Category Archives: science policy

A Science Fiction/Real Policy Book Club on June 9, 2021

The link between science fiction and science innovation and technology has been documented and argued over elsewhere online and in print. However, the link between policy and science fiction is new to me.

First, here’s the upcoming event which caught my eye (from the Science Fiction/Real Policy Book Club event page),

[ONLINE] – Science Fiction/Real Policy Book Club: Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

Science fiction can have real science policy impacts, and comes rife with real-life commentary. And with such a rich cache of science fiction to choose from, we think a book club is in order.

Join us [emphasis mine] for the first installment of our Science Fiction/Real Policy book club, a partnership with Issues in Science and Technology. Our first read will be Autonomous by Annalee Newitz. Autonomous follows the story of a female pharmaceutical pirate named Jack, an anti-patent scientist who has set out to bring cheap drugs to the poor. Without giving away too many spoilers, Newitz’s tale also includes a military agent-robot love story, a quest for justice, and the danger late capitalist modernity poses to personhood.

Join us for a jam-packed evening where we’ll discuss Autonomous and the questions it raises about labor and power, robot ethics, gender, patent law, the pharmaceutical industry, geopolitics, and much more.

Featured discussants

Joey Eschrich
Editor and Manager, Center for Science and the Imagination at Arizona State University [ASU]

Tahir Amin
Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director, I-MAK

When

Jun. 9, 2021 [Wednesday]
6:00 pm – 7:00 pm

Where

Online Only Webcast link

RSVP here

Follow the conversation online using #FTBookClub and by following @FutureTenseNow.

Who is ‘us’?

The hosting organization is New America (newamerica.org). If you click on their About tab/button, you’ll find this,

We are dedicated to renewing the promise of America by continuing the quest to realize our nation’s highest ideals, honestly confronting the challenges caused by rapid technological and social change, and seizing the opportunities those changes create.

Amongst other programs, New America is participating in Future Tense,

Future Tense is a partnership between New America, Arizona State University, and Slate magazine to explore emerging technologies and their transformative effects on society and public policy. Central to the partnership is a series of events that take in-depth, provocative looks at issues that, while little-understood today, will dramatically reshape the policy debates of the coming decade.

It took me a while but I finally realized that the book club is a Future Tense initiative.

As for I-MAK, it’s an organization devoted to improving access to medicines globally and amongst other activities, solving the drug patent problem.

Not a pretty picture: Canada and a patent rights waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

At about 7:15 am PT this morning , May 13, 2021, I saw Dr. Mona Nemer’s (Canada’s Chief Science Advisor) tweet (Note: I’m sorry the formatting isn’t better,

Maryse de la Giroday@frogheart Does this mean Canada will support a waiver on patent rights for COVID-19 vaccines?

7:18 AM · May 13, 2021

Dr. Mona Nemer@ChiefSciCanThe global health crisis of the past year has underscored the critical importance of openly sharing scientific information. We are one step closer to making #openscience a reality around the world. So pleased that my office was part of these discussions. http://webcast.unesco.org/events/2021-05-OS-IGM/ Quote Tweet

Canada at UNESCO@Canada2UNESCO · May 6@Canada2UNESCO is partaking in negotiations today on the draft recommendation on #OpenScience The benefits of #science and #technology to health, the #economy and #development should be available to all.6:40 AM · May 13, 2021·Twitter Web App

No reply. No surprise

Brief summary of Canada’s COVID-19 patent rights nonwaiver

You’ll find more about the UNESCO meeting on open science in last week’s May 7, 2021 posting (Listen in on a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) meeting [about Open Science]).

At the time, I noted a disparity in Canada’s policies centering on open science and patents; scroll down to the “Comments on open science and intellectual property in Canada” subsection for a more nuanced analysis. For those who don’t have the patience and/or the time, it boils down to this:

  1. Canada is happily participating in a UNESCO meeting on open science,
  2. the 2021 Canadian federal budget just dedicated a big chunk of money to augmenting Canada’s national patent strategy, and
  3. Canada is “willing to discuss” a waiver at the World Trade Organization (WTO) meetings.

I predicted UNESCO would see our representative’s enthusiastic participation while our representative at the WTO meeting would dance around the topic without committing. to anything. Sadly, it’s starting to look like I was right.

Leigh Beadon in a May 12, 2021 posting on Techdirt reveals the situation is worse than I thought (Note: Links have been removed),

Few things illustrate the broken state of our global intellectual property system better than the fact that, well over a year into this devastating pandemic and in the face of a strong IP waiver push by some of the hardest hit countries, patents are still holding back the production of life-saving vaccines. And of all the countries opposing a waiver at the WTO (or withholding support for it, which is functionally the same thing), Canada might be the most frustrating [emphasis mine].

Canada is the biggest hoarder [emphasis mine] of vaccine pre-orders, having secured enough to vaccinate the population five times over. Despite this, it has constantly run into supply problems and lagged behind comparable countries when it comes to administering the vaccines on a per capita basis. In response to criticism of its hoarding, the government continues to focus on its plans to donate all surplus doses to the COVAX vaccine sharing program — but these promises were somewhat more convincing before Canada became the only G7 country to withdraw doses from COVAX. Despite all this, and despite pressure from experts who explain how vaccine hoarding will prolong the pandemic for everyone, the country has continually refused to voice its support for a TRIPS patent waiver at the WTO.

Momentum for changing Canada’s position on a COVID-19 vaccine patent right waivers?

Maclean’s magazine has a May 10, 2021 open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau,

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,

The only way to combat this pandemic successfully is through a massive global vaccination campaign on a scale and timeline never before undertaken. This requires the production of effective tools and technologies to fight COVID-19 at scale and coordinated global distribution efforts.

