has been increasing: lung cancers, death. In fact, some of my family members...and one of them in particular was in a plant in Windsor where asbestos was the leading cause of death and illness.
It's on the rise. In 1992 there was 276 recorded cases related to asbestos, and 25 years later, they're up to 560. Despite the fact that Sweden, Iceland, Denmark, Singapore, New Zealand, Japan, Australia, and South Africa have banned asbestos, Canada still has asbestos not only in many of the products that we have here, but also we allow the importation.
A specific example where it relates to industry is the fact that we bring in, say, brake pads from other countries. It's against the law, for example, for Canadian manufacturers.... I worked on the right to repair bill. That was the automotive aftermarket where there was a.... I wanted legislation, but we got actually an agreement with the industry and the government at the time for that. Some Canadian companies could actually import asbestos brake pads for the use and sale. Meanwhile, those Canadian retailers in other small shops are only trying to do the right thing, and have to compete against that.
I know the Canadian Labour Congress is working on this issue as well, and I would be remiss if I didn't note Pat Martin's work on this, my former colleague here. I can't use his terminology the way that he used to, by any means, and I miss it on a regular basis, but he's not here for that.
I know the CLC is looking at a comprehensive ban. I know the government has announced that no new public buildings will have that, but also a national registry of our public buildings.... I think also what's most important for the industry in terms of fair competition is that we actually ban asbestos products coming into Canada so those that want to do the right thing don't have unfair competition.
I'll conclude with this and leave it open to everyone.
I worked really hard when I first got here with the government of the day. I think it was Minister Goodale who made the decision at the end of day. It used to be that you could have business fines and penalties as a business-related expenses and get up to 50% back at tax time for that. It actually held up the industry committee for a long time until we actually got that finished. For example, one case was a company with drug-marketing problems with a $40-million fine and they got $11 million at tax time. So we ended that.
Is there a way we can work toward, sooner rather than later, banning asbestos imports so that non-asbestos products can compete fairly?
I'll start off, but I suspect my colleague from small businesses will also want to speak to the subject matter.
Your first point is with respect to diversification. We've seen a sharp decline in commodity prices, and it has exposed our economy. We realize more than ever the importance of diversification. I think Canadians understand that, and different regions of the country understand it. Our government is committed to diversification.
Diversification takes place with the regional development agencies, the RDAs. We focus a lot on diversification in some of the regions. We as a government have made commitments to clean tech. Again, much of the focus through the RDAs on clean tech, for example, is on small businesses, because they're the ones taking the risks. They're the ones coming out with new ideas. We want to make sure they have the opportunity to succeed.
With respect to the innovation agenda, I want to take a step back. What we need to be mindful of when we say innovation is why we are talking about innovation. It's very important to realize that innovation is important to deal with some significant macro-level issues that we face as a country. One is slow growth. It's a challenge we see globally, but in Canada as well. The other is an aging population.
To deal with these macroeconomic challenges, we need good policies domestically to be able to address the issues. Innovation is key.
When we talk about innovation, we want to focus not simply on innovation traditionally through the ICT sector, but on social innovation. This is the basic thing. We want to find solutions to problems. That is a much broader definition.
Keeping this in mind, we've focused on an innovation agenda that was articulated in our budget. It has laid down the groundwork for the comprehensive agenda that's coming forward, but it started to signal very clearly the areas that are priorities for us.
One is the need for enhancing skills and entrepreneurship. It's about making sure we bring the best and brightest from around the world here and that we equip our local citizens to become entrepreneurs, to really create the culture of risk-taking. With innovation, you're not going to get it right the first time or the second time or the third time. You're going to fail a few times. How do we create the entrepreneurial spirit? We raised that as a key point of our innovation agenda.
Secondly, and this is really neat, it's not simply about jobs alone. It's about making sure that we continue to innovate and find new ideas that will create future jobs. Research is so critical. World-leading research is absolutely critical. This is why we made significant investments in the budget for our granting councils and to post-secondary institutions. This is very important for us.
The third one is innovation infrastructure. You want the right people with the right tools in the right environment in the right place.
Of course, the $120-billion historic investment in infrastructure is absolutely essential for those who want to innovate, but specifically the $2-billion investment for post-secondary institutions sends a clear signal that this is an ecosystem we believe in, the kind of arena in which industry and academia and small businesses come together. We really invested significant amounts in that kind of infrastructure.
The last, of course, is supporting a business environment for commercialization and growth. To speak to that point, we invested $800 million on incubators and accelerators. I can tell you right now—I was at Ryerson University, a visiting professor there—the digital media zone is a great example of an incubator in which that magic happens. You have young people, and it's very important that we bet on young people—I think that's critical—who come together and to whom you provide an opportunity to take their ideas to market.
What's neat is that they have a business acumen there: the legal advice, the mentorship, the support system. That's the kind of investment we're making when we talk about incubators and accelerators. We want to invest in these start-ups, we want to invest in young people, we want to be a global hub of innovation, and we want to help them scale up as well. That's where the accelerator part comes in.
These are some of the key areas we mentioned with respect to the innovation agenda that help small businesses in particular and will allow us to diversify. As I said, we have to grow the economy and we have to create jobs.
Thank you very much for that question.
