Thank you, honourable members.
I am pleased to be here today before your committee.
Madam Chair, you have already introduced my colleague Doug McConnachie, who is our department's chief financial officer.
This is my first time appearing before this committee in some years, and I'm pleased to be back in front of all of you to answer your questions.
Everyone at ISED appreciates the work your committee does on important matters of economic policy.
Everyone at Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada appreciates the work your committee does on important economic policy matters.
Allow me to move on to what we're here to discuss today, the tabling of the supplementary estimates (B) for 2019-20. I hope to be able to support you in your work by clarifying these estimates, briefly discussing the department's priorities and answering your questions.
Madam Chair, I am happy to report that, despite a challenging global economic environment, Canada's economy remains resilient.
Our recent macroeconomic performance has been solid, with GDP growth expected to be second among the G7 countries for 2020 and 2021, behind only the United States.
Unemployment rates are near historic lows, and corporate profits are stable.
What's more, in addition to strong employment gains, wages have increased. At 3.4%, 2019 marked the strongest wage growth of the decade. Sustaining this employment growth and the wage gains will be crucial to supporting incomes for Canadian households.
ISED's objective is to support economic growth for the benefit of all Canadians through smart policies and investments to promote a more dynamic and innovative Canadian economy. Many of these investments are reflected in the supplementary estimates that we are here to discuss today. They support key government priorities, such as science, research, clean technology, tourism and women entrepreneurs.
These investments include funding for Canada's digital research infrastructure strategy, the women entrepreneurship strategy and the Canadian experiences fund. The estimates also include investments in the RADARSAT constellation mission to help provide a better picture of our planet from space and the sustainable development technology fund to support clean tech.
I will now discuss my department's priorities in support of the government's economic agenda.
Let me begin with the government's support for science and the application of new knowledge. Modern economies, as this committee would well know, depend heavily on the generation and application of new ideas, which make investment in science and research critical.
That is why our department has focused on applied and discovery-based science and on ensuring that we do everything we can to remove barriers that stand between research and commercial success.
Since 2016, the government has invested more than $10 billion in science and research activities. This includes significant funding for key institutions engaged in the Canadian science enterprise, such as the National Research Council.
These new investments in science are being complemented by other federal efforts to strengthen industrial ecosystems across the country.
The innovation superclusters initiative is a good example. The aim of this initiative is to accelerate innovation and foster stronger connections among all players in the ecosystem, from large anchor firms to start-ups.
To date, the superclusters have enlisted more than 1,700 member organizations. They have also invested in 40 projects. To date, this initiative represents an $85-million investment, which has leveraged $143 million from industry and other partners.
Another of our major instruments to support innovation and job creation is the strategic innovation fund, SIF. Through the SIF, my department is making investments to strengthen and expand the role of Canadian firms in regional and global supply chains, supporting economic strategies and attracting investments to create new and well-paying jobs.
Since the program was launched in 2017, the strategic innovation fund has supported 65 projects, including 22 projects directly supporting the scale-up of Canadian-owned small and medium-sized businesses.
With a federal investment of $2 billion, the SIF has leveraged more than $43 billion in total investment and helped to create and maintain more than 67,000 jobs. Nearly $1 billion of this investment will support 26 projects that contribute to the adoption and development of clean technology by Canadian business.
Clean technology is another important emerging area of strength for our economy, and the department is working to support the growth of Canadian clean-tech firms. Let me highlight one key program in the efforts to support the clean-tech industry: Sustainable Development Technology Canada, SDTC.
As of March 2019, SDTC has invested in almost 400 companies supporting more than 13,000 jobs. Estimates indicate that these companies have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by more than 18 megatonnes annually.
Beyond our major departmental initiatives, we are also making a sustained effort to improve Canadian entrepreneurs' access to our programs and services.
You will probably not be surprised to learn that some entrepreneurs have told us they have had difficulty navigating federal innovation programming.
In response, the department developed the Innovation Canada portal to make it easier and faster for Canada and its innovators and entrepreneurs to find the federal, provincial and territorial government programs that will help them grow and innovate. Since its launch just over two years ago, 1.5 million business people have received a tailored list of government supports through that website in less than three minutes.