The Trade-Related Aspect of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement at the World Trade Organization (WTO) is leading to the opposite outcome. Vaccine production is hindered by granting pharmaceutical companies monopoly power through protection of intellectual property rights, industrial designs and trade secrets. Pharmaceutical companies’ refusal to engage in health technology knowledge transfer makes large-scale, global vaccine production in (and for) low- and middle-income countries all but impossible. The current distribution of vaccines globally speaks to these obstacles.

Hundreds of civil society groups, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the elected governments of over 100 countries, including India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have come together and stated that current intellectual property protections reduce the availability of vaccines for protecting their people. On May 5, 2021 the United States also announced its intention to support a temporary waiver for vaccines at the WTO.

We are writing to ask our Canadian government to demonstrate its commitment to an equitable global pandemic response by supporting a temporary waiver of the TRIPS agreement. But clearly that is a necessary but not a sufficient first step. We recognize that scaling up vaccine production requires more than just a waiver of intellectual property rights, so we further request that our government support the WHO’s COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) to facilitate knowledge sharing and work with the WTO to address the supply chain and export constraints currently impeding vaccine production. Finally, because vaccines must be rolled out as part of an integrated strategy to end the acute phase of the epidemic, we request that Canada support the full scope of the TRIPS waiver, which extends to all essential COVID-19 products and technologies, including vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics.

The status quo is clearly not working fast enough to end the acute phase of the pandemic globally. This waiver respects global intellectual property frameworks and takes advantage of existing provisions for exceptions during emergencies, as enshrined in the TRIPS agreement. Empowering countries to take measures to protect their own people is fundamental to bringing this pandemic to an end.

Anand Giridharadas (author of the 2018 book, Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World) also makes the case for a patent rights waiver in his May 11, 2021 posting on The Ink, Note: A link has been removed,

Patents are temporary monopolies granted to inventors, to reward invention and thus encourage more of it. But what happens when you invent a drug that people around the world require to stay alive? What happens when, furthermore, that drug was built in part on technology the public paid for? Are there limits to intellectual property?

For years, activists have pressured the United States government to break or suspend patents in particular cases, as with HIV/Aids. They have had little luck. Indeed, the United States has often fought developing countries when they try to break patents to do right by their citizens, choosing American drug companies over dying people.

So it was a dramatic swerve when, last week, the Biden administration announced that it supported a waiver of the patents for Covid vaccines.

Not long afterward, I reached out to several leading activists for vaccine access to understand the significance of the announcement and where we go from here.

in all this talk about patents and social justice and, whether it’s directly referenced or not, money, the only numbers of I’ve seen,until recently, have been numbers of doses and aggregate costs.

How much does a single vaccine dose cost?

A Sunday, April 11, 2021 article by Krassen Nikolov for EURACTIV provides an answer about the cost in one region, the European Union,

“Pfizer cost €12, then €15.50. The Commission now signs contracts for €19,50”, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov revealed on Sunday [April 11, 2021].

The European Commission is in talks with Pfizer for the supply of COVID-19 vaccines in 2022 and 2023. Borissov said the contracts provide for €19.50 per dose.

Under an agreement with the vaccine producing companies, the European Commission has so far refused to reveal the price of vaccines. However, last December Belgian Secretary of State Eva De Bleeker shared on Twitter the vaccine prices negotiated by the Commission, as well as the number of doses purchased by her government. Then, it became known that the AstraZeneca jab costs €1.78 compared to €12 for Pfizer-BioNTech.

€12 to €19,50, that’s an increase of over 50%. I wonder how Pfizer is justifying such a hefty increase?

According to a March 16, 2021 article by Swikar Oli for the National Post (a Canadian newspaper), these prices are a cheap pandemic special prices,

A top Pfizer executive told shareholders the company is looking at a “significant opportunity” to raise the price of its Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

While addressing investors at the virtual Barclays Global Healthcare Conference last week, Pfizer CFO Frank D’Amelio noted they could raise prices when the virus becomes endemic, meaning it’s regularly found in clusters around the globe, according to a transcript of the conference posted on Pfizer’s website.

Current vaccine pricing models are pandemic-related, D’Amelio explained. After the pandemic is defeated and “normal market conditions” arrive, he noted the window would open for a “significant opportunity…from a pricing perspective.”

“So the one price that we published is the price with the U.S. of $19.50 per dose. Obviously, that’s not a normal price like we typically get for a vaccine, $150, $175 [emphasis mine] per dose,” he said, “So pandemic pricing.”

If I remember it rightly, as you increase production, you lower costs per unit. In other words, it’s cheaper to produce one dozen than one, which is why your bakery charges you less money per bun or cake if you purchase by the dozen.

During this pandemic, Pfizer has been producing huge amounts of vaccine, which they would not expect to do should the disease become endemic. As Pfizer has increased production, I would think the price should be dropping but according to the Bulgarian prime minister, it’s not.

They don’t seem to be changing the vaccine as new variants arrive. So, raising the prices doesn’t seem to be linked to research issues and as for the new production facilities, surely those didn’t cost billions.

Canada and COVID-19 money

Talking about money, Canada has a COVDI-19 billionaire according to a December 23, 2020 article (Meet The 50 Doctors, Scientists And Healthcare Entrepreneurs Who Became Pandemic Billionaires In 2020) by Giacomo Tognini for Forbes.

I have a bit more about Carl Hansen (COVID-19 billionaire) and his company, AbCellera, in my December 30, 2020 posting.

I wonder how much the Canadian life sciences community has to do with Canada’s hesitancy over a COVID-19 vaccine patent rights waiver.

Canada’s 2021 budget and science

As more than one observer has noted, this April 19, 2021 budget is the first in two years. Predictably, there has been some distress over the copious amounts of money being spent to stimulate/restart the economy whether it needs it or not. Some have described this as a pre-election budget. Overall, there seems to be more satisfaction than criticism.

Maybe a little prescient?