The one point I want to highlight is that innovation is not going to happen overnight. This is a long-term commitment that we made as a government.
Point two is that we have an amazing department. Not only do I get the pleasure of working with my colleagues, but we have StatsCan, the Canadian Space Agency, and all the economic development agencies. We have Destination Canada. We have the granting councils. We have BDC. We have 15 different portfolios that are going to be aligned as a whole-of-department initiative to really help drive this innovation agenda.
This is about the whole of government. This innovation agenda is saying that we as a government have a responsibility to our respective departments to drive this agenda. I will give an example on procurement. We procure in the billions of dollars. As I said before, we invest a lot in start-ups. We do a really good job. When they want to do business with Canada, however, with our government, we find every excuse in the book not to do it.
It's very frustrating. Ms. Chagger and I have talked about this, and she has raised this issue time and again. We've heard it at round tables time and again. These businesses that start up are looking for their technology, their innovation, to be validated. Why can't we provide some sort of demonstration program, or some sort of procurement initiative, to create an opportunity for them to go abroad and say yes, we do business with the Government of Canada?
That is an example of “whole of government”. That same kind of mindset will prevail throughout the different departments. Our department will play a leadership role. We're going to work with our cabinet colleagues to help drive this agenda.
When it comes to strategic, as I said, it is not simply government. Industry is going to help drive this. Companies take risks. They're the ones that create the jobs. They're the ones that come up with the products. They have to put some skin in the game as well. If you look at the balance sheet for some of the large companies or some of the companies across the board, however, they hold about 11% in cash holdings right now. They're not investing their money in innovation, not investing their money in R and D. They're not taking risks. Why is that? The onus, then, is on them as well.
We spend money across the country. Different provinces and different municipalities have unique initiatives when it comes to the innovation agenda. Before, we talked about diversification. How do we better align this? How do we make sure we're not duplicating efforts? How do we leverage it?
I'll be working with my provincial and territorial counterparts, because we built such a good relationship during the agreement on internal trade, as was mentioned before. We said, that's great; if we're confident that we can overcome that and deal with that issue, what is the next item? The next item is slow growth and to deal with it is innovation.
Strategically, then, I think we understand the importance of this initiative. It is a big issue. It's going to require a long-term lens. It's going to require a lot of energy and effort from a lot of different stakeholders.
What I also want to highlight is that I don't want to spend too much time on analysis and reports. I want to focus now on an action plan and outcomes. People are looking for outcomes. People are saying they know what the issues are.
There might be some new areas in which we need to do analysis, such as around artificial intelligence or big data or the Internet of things. In those areas we would have to explore and do additional analysis and ask what kinds of disruptive technologies we are dealing with and how they will impact our innovative economy. However, we know what we need to do with respect to increasing R and D investments, helping companies scale up, really allowing us to become a global hub for entrepreneurship.
That is what I articulated before. It's really about putting forward an agenda that's meaningful. If you look at this budget and all its initiatives, as Minister Chagger mentioned, from the Canadian Space Agency to broadband to IRAP to the post-secondary institute infrastructure initiative to the cluster initiative, it is, combined, $4.6 billion that we are investing in infrastructure. We're not just talking the talk. We are actually making significant investments to drive this agenda.
This is very important, because it sends a very clear signal to our partners, our allies in different levels of government, that we are serious about this and are very committed to it.
Thank you for your question. I am also going to answer it in English.
I'm glad you raised this question, because this is where the regional development agencies come into play.
ACOA is a very important platform for us to make those investments for diversification, particularly in rural and remote regions where there is very little or limited interface with the federal government. ACOA is the face of the federal government in those regions. That is why I very much support this regional development agency. It has a tremendous track record of making key investments to help communities transition when they get into difficult times, particularly in some of the challenges around seasonal workers.
We have different initiatives in ACOA to help businesses, from enterprise development to community development. We focus a lot on business development initiatives. The idea is that we work on small projects and also large projects, because we are focusing on helping these companies grow. We make the investment. If they need that bridge financing, if they need to be able to get to the next hurdle and BDC is not there, or if there is just a window of opportunity where we can make that investment, we will do that. We really work closely with the community. We work closely with our clients. We really have a good on-the-ground presence in these rural and remote regions.
The other area that I would like to quickly touch upon with respect to making investments in Atlantic Canada in rural and remote regions within that area and across Canada is the $500-billion commitment that we made to broadband. This commitment speaks clearly to the fact that we want to make sure that we deal with the digital divide that currently exists in society, where you have this challenge in rural and remote regions where they cannot access the Internet. That has a tremendous impact on young people and their ability to get good-quality education. As Minister Chagger mentioned, it impacts small businesses. It has a profound impact on individuals to be able to reach their potential and have the opportunity to succeed. That investment is absolutely critical as well.
So we have ACOA and we have broadband. They are two examples of how we are investing in rural and remote regions in Atlantic Canada.
Most recently we made announcements on the connecting Canadians program. This initiative is about investing in direct Internet connectivity to homes. The idea is that we will try to connect 300,000 homes by the end of the program. I think we're very close to hitting that target, if not already exceeding it. Again, it's focusing on the digital divide that's taking place. This ICT adoption, this connectivity to the Internet and accessibility, making sure it's reliable, is absolutely critical in rural and remote regions, particularly in Atlantic Canada.