We are also working to improve services for early stage innovators and high-growth firms by doubling the number of innovation advisers who, in partnership with other government officials, offer accelerated growth service, AGS. The AGS is a whole-of-government advisory service delivered directly in boardrooms, stores and plants in communities across Canada.
I mentioned the importance of supporting clean tech earlier.
To advance this aim, the government also launched the clean growth hub, a whole-of-government focal point for clean technology, in January 2018.
Since its launch, the clean-tech hub has helped more than 1,400 businesses and organizations at all stages of innovation and growth find the programs and services that fit their needs.
Finally, our department is working to support the government in its efforts to modernize the rules for the digital economy and ensure that Canadians can have confidence in the digital world.
Canada's digital charter is a principles-based framework that sets modern rules for a digital and data-driven economy. It is designed to rebuild the trust of Canadians.
I think it's obvious that Canadians need to be able to live, work and play safely and securely in the digital world, and our businesses must be able to take full advantage of the online economy. I am pleased to report the department is working towards changes that will help achieve those goals.
In parallel, to help ensure that Canadians have access to the digital economy in all parts of the country, our department is working to support the government in its effort to lower wireless prices. We will also continue to roll out programming to bring high-speed broadband coverage to Canadians in more rural areas.
Let me close by emphasizing that ISED is committed to working closely with industry, academia, other stakeholders and certainly your committee to build an innovative, prosperous and sustainable Canadian economy.
Thank you, Madam Chair and committee members, for your time and for providing me with the opportunity to highlight our priorities and to update you on what we're doing.
I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.
Thank you very much.
The best way to describe it would be to say that the Innovation portal is primarily accessed digitally. As the honourable member noted, you go online, you indicate what kind of business you're in, which province or territory you're in, and so on. As you go through it, when you get to the end you have a kind of tailored list of the sorts of supports that might be available to you, given the sector you're in and the area of the country you're in.
The clean growth hub has a physical location. It's here in Ottawa, in the building that houses the majority of ISED's employees in the national capital region. Businesses can come through the front door physically and actually sit down with an adviser and learn about the kinds of programming and supports that are available across the country.
Obviously, we can offer those supports as well online and through telephone consultation, but we have brought staff together in a physical location to provide a kind of one-stop shop. In the same way that you might go into a bank and find a variety of services available, there is actually a location for this.
It's designed, obviously, as the name suggests, to focus very much on clean tech. We work very closely in particular, by way of example, with Natural Resources Canada, which obviously has a very strong interest in clean technology, and we have linkages into other players, such as Sustainable Development Technology Canada and Environment and Climate Change Canada.
The clean growth hub, then, is very much focused on clean tech, it's a kind of partnership among federal ministries, and we have a physical location where we meet with a lot of companies. The Innovation portal, I would say, is bigger in scale, because it's reaching a much larger number of companies, and it's primarily a digital experience.
To reiterate, clean technology is a significant priority for the government, and it's certainly a significant priority for Innovation, Science and Economic Development. We have the clean-tech hub, which is specifically there to support companies that are looking to expand their clean technologies, to get into foreign markets and to be able to sell in Canada.
As part of our portfolio, we have Sustainable Development Technology Canada, which is a fund that directly invests in clean tech. Through Innovation Canada, we have advisers across the country. One of the priorities of that branch and of our funding generally, whether it's the strategic innovation fund or the other programs I've talked about, is in fact clean technology.
There have been a number of what you might call purer clean tech plays in the investments that have been made, and certainly, as a general rule, in the kinds of investments and support that the federal government has provided in partnering with business over the last number of years: clean technology, reduction of greenhouse gases, water and those sorts of things.
As a general rule, we are seeking to have environmental benefits in investments, even if those are not in a company that would be, strictly speaking, a clean-tech company. It's a generalized priority across our programming, but we have specific programs to support clean-tech companies.
I'll give you another example. A number of months ago, we worked with the private sector, and with the global affairs ministry, to have a clean-tech trade mission to India. We brought a number of emerging, very promising clean-tech companies to India because there are significant needs in the clean-tech sector there. My understanding is that it was a very successful endeavour.
We're doing a lot of work. I could enumerate all the many investments, but you might not wish to have me eat into too much of your time. I'll just say, it's a major priority and we take it very seriously. It infuses a lot of the work we do and we have a number of instruments focused exclusively on it.