After mentioning some of the government’s issues with money (Phoenix Payroll System debacle and WE Charity scandal) in my April 13, 2021 posting about the then upcoming Canadian Science Policy Centre’s post-budget symposium, I had these comments (which surprise even me),

None of this has anything to do with science funding (as far as I know) but it does set the stage for questions about how science funding is determined and who will be getting it. There are already systems in place for science funding through various agencies but the federal budget often sets special priorities such as the 2017 Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy [emphasis added April 29, 2021] with its attendant $125M. As well,Prime Minister Justin Trudeau likes to use science as a means of enhancing his appeal. [emphasis mine] See my March 16, 2018 posting for a sample of this, scroll down to the “Sunny ways: a discussion between Justin Trudeau and Bill Nye” subhead.

Budget 2021 introduced two new strategies, the first ones since the 2017 budget: the Pan-Canadian Genomics Strategy and the National Quantum Strategy. As for whether this ploy will help enhance Trudeau’s appeal, that seems doubtful given his current plight (see an April 27, 2021 CBC online news item “PM says his office didn’t know Vance allegations were about sexual misconduct” for a description of some of Trudeau’s latest political scandal).

Science in the 2021 budget (a few highlights)

For anyone who wants to take a look at the 2021 Canadian Federal Budget, Chapters Four and Five (in Part Two) seems to contain the bulk of the science funding announcements. Here are the highlights, given my perspective, from Chapter Four (Note: I don’t chime in again until the “A full list …. subhead):

4.6 Investing in World-leading Research and Innovation

A plan for a long-term recovery must look to challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in the years and decades to come. It must be led by a growth strategy that builds on the unique competitive advantages of the Canadian economy, and make sure that Canada is well-positioned to meet the demands of the next century. This work begins with innovation.

To drive growth and create good, well-paying jobs, entrepreneurs and businesses need to be able to translate Canada’s world-class leadership in research into innovative products and services for Canadians, and for the world.

These investments will help cement Canada’s position as a world leader in research and innovation, building a global brand that will attract talent and capital for years to come.

Supporting Innovation and Industrial Transformation

Since its launch in 2017, the Strategic Innovation Fund has been helping businesses invest, grow, and innovate in Canada. Through its efforts to help businesses make the investments they need to succeed, the fund is well-placed to support growth and the creation of good jobs across the Canadian economy—both now and in the future.

  • Budget 2021 proposes to provide the Strategic Innovation Fund with an incremental $7.2 billion over seven years on a cash basis, starting in 2021-22, and $511.4 million ongoing. This funding will be directed as follows:
  • $2.2 billion over seven years, and $511.4 million ongoing to support innovative projects across the economy—including in the life sciences, automotive, aerospace, and agriculture sectors.
  • $5 billion over seven years to increase funding for the Strategic Innovation Fund’s Net Zero Accelerator, as detailed in Chapter 5. Through the Net Zero Accelerator the fund would scale up its support for projects that will help decarbonize heavy industry, support clean technologies and help meaningfully accelerate domestic greenhouse gas emissions reductions by 2030.

The funding proposed in Budget 2021 will build on the Strategic Innovation Fund’s existing resources, including the $3 billion over five years announced in December 2020 for the Net Zero Accelerator. With this additional support, the Strategic Innovation Fund will target investments in important areas of future growth over the coming years to advance multiple strategic objectives for the Canadian economy:

  • $1.75 billion in support over seven years would be targeted toward aerospace in recognition of the longer-lasting impacts to this sector following COVID-19. This is in addition to the $250 million Aerospace Regional Recovery Initiative, outlined in section 4.2, providing a combined support of $2 billion to help this innovative sector recover and grow out of the crisis.
  • $1 billion of support over seven years would be targeted toward growing Canada’s life sciences and bio-manufacturing sector, restoring capabilities that have been lost and supporting the innovative Canadian firms and jobs in this sector. This is an important component of Canada’s plan to build domestic resilience and improve long-term pandemic preparedness proposed in Chapter 1, providing a combined $2.2 billion over seven years.
  • $8 billion over seven years for the Net Zero Accelerator to support projects that will help reduce Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions by expediting decarbonization projects, scaling-up clean technology, and accelerating Canada’s industrial transformation. More details are in Chapter 5.

Renewing the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy

Artificial intelligence is one of the greatest technological transformations of our age. Canada has communities of research, homegrown talent, and a diverse ecosystem of start-ups and scale-ups. But these Canadian innovators need investment in order to ensure our economy takes advantage of the enormous growth opportunities ahead in this sector. By leveraging our position of strength, we can also ensure that Canadian values are embedded across widely used, global platforms.

  • Budget 2021 proposes to provide up to $443.8 million over ten years, starting in 2021-22, in support of the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy, including:
  • $185 million over five years, starting in 2021-22, to support the commercialization of artificial intelligence innovations and research in Canada.
  • $162.2 million over ten years, starting in 2021-22, to help retain and attract top academic talent across Canada—including in Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec. This programming will be delivered by the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research.
  • $48 million over five years, starting in 2021-22, for the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research to renew and enhance its research, training, and knowledge mobilization programs.
  • $40 million over five years, starting in 2022-23, to provide dedicated computing capacity for researchers at the national artificial intelligence institutes in Edmonton, Toronto, and Montréal.
  • $8.6 million over five years, starting in 2021-22, to advance the development and adoption of standards related to artificial intelligence.

Launching a National Quantum Strategy

Quantum technology is at the very leading edge of science and innovation today, with enormous potential for commercialization. This emerging field will transform how we develop and design everything from life-saving drugs to next generation batteries, and Canadian scientists and entrepreneurs are well-positioned to take advantage of these opportunities. But they need investments to be competitive in this fast growing global market.

  • Budget 2021 proposes to provide $360 million over seven years, starting in 2021-22, to launch a National Quantum Strategy. The strategy will amplify Canada’s significant strength in quantum research; grow our quantum-ready technologies, companies, and talent; and solidify Canada’s global leadership in this area. This funding will also establish a secretariat at the Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development to coordinate this work.

