Canada Is Investing $2 Billion in a Climate Disaster Mitigation Fund
In its new federal budget, Canada invests in machine learning and teaching kids to code, but offers no real plan for how to address workplace automation.
Liberal Members of Parliament give Minister of Finance Bill Morneau a standing ovation as he delivers the federal budget on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Image:Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press
The wildfires that tore across western Canada last year and ravaged the town of Fort McMurray in Alberta were exacerbated by dry conditions brought on by climate change. Now, the federal government has committed billions of dollars in new funding to make sure that future climate disasters aren't so completely devastating.
The Liberal government's budget for 2017, tabled in Parliament on Wednesday, earmarks $2 billion in spending to create a Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund. This fund would "support national, provincial and municipal infrastructure required to deal with the effects of a changing climate."
Mitigation efforts take a significant amount of money, and last year an audit by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development stated that despite increased levels of funding for disaster recovery, Canada is still not prepared for the intensity of future climate disasters.
"Homes and other buildings built to withstand our current climate may not be strong enough to withstand climates in the decades to come," the report stated at the time. "This could have possible safety repercussions."
Beyond the climate disaster mitigation fund, Canada has committed to funding machine-learning research, helping out on one of NASA's Mars missions, and paying for research into stem cell therapies. For example, the Institute for Quantum Computing in Waterloo will receive $10 million over the next two years. (Last year, Prime Minister Trudeau made headlines at the nearby Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, showing off his ability to sort of explain the technology.)
One thing that was missing in this budget, that many were hoping to see, was a concrete way to deal with the growing challenge of workplace automation—through schemes like a universal basic income, which the province of Ontario will be testing in a pilot project.
On the AI front, the 2017 budget includes $125 million to launch the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy to promote research and bring in new talent. Montreal, Edmonton, and Toronto-Waterloo are all vying for global investment in deep learning development.
The Canadian government is still aiming to implement the office of the Chief Science Advisor. This year's budget has proposed that the role, whose mandate will be to advance science and scientific literacy across Canada, have a purse of $2 million to work with, although the person who'll be taking on the job has yet to be named.
One of the larger investments is the concept of urban "superclusters" to spawn innovation in cities across the country. The idea is an attempt to recreate the success of Silicon Valley or the Toronto-Waterloo corridor. The hope is that this funding will help entice local and global tech entrepreneurs to invest their money in hubs here, instead of in the United States or elsewhere.
The 2017 budget has added $150 million from the Public Transit and Green Infrastructure fund, to make a total of $950 million over five years. This way, communities which are morphing into tech hubs—like Ottawa's Kanata North, where companies like Blackberry, Apple, and Nokia have set up shop to develop self-driving car tech—have access to avenues of collaboration and government resources to take the risk out of developing new technology.
Another new budget effort to attract more forward-looking companies is the Smart Cities Challenge Fund. Paying out $300 million over 11 years, the fund will be modeled on similar competitions in the US. It will be a merit-based contest and the hope is to pave the way for roads augmented with real-time sensing of traffic and pollution, more energy efficient buildings, and the faster internet infrastructure. To power the new infrastructure, $100 million has been set aside for next-gen smart grids and energy storage projects.
$50 million has been earmarked for training children how to code over the next two years. Digital skills training organizations can bid for that money starting this year.
The Canadian budget is a departure from what was just announced in the US, under President Donald Trump. In his proposal, funding for science and technology was scaled back, and research dollars curbed. Furthermore, the President's infrastructure funding falls short of some of the major challenges the US is facing, like cleaner water systems.
Subscribe to pluspluspodcast , Motherboard's new show about the people and machines that are building our future.