Madam Chair, esteemed members, thank you for inviting me to appear before you today for the tabling of the supplementary estimates (B), 2019-20. I'm here with my colleagues from the department.
In November, I took on the economic development portfolio. Our role is to ensure that our government's economic agenda reflects the daily reality of Canadians and the needs of workers and entrepreneurs in every region of the country.
Over the past three months, we've travelled across the country to get a better sense of Canadians' economic reality. We've asked Canadians, like Jon from Laval Tool in Windsor; Teresa from IMARK Architectural Metals in Edmonton; and Joanne from Lefebvre Industri-AL in Baie-Comeau, what is working, and most importantly, what we can do better.
While making sure we are always doing better for Canadian workers and entrepreneurs, we also took the opportunity to support local businesses to scale up their operations, increase their productivity and participate in the local economy.
In St. John's, Newfoundland, for example, we are partnering with the workers of Newco Metal and Auto Recycling. The work we are doing there is a perfect example of helping local businesses thrive and create good jobs locally.
In Baie-Comeau, Quebec, I recently met Marc and Joanne Lefebvre of Lefebvre Industri-AL. Their family-owned SME has developed an innovative and non-polluting process to produce greener aluminum without greenhouse gas emissions.
In Rouyn-Noranda, which is in my colleague Mr. Lemire's region, Abitibi-Témiscamingue, we supported the growth of Manufacture Adria. Its general manager, Joël Baillargeon, told us that this investment will help increase productivity and production capacity as well as create 20 more jobs.
Another great project we're supporting is Montreal en lumière. Our investments will attract more international visitors in the winter. More visitors in the winter also means more revenue for tourism sector workers and a longer season.
In Windsor, Ontario, there is more than 100 years of auto manufacturing expertise. We're proud to help the sector evolve, innovate and adapt to new realities. Or how about in Sault Ste. Marie, where our support is helping the regional maple syrup cluster scale up? What could be more Canadian than that?
Earlier this month, we also announced support for indigenous youth fighting wildfires in the north. These are exciting and meaningful opportunities for employment.
No matter where we live in this country, no matter where we grew up, it's important to be able to work and raise our families in the place we call home. We know this and we're working to make it happen.
My travels also took me to Alberta and Saskatchewan, where we were exposed to some of the real economic challenges the provinces are facing these days. We know there is economic anxiety and that some workers and families are struggling.
We also know that the future of our economy depends on the ability of our entrepreneurs and businesses to be creative, to adapt, to innovate and to maintain their competitive edge.
We know that artificial intelligence is a great source of pride in Alberta, particularly in Edmonton. That's why our investment in GO Productivity will benefit more than 20 companies, helping them adapt to new market conditions and become more competitive.
Talking about the role of Western Economic Diversification Canada, I note that a number of my fellow MPs today are from Alberta and Saskatchewan.
MP Jeremy Patzer, for instance, we visited your province only a month ago and we saw the good work that WD has done to amplify and build on the dynamic economy of Saskatchewan. I know that you often tout the farmers of Saskatchewan and fight hard for them in the House.
Verdient Foods, in Vanscoy, is a great success story that capitalizes on the strong agricultural roots of the province. You have a lot to be proud of, a project in which Western Economic Diversification Canada proudly partnered with local entrepreneurs to make happen. We invested $2 million in it for it to grow.
I know that you're also a great champion of the cattle industry in the province. ln fact, I know you met with industry representatives on their most recent visit to Ottawa. WD is a proud partner of theirs, and I'm sure you will be happy to know that we invested, in conjunction with the University of Saskatchewan, $4.7 million to build the Livestock and Forage Centre of Excellence near Saskatoon.
Even so, we're well aware that there is still much more to do. Our economy is strong, but we know that the path to economic prosperity really varies from region to region.
There is no one-size-fits-all to quickly build and diversify local economies. New partnerships are required, including with provinces, communities, indigenous organizations, industry and academia.
Western workers and entrepreneurs should know that we're an ally in helping businesses create good, local jobs. We're on your side, and always will be.
The bottom line is that we can't succeed unless everyone has an opportunity to benefit from economic growth.
As I work to carry out my mandate, I am supported by six parliamentary secretaries and six well-established regional development agencies.