The government will provide further details on the rollout of the strategy in the coming months.

Revitalizing the Canadian Photonics Fabrication Centre

Canada is a world leader in photonics, the technology of generating and harnessing the power of light. This is the science behind fibre optics, advanced semi-conductors, and other cutting-edge technologies, and there is a strong history of Canadian companies bringing this expertise to the world. The National Research Council’s Canadian Photonics Fabrication Centre supplies photonics research, testing, prototyping, and pilot-scale manufacturing services to academics and large, small and medium-sized photonics businesses in Canada. But its aging facility puts this critical research and development at risk.

  • Budget 2021 proposes to provide $90 million over five years on a cash basis, starting in 2021-22, to the National Research Council to retool and modernize the Canadian Photonics Fabrication Centre. This would allow the centre to continue helping Canadian researchers and companies grow and support highly skilled jobs.

Launching a Pan-Canadian Genomics Strategy

Genomics research is developing cutting-edge therapeutics and is helping Canada track and fight COVID-19. Canada was an early mover in advancing genomics science and is now a global leader in the field. A national approach to support genomics research can lead to breakthroughs that have real world applications. There is an opportunity to improve Canadians’ health and well-being while also creating good jobs and economic growth. Leveraging and commercializing this advantage will give Canadian companies, researchers, and workers a competitive edge in this growing field.

  • Budget 2021 proposes to provide $400 million over six years, starting in 2021-22, in support of a Pan-Canadian Genomics Strategy. This funding would provide $136.7 million over five years, starting in 2022-23, for mission-driven programming delivered by Genome Canada to kick-start the new Strategy and complement the government’s existing genomics research and innovation programming.

Further investments to grow Canada’s strengths in genomics under the Strategy will be announced in the future.

Conducting Clinical Trials

Canadian scientists are among the best in the world at conducting high-quality clinical trials. Clinical trials lead to the development of new scientifically proven treatments and cures, and improved health outcomes for Canadians. They also create good jobs in the health research sector, including the pharmaceutical sector, and support the creation of new companies, drugs, medical devices, and other health products.

  • Budget 2021 proposes to provide $250 million over three years, starting in 2021-22, to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to implement a new Clinical Trials Fund.

Supporting the Innovation Superclusters Initiative

Since it was launched in 2017, the Innovation Superclusters Initiative has helped Canada build successful innovation ecosystems in important areas of the economy. Drawing on the strength and breadth of their networks, the superclusters were able to quickly pivot their operations and played an important role in Canada’s COVID-19 response. For example, the Digital Technology Supercluster allocated resources to projects that used digital technologies and artificial intelligence to help facilitate faster, more accurate diagnosis, treatment, and care of COVID-19 patients.

To help ensure those superclusters that made emergency investments to support Canada’s COVID-19 response and others can continue supporting innovative Canadian projects:

  • Budget 2021 proposes to provide $60 million over two years, starting in 2021-22, to the Innovation Superclusters Initiative.

Promoting Canadian Intellectual Property

As the most highly educated country in the OECD, Canada is full of innovative and entrepreneurial people with great ideas. Those ideas are valuable intellectual property that are the seeds of huge growth opportunities. Building on the National Intellectual Property Strategy announced in Budget 2018, the government proposes to further support Canadian innovators, start-ups, and technology-intensive businesses. Budget 2021 proposes:

  • $90 million, over two years, starting in 2022-23, to create ElevateIP, a program to help accelerators and incubators provide start-ups with access to expert intellectual property services.
  • $75 million over three years, starting in 2021-22, for the National Research Council’s Industrial Research Assistance Program to provide high-growth client firms with access to expert intellectual property services.

These direct investments would be complemented by a Strategic Intellectual Property Program Review that will be launched. It is intended as a broad assessment of intellectual property provisions in Canada’s innovation and science programming, from basic research to near-commercial projects. This work will make sure Canada and Canadians fully benefit from innovations and intellectual property.

Capitalizing on Space-based Earth Observation

Earth observation satellites support critical services that Canadians rely on. They provide reliable weather forecasts, support military and transport logistics, help us monitor and fight climate change, and support innovation across sectors, including energy and agriculture. They also create high-quality jobs in Canada and the government will continue to explore opportunities to support Canadian capacity, innovation, and jobs in this sector. To maintain Canada’s capacity to collect and use important data from these satellites, Budget 2021 proposes to provide:

  • $80.2 million over eleven years, starting in 2021-22, with $14.9 million in remaining amortization and $6.2 million per year ongoing, to Natural Resources Canada and Environment and Climate Change Canada to replace and expand critical but aging ground-based infrastructure to receive satellite data.
  • $9.9 million over two years, starting in 2021-22, to the Canadian Space Agency to plan for the next generation of Earth observation satellites.

Science and Technology Collaboration with Israeli Firms

Collaborating with global innovation leaders allows Canadian companies to leverage expertise to create new products and services, support good jobs, and reach new export markets.

  • Budget 2021 proposes to provide additional funding of $10 million over five years, starting in 2021-2022, and $2 million per year ongoing, to expand opportunities for Canadian SMEs to engage in research and development partnerships with Israeli SMEs as part of the Canadian International Innovation Program. This will be sourced from existing Global Affairs Canada resources. The government also intends to implement an enhanced delivery model for this program, including possible legislation.

4.7 Supporting a Digital Economy

More and more of our lives are happening online—from socializing, to our jobs, to commerce. Recognizing the fundamental shifts underway in our society, the government introduced a new Digital Charter in 2020 that seeks to better protect the privacy, security, and personal data of Canadians, building trust and confidence in the digital economy.

To make sure that Canadian businesses can keep pace with this digital transformation and that they are part of this growth, Budget 2021 includes measures to ensure businesses and workers in every region of the country have access to fast, reliable internet. It also has measures to make sure that the digital economy is fair and well reported on.

A digital economy that serves and protects Canadians and Canadian businesses is vital for long-term growth.

Accelerating Broadband for Everyone

The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted much of our lives online and transformed how we live, work, learn, and do business. This makes it more important than ever that Canadians, including Canadian small businesses in every corner of this country, have access to fast and reliable high-speed internet. Canadians and Canadian businesses in many rural and remote communities who still do not have access to high-speed internet face a barrier to equal participation in the economy. Building on the $6.2 billion the federal government and federal agencies have made available for universal broadband since 2015:

  • Budget 2021 proposes to provide an additional $1 billion over six years, starting in 2021-22, to the Universal Broadband Fund to support a more rapid rollout of broadband projects in collaboration with provinces and territories and other partners. This would mean thousands more Canadians and small businesses will have faster, more reliable internet connections.

In total, including proposed Budget 2021 funding, $2.75 billion will be made available through the Universal Broadband Fund to support Canadians in rural and remote communities. Recently, the Universal Broadband Fund provided funding to ensure Quebec could launch Operation High Speed, connecting nearly 150,000 Quebecers to high-speed internet. These continuing investments will help Canada accelerate work to reach its goal of 98 per cent of the country having high-speed broadband by 2026 and 100 per cent by 2030.

Establishing a New Data Commissioner

Digital and data-driven technologies open up new markets for products and services that allow innovative Canadians to create new business opportunities—and high-value jobs. But as the digital and data economy grows, Canadians must be able to trust that their data are protected and being used responsibly.

  • Budget 2021 proposes to provide $17.6 million over five years, starting in 2021-22, and $3.4 million per year ongoing, to create a Data Commissioner. The Data Commissioner would inform government and business approaches to data-driven issues to help protect people’s personal data and to encourage innovation in the digital marketplace.
  • Budget 2021 also proposes to provide $8.4 million over five years, starting in 2021-22, and $2.3 million ongoing, to the Standards Council of Canada to continue its work to advance industry-wide data governance standards.

A full list of science funding highlights from the 2021 federal budget

If you don’t have the time or patience to comb through the budget for all of the science funding announcements, you can find an excellent list in an April 19, 2021posting on Evidence for Democracy (Note: Links have been removed; h/t Science Media Centre of Canada newsletter),

Previously, we saw a landmark budget for science in 2018, which made historic investments in fundamental research totaling more than $1.7 billion. This was followed by additional commitments in 2019 that included expanded support for research trainees and access to post-secondary education. While no federal budget was tabled in 2020, there have been ongoing investments in Canadian science throughout the pandemic.

Budget 2021 attempts to balance the pressing challenges of the pandemic with a long-term view towards recovery and growth. We are pleased to see strategic investments across the Canadian science ecosystem, including targeted research funding in artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, and bioinnovation. There is also a focus on climate action, which outlines a $17.6 billion investment towards green recovery and conservation. There are also noteworthy investments in research and development partnerships, and data capacity. Beyond research, Budget 2021 includes investments in childcare, mental health, Indigenous communities, post-secondary education, and support for gender-based and Black-led initiatives.

We note that this budget does not include significant increases to the federal granting agencies, or legislation to safeguard the Office of the Chief Science Advisor.

Below, we highlight key research-related investments in Budget 2021.

The list is here in the April 19, 2021posting.

Is it magic or how does the federal budget get developed?

I believe most of the priorities are set by power players behind the scenes. We glimpsed some of the dynamics courtesy of the WE Charity scandal 2020/21 and the SNC-Lavalin scandal in 2019.

Access to special meetings and encounters are not likely to be given to any member of the ‘great unwashed’ but we do get to see the briefs that are submitted in anticipation of a new budget. These briefs and meetings with witnesses are available on the Parliament of Canada website (Standing Committee on Finance (FINA) webpage for pre-budget consultations.

For the 2021 federal budget, there are 792 briefs and transcripts of meeting with 52 witnesses. Whoever designed the page decided to make looking at more than one or two briefs onerous. Just click on a brief that interests you and try to get back to the list.

National Quantum Strategy

There is a search function but ‘quantum’ finds only Xanadu Quantum Technologies (more about their brief in a minute) and not D-Wave Systems, which is arguably a more important player in the field. Regardless, both companies presented briefs although the one from Xanadu was of the most interest as it seems to be recommending a national strategy without actually using the term (from the Xanadu Quantum Technologies budget 2021 brief),

Recommendation 1: Quantum Advisory Board

The world is at the beginning of the second Quantum Revolution, which will result in the development and deployment of revolutionary quantum technologies, based upon the scientific discoveries of the past century. Major economies of the world, including the USA, China, Japan, EU, UK and South Korea, have all identified quantum technologies as strategically important, and have adopted national strategies or frameworks. Many of them have dedicated billions of dollars of funding to quantum technology R&D and commercialization. We urge the government to create a Quantum Advisory Board or Task Force, to ensure a coherent national strategy which involves all areas of government:research, education, industry, trade, digital government, transportation, health, defence,etc.

Recommendation 2: Continue Supporting Existing Research Centres

Canada has a long history of nurturing world-class academic research in quantum science at our universities. The CFREF [Canada First Research Excellence Fund {CFREF}] program was a welcome catalyst which solidified the international stature of the quantum research programs at UBC [University of British Columbia], Waterloo [University of Waterloo; Ontario] and Sherbrooke [University of Sherbrooke; Québec]. Many of our highly qualified team members have graduated from these programs and other Canadian universities. We urge the government to continue funding these research centers past the expiration of the CFREF program, to ensure the scientific critical mass is not dissipated, and the highly sought-after talent is not pulled away to other centers around the world.