The on-the-ground expertise that the regional development agencies provide is essential. We have witnessed this first-hand. With the benefit of regional insight, they help to create an environment where community businesses and innovators can grow, succeed and create good jobs locally.
They tailor national initiatives to fit regional needs and realities. They provide access to financial assistance for our entrepreneurs, bring together key stakeholders and contribute to regional economic development.
These agencies are perfect examples of what community-based government is all about. They ensure the presence of the federal government in our regions and they're often the first point of contact for entrepreneurs, workers and businesses.
Speaking of regions across the country, I would like to point out that the tourism sector has great potential for economic development. In fact, we believe this sector is capable of driving major economic growth in almost every part of the country.
We can be proud of last year's results. It was a record year for tourism with 22.1 million international visitors. This is an opportunity for exponential growth for the tourism sector, entrepreneurs and tourism workers.
That's why we've worked with stakeholders to develop a new national strategy.
It's a forward-looking plan with ambitious but achievable targets. It challenges and empowers our world-class tourism entrepreneurs to come up with new products and experiences.
On that, we're not blind to the current situation. We know it will not always be easy, and that sometimes we're subject to external realities.
I am in constant contact with the tourism industry. We know that people on the ground are worried right now. We hear their concerns. That's exactly why I am working toward getting thorough analyses.
Let me tell you that Canada's tourism sector is strong and resilient in the face of any potential issue. Rest assured that we will continue to work with Destination Canada and industry partners to monitor impacts and make sure our sector continues to grow. You know that the best thing we Canadians can do is to travel within our big and beautiful country.
I will conclude my remarks today with a simple message. To Canadians all across our country, we have your back, and we're by your side and always will be.
All Canadians, no matter where they live, must be able to enjoy the benefits of a strong economy.
With the support of our partners across Canada and, of course, of you, my esteemed colleagues, I know we can do it.
Thank you for your attention. I'm pleased to answer your questions.
I've been on this for about a decade. For members who aren't aware, this is what I'm leading to, because the evidence is coming in. In Canada, it's illegal to bet on a single event, a game. It stops provinces such as Quebec, British Columbia and Ontario from offering a legal product, so $10 billion goes to the underground economy or to organized crime.
New York State has already legalized it. Michigan could be doing that in a matter of days, or actually I think they just did it, as well as several other states. Therefore, there's an issue over tourism loss there.
You voted against changing that law in the last Parliament. We have a chance now. My colleague, Mr. , has tabled Bill , which would actually allow the provinces to regulate this. It would be done on our phones, as it's done in Europe and the United States. Will you support Bill , and if not, what is your cabinet going to do to support communities such as Windsor, Niagara Falls, Sault Ste. Marie and other places that are going to lose tourism?
The evidence is in from the industry that it is driving up tourism, so if you are not going to support the bill, what are you going to do?
It's good to be back. Thank you, Chair.
I have a question about an announcement that was made about the digital Northwest Territories initiative that received $2.7 million to provide digital literacy resources across the Northwest Territories. This question is to the officials, not the minister, although I appreciate that the minister is here.
Specifically, it's $2.7 million, and the description is, similar to what was said in the news release:
The digital Northwest Territories initiative will provide digital literacy resources and courses customized to the unique needs of Indigenous peoples and residents in the Northwest Territories.
The reason I'm here is that I am critic for northern affairs and Northern Economic Development Agency. That's why I'm borrowing this seat for a time.
As more specifics about the grant, the multi-year grant or contribution is dated 2018-19 to 2021-22. The recipient's operating name is Tides Canada Initiatives Society. The federal riding name is Vancouver East.
Essentially, that's my question and that's where I get a little concerned, because in representing the north, we see monies earmarked for the north and it triggered a little question: Why is it ending up in Vancouver East when it's earmarked for the Northwest Territories?
Here is a bit more, regarding the news release:
DigitalNWT will develop resources and courses customized for the unique needs of the people living in the communities across the territory. The initiative, a project on Tides Canada's shared platform....
Again, the concern is whether the money is actually going to get to the people of the Northwest Territories. I'm concerned about the specifics. I really have two questions for you. Regarding the group that is mentioned, Tides Canada, I'll use several sources. One source says:
U.S. tax returns and other documents show The Sierra Club of B.C. has been paid at least $99,000...by Tides, including funds earmarked “to stop the Enbridge and Kinder Morgan pipelines, including working with First Nations.”