Recommendation 3: National Quantum Computing Access Centre

Our Canadian competitor, D-Wave Systems, was started in Canada nearly 20 years ago,and has yet to make significant sales or build a strong user base within Canada. At Xanadu we also find that the most ready customers for our computers are researchers in the USA,rather than in Canada, despite the strong interest from many individual professors we speak with at a number of Canadian universities. We urge the government to create a National Quantum Computing Access Centre, through Compute Canada or another similar national organization, which can centralize and coordinate the provision of quantum computing access for the Canadian academic research community. Without access to these new machines, Canadian researchers will lose their ability to innovate new algorithms and applications of this groundbreaking technology. It will be impossible to train the future workforce of quantum programmers, without access to the machines like those of D-Wave and Xanadu.

Recommendation 4: National Quantum Technology Roundtable

Traditional, resource-based Canadian industries are not historically known for the ir innovative adoption of new technology, and the government has created many programs to encourage digitalization of manufacturing and resource industries, and also newer,cleaner technology adoption in the energy and other heavy industries. Quantum technologies in computing, communications and sensing have the potential to make exponential improvements in many industries, including: chemicals, materials, logistics,transportation, electricity grids, transit systems, wireless networks, financial portfolio analysis and optimization, remote sensing, exploration, border security, and improved communication security. We urge the government to convene national roundtable discussions, perhaps led by the NRC, to bring together the Canadian researchers and companies developing these new technologies, along with the traditional industries and government bodies of Canada who stand to benefit from adopting them, for mutual education and information sharing, roadmapping, benchmarking and strategic planning.

Recommendation 5: New Quantum Computing Institute in Toronto

The University of Toronto is the leading research institution in Canada, and one of the top research universities in the world. Many world-class scientists in quantum physics,chemistry, computer science, and electrical engineering are currently part of the Centre for Quantum Information and Quantum Control (CQIQC) at the university [University of Toronto]. British Columbia has recently announced the creation of a new institute dedicated to the study of Quantum Algorithms, and we encourage the government to build upon the existing strengths of the quantum research programs at the CQIQC, through the funding of a new,world-class research institute, focussed on quantum computing. Such an institute will leverage not only the existing quantum expertise, but also the world-class artificial intelligence and machine learning research communities in the city. The tech industry in Toronto is also the fastest growing in North America, hiring more than San Francisco or Boston. We request the government fund the establishment of a new quantum computing institute built on Toronto’s 3 pillars of quantum research, artificial intelligence, and a thriving tech industry, to create a center of excellence with global impact.

Recommendation 6: Dedicated BDC [Business Development Bank of Canada] Quantum Venture Fund

Although there is no major international firm developing and selling quantum-based technology from Canada, a number of the world’s most promising start-ups are based here. Xanadu and our peer firms are now actively shaping our business models; refining our products and services; undertaking research and development; and developing networks of customers.To date, Canadian firms like Xanadu have been successful at raising risk capital from primarily domestic funds like BDC, OMERS, Georgian Partners and Real Ventures,without having to leave the country. In order to ensure a strong “Quantum Startup”ecosystem in Canada, we request that the BDC be mandated to establish a specialist quantum technology venture capital fund. Such a fund will help ensure the ongoing creation of a whole cluster of Canadian startups in all areas of Quantum Technology, and help to keep the technologies and talent coming from our research universities within the country.

Christian Weedbrook, Xanadu Chief Executive Officer, has taken the time to dismiss his chief competitor and managed to ignore the University of Calgary in his Canadian quantum future. (See my September 21, 2016 posting “Teleporting photons in Calgary (Canada) is a step towards a quantum internet,” where that team set a record for distance.)

The D-Wave Systems budget 2021 brief does have some overlapping interests but is largely standalone and more focused on business initiatives and on the US. Both briefs mention the Quantum Algorithms Institute (QAI), which is being established at Simon Fraser University (SFU) with an investment from the government of British Columbia (see this Oct. 2, 2019 SFU press release).

Where Weedbrook is passionately Canadian and signed the Xanadu brief himself, the D-Wave brief is impersonal and anonymous.

Pan-Canadian Genomics Strategy

The Genome Canada brief doesn’t mention a pan-Canadian strategy,

List of Recommendations:

•Recommendation 1: That the government invest in mission-driven research —with line-of-sight to application —to mobilize genomics to drive Canada’s recovery in key sectors.

•Recommendation 2: That the government invest in a national genomics data strategy to drive data generation, analysis, standards, tools, access and usage to derive maximum value and impact from Canada’s genomics data assets.

•Recommendation 3: That the government invest in training of the next generation of genomics researchers, innovators and entrepreneurs to support the development of a genomics-enabled Canadian bioeconomy.

•Recommendation 4: That the government invest in long-term and predictable research and research infrastructure through the federal granting agencies and the Canada Foundation forInnovation to ensure a strong and vibrant knowledge base for recovery.

It’s not an exciting start but if you continue you’ll find a well written and compelling brief.

A happy April 19, 2021 GenomeCanada news release provides an overview of how this affects the Canadian life sciences research effort,

“The federal government announced $400 million for a new Pan-Canadian Genomics Strategy, including $136.7 million for Genome Canada to kickstart the Strategy, with further investments to be announced in the future. The budget recognized the key role genomics plays in developing cutting-edge therapeutics and in helping Canada track and fight COVID-19. It recognizes that Canada is a global leader in the field and that genomics can improve Canadians’ health and wellbeing while also creating good jobs and economic growth. Leveraging and commercializing this advantage will give Canadian companies, researchers, and workers a competitive edge in this growing field.

… Today’s announcement included excellent news for Canada’s long-term sustainable economic growth in biomanufacturing and the life sciences, with a total of $2.2 billion over seven years going toward growing life sciences, building up Canada’s talent pipeline and research systems, and supporting life sciences organizations.
 
Genome Canada welcomes other investments that will strengthen Canada’s research, innovation and talent ecosystem and drive economic growth in sectors of the future, including:

  • $500 million over four years, starting in 2021-22, for the Canada Foundation for Innovation to support the bio-science capital and infrastructure needs of post-secondary institutions and research hospitals;
  • $250 million over four years, starting in 2021-22, for the federal research granting councils to create a new tri-council biomedical research fund;
  • $250 million over three years, starting in 2021-22, to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to implement a new Clinical Trials Fund;
  • $92 million over four years, starting in 2021-22, for adMare to support company creation, scale up, and training activities in the life sciences sector;
  • $59.2 million over three years, starting in 2021-22, for the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization to support the development of its vaccine candidates and expand its facility in Saskatoon;
  • $45 million over three years, starting in 2022-23, to the Stem Cell Network to support stem cell and regenerative medicine research; and
  • $708 million over five years, starting in 2021-22, to Mitacs to create at least 85,000 work-integrated learning placements that provide on-the-job learning and provide businesses with support to develop talent and grow.

The visionary support announced in Budget 2021 puts Canada on competitive footing with other G7 nations that have made major investments in research and innovation to drive high-value growth sectors, while placing bio-innovation at the heart of their COVID-19 recoveries. Genome Canada looks forward to leading the new Pan-Canadian Genomics Strategy and to working with Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada and other partners on the strategic investments announced today.   

“To solve complex global problems, such as a worldwide pandemic and climate change, we need transdisciplinary approaches. The life sciences will play significant roles within such an approach. The funding announced today will be instrumental in driving Genome Canada’s mission to be Canada’s genomics platform for future pandemic preparedness, its capacity for biomanufacturing, and its bio-economy overall.”

– Dr. Rob Annan, President and CEO, Genome Canada

Canadian business innovation, science, and innovation—oxymoron?

Navdeep Bains was Canada’s Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry (2015-January 12, 2021) and he had a few things to say as he stepped away (from an April 16, 2021 article by Kevin Carmichael for PostMedia on the SaltWire; Atlantic Canada website),

Navdeep Bains earlier this spring [2021] spoke to me about his tenure as industry minister, which inevitably led to questions about Canada’s eroding competitiveness. He said that he thought he’d done a pretty good job of creating the conditions for a more innovative economy. But the corporate elite? Not so much.

“The ball is back in business’s court,” Bains said. “Frankly, if businesses don’t do this, I think in the long run they will struggle. They have to start changing their behaviour significantly.”

How’s that for a parting shot?

Bains wasn’t the first Canadian policy-maker to get frustrated by Corporate Canada’s aversion to risky bets on research and cutting-edge technology [emphasis mine]. But it’s been a long time since anyone in Ottawa tried to coax them to keep up with the times by dangling big sacks of cash in their faces. All they had to do was demonstrate some ambition and be willing to complement the federal government’s contribution with an investment of their own.

“He [Bains] was a great cheerleader,” said Mike Wessinger, chief executive of PointClickCare Technologies Inc., a Mississauga-based developer of software that helps long-term care homes manage data. “He would always proactively reach out. It was great that he cared.”

It’s easy to dismiss the importance of cheerleading. Canada’s digitally native companies were struggling to be taken seriously in Ottawa a decade ago. Former prime minister Stephen Harper pitched in with the Obama administration to save General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC in 2009, but he let Nortel Networks Corp. fail. The technology industry needed a champion, and it found one in Bains.

Bains argued that his programs [legacy assessment] deserve more time. Industrial policy was still derided when he took over the industry department. It’s now mainstream. For now, that’s his legacy. It’s up to his former colleagues to write the final chapter.

I haven’t seen any OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) figures recently but Canada’s industrial R&D (research development) has been on a downward slide for several years compared to many ‘developed’ countries.

A few final comments

I am intrigued by the inclusion of science and technology collaboration with Israeli firms (through the Canadian International Innovation Program) in the 2021 budget. It’s the only country to be specifically identified in this budget’s science funding announcements.

In fact, I can’t recall seeing any other budget of the last 10 years or so with mention of a specific country as a focus for Canadian science and technology collaboration. Perhaps Israeli companies are especially focused on industrial R&D and risk taking and they hope some of that will rub off on Canadians?

For anyone who might be curious as to the name difference between the new Pan-Canadian Genomic Strategy and the National Quantum Strategy, it may be due to the maturity (age) associated with the research field and its business efforts.

GenomeCanada (a Canadian government-funded not-for-profit agency founded in 2000) and its regional centres are the outcome of some national strategizing in the 1990s, from the GenomeCanada 20th anniversary webpage,

In the 1990s, the Human Genome Project captivates the world. But Canada doesn’t have a coordinated national approach. A group of determined Canadian scientists convinces the federal government to make a bold investment in genomics to ensure Canada doesn’t miss out on the benefits of this breakthrough science. Genome Canada is established on February 8, 2000.

While the folks in the quantum world are more obviously competitive (if the two briefs are indicative), there is the Quantum Industry Canada consortium, which was announced on October 6, 2020 on the Cision website,

Industry Association will accelerate the commercialization of Canada’s quantum sector – a $142.4B opportunity for Canadians.

TORONTO, Oct. 6, 2020 /CNW/ – A consortium of Canada’s leading quantum technology companies announced today that they are launching Quantum Industry Canada (QIC), an industry association with a mission to ensure that Canadian quantum innovation and talent is translated into Canadian business success and economic prosperity.

The twenty-four founding members represent Canada’s most commercial-ready quantum technologies, covering applications in quantum computing, quantum sensing, quantum communications, and quantum-safe cryptography.

It’s quite possible this National Quantum Strategy will result in a national not-for-profit agency and, eventually, a pan-Canadian strategy of its own. My impression is that competition in the life sciences research and business concerns is just as intense as in the quantum research and business concerns; the difference (as suggested earlier) lies in the maturity of, as well as, cultural differences between the communities.

If you have the time, the briefs offer an fascinating albeit truncated view into the machinations behind a federal budget: Parliament of Canada website (Standing Committee on Finance; FINA) webpage for pre-budget consultations.