Another source says:
Tides also paid $373,835...to the Great Bear Initiative Society, led by Art Sterritt. That included funds specifically earmarked for responding to the media.
My concern is based on the affiliations of this particular group, Tides. I'll ask this in an official capacity, because I'm looking for more documents. Specifically, it hasn't really been said how this money is going to be spent. As we know, $2.7 million is a lot of money. Based on, again, this group's prior initiatives, I'm very concerned that this money is going in a direction that not all in Parliament would support.
I would like any documents related to the funding approval. That's my first request. I'd be happy if you could provide those documents today, but I understand it might take some time.
My second question is one that you can answer today: Were you instructed by the government to disregard this organization's anti-development narrative when approving this funding?
I'm just going back to what I asked about earlier. Obviously, in Saskatchewan we appreciate any investment that we get from the federal government into our province. I think most people were excited to have James Cameron, of all people, investing in Saskatchewan. That's a pretty exciting proposition. James Cameron's net worth happens to be $700 million, so people in Saskatchewan, farmers who are struggling to get by, or small towns that are struggling to remain economically viable, see a $2-million federal handout to a person who's worth $700 million.... The feeling amongst people was, what do we have to do? This guy has all the money in the world. What does he need a $2-million federal government handout for?
I'll offer a bit of an olive branch here. It would be great to have ministers coming out to places outside Saskatoon, further than Vanscoy. Vanscoy is just a stone's throw away from Saskatoon. If you want to come down to the southwest corner of Saskatchewan and see what small-town life feels like, and meet with people like that, I would be more than happy to take around anybody around this table, really, so they can see and feel the hurt and the pain that our producers are feeling right now. Whether it be blockades, the CN strike, or all of that, it's having massive impacts.
I'm just using the tourism angle here. I'll ask you a question. The name of my riding says it all, Cypress Hills—Grasslands. The Grasslands National Park is a huge, hidden treasure that we have. We're talking a lot about investing in broadband and rural network access here.
I'm wondering if you would be willing to elaborate more on what you're trying to do to get areas like Grasslands National Park, or even Cypress Hills, to be more connected going forward.
We have some votes on the supplementary estimates (B), so I ask the members to stay for a moment.
Can I get unanimous consent to lump together the votes that we have to do today?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
ATLANTIC CANADA OPPORTUNITIES AGENCY
Vote 1b—Operating expenditures..........$3,932
Vote 5b—Grants and contributions...........$3,457,536
(Votes 1b and 5b agreed to on division)
CANADIAN NORTHERN ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AGENCY
Vote 5b—Grants and contributions..........$500,000
(Vote 5b agreed to on division)
Vote 5b—Capital expenditures..........$69,178,862
Vote 10b—Grants and contributions..........$930,000
(Votes 5b and 10b agreed to on division)
Vote 1b—Operating expenditures..........$2,696,570
Vote 10b—Grants and contributions..........$67,926,793
(Votes 1b and 10b agreed to on division)
DEPARTMENT OF WESTERN ECONOMIC DIVERSIFICATION
Vote 1b—Operating expenditures..........$49,043
Vote 5b—Grants and contributions..........$5,524,559
(Votes 1b and 5b agreed to on division)
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AGENCY OF CANADA FOR THE REGIONS OF QUEBEC
Vote 1b—Operating expenditures..........$34,622
Vote 5b—Grants and contributions..........$2,790,618
(Votes 1b and 5b agreed to on division)
FEDERAL ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AGENCY FOR SOUTHERN ONTARIO
Vote 1b—Operating expenditures..........$46,519
Vote 5b—Grants and contributions..........$4,434,631
(Votes 1b and 5b agreed to on division)
NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL OF CANADA
Vote 5b—Capital expenditures..........$1,375,185
Vote 10b—Grants and contributions..........$5,560,708
(Votes 5b and 10b agreed to on division)
SOCIAL SCIENCES AND HUMANITIES RESEARCH COUNCIL
(Vote 5b agreed to on division)
The Chair: Shall the chair report the votes on the supplementary estimates (B) to the House?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
The meeting is adjourned.