The inclusion of a section on intellectual property in the budget could seem peculiar. I would have thought that years ago before I learned that governments measure and compare with other government the success of their science and technology efforts by the number of patents that have been filed. There are other measures but intellectual property is very important, as far as governments are concerned. My “Billions lost to patent trolls; US White House asks for comments on intellectual property (IP) enforcement; and more on IP” June 28, 2012 posting points to some of the shortcomings, with which we still grapple.

To finally finish this off, Canadian Science Policy Centre has a call for 2021 Budget Editorial Call. (600-800 words)

ETA May 6, 2021: Ooops! This is the end: The Canadian Science Policy Centre has posted recordings of their 2021 federal budget symposium here (according to a May 6, 2021 announcement received via email).

ETA May 19, 2021: Well … here’s one more thing. If you’re interested in how basic funding for the sciences fared, check out Jim R. Woodgett’s May 8, 2021 posting on the Piece of Mind blog.

Call for papers for the 13th (2021) Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC)

“Building Forward Better” (sigh) is the concept for the upcoming 2021 Canadian Science Policy Conference. (I wish the theme didn’t seem derivative of “Build Back Better,” President Joe Biden’s agenda.) The deadline as it stands now is May 21, 2021 for the panel proposals and, I believe, the short talk proposals.

As usual, the conference is being held in Ottawa, which is convenient when most government science policy wonks are in Ottawa, of course, the rest of us can ‘Zoom’ attend.

Note: CSPC is the abbreviation for both the Canadian Science Policy Centre and the Canadian Science Policy Conference, which the Centre organizes. Confusing, eh? conference.

From the 2021 CSPC call for submissions webpage (Note formatting changes),

CSPC [Canadian Science Policy Centre] is excited to announce the themes and topics for the 13th Canadian Science Policy Conference!

As Canada focuses on the future and post-pandemic rebuilding process, the overarching message of CSPC 2021 is shaped by the concept of Building Forward Better.

PANEL DEADLINE MAY 21ST

There is no fee associated with the panel submission.

Theme 1:  Science and Policy

STI Policy frameworks

Towards holistic STI policies: Approaches that are inclusive of governments, agencies, private sector, academe

Beyond the Endless Frontier; Renegotiating the Social Contract between Science, Innovation, and Society 

The international research ecosystem/supply chain – opportunities and risks  

Policy and regulation of emerging technologies 

Indigenous knowledge:

Integration in evidence-informed decision making

Climate change:

Carbon management goals: Issues and approaches for agriculture, forestry, food production, manufacturing, and land use 

Agriculture: Production, sustainability, and life cycle; precision agriculture

Biodiversity and conservation

Indigenous communities’ engagement in managing and adapting to climate change   

Smart cities and smart infrastructure 

Theme 2: Science and Society

Public engagement

Responses to the science of COVID-19 – lessons learned

Misinformation/Disinformation 

Public trust in science, especially in the post pandemic world

Digital media

Democracy and politics in a ‘post-trust’ / ‘post-truth’ / post-pandemic era

Science and Post Pandemic Politics, Platforms and Elections 

Theme 3:  Science, Innovation and Economic Development

International

Best Global practices in commercializing new knowledge from scientific research 

Priority Sectors/Challenges 

Sustainable development and the circular resource economy 

What should be Canada’s competitive priority: Technology innovation or technology adoption? 

Assessing the impact of Disruptive Technologies on Canada’s Job Growth and Economic Development 

Theme 4:  Science and International Affairs and Security

Security of Research and Innovation:

State and non-state espionage

Cyber, and data security

International Collaboration and Security

Science diplomacy in post pandemic era

International STI developments: Implications for Canada:  

American Science Policy

Horizon Europe 

International science and technology agreements 

Social Media, international regulations, and citizen rights International knowledge and talent strategy, brain circulation

Science and Technology in an increasingly tense global order

Theme 5: Science and the Next Generation

New graduates and new realities 

Capacity building:

The next generation of Indigenous leaders

The next generation of innovative tech leaders, e.g. space, AI, cybersecurity cleantech

Indigenous led research by Indigenous for Indigenous 

Theme 6:  Grand Challenges 

Canada’s energy policies for a sustainable future

Food security 

Climate change

Climate Adaptation

Next steps to Net Zero 

Water scarcity and quality 

Oceans and sea rise 

As I’ve noted elsewhere (and frequently), much of the science policy discussion coming out of Ottawa via these conferences and the Council of Canadian Academies is Eurocentric and UScentric as can be seen in Theme 4’s International STI developments: Implications for Canada., which highlights these three topics: American Science Policy, Horizon Europe, and International science and technology agreements. No mention of China? Perhaps it will be found here in submissions for Science and Technology in an increasingly tense global order. Finally and surprisingly, there’s no mention of the Arctic in the Grand Challenges’ Climate change subgroups or elsewhere.

I have some more details from the 2021 CSPC’s Criteria for proposal selection webpage,

CSPC is a national forum, a mosaic which aims to have a balanced representation of regional, sectoral, and topical diversity; as well as to provide under-represented groups an opportunity to present their ideas. These criteria will also be factored in for the final selection of panels.

There are two streams for proposal submission this year. Please read the criteria for each stream carefully before finalizing your submission. Both streams are expected to adhere to the CSPC 2021 themes and topics to increase chances of acceptance. 

1. Panel proposals 

80 minute panels (50 minute presentation, 20-30 minutes of questions) where a diverse, multisectoral group discuss topics in science policy (see CSPC 2021 themes and topics)

2. Short talk proposals.

10 minute presentations for those individuals who do not have the means to organize a panel, in particular student and early career professionals.

Good luck!

Council of Canadian Academies and its expert panel for the AI for Science and Engineering project

There seems to be an explosion (metaphorically and only by Canadian standards) of interest in public perceptions/engagement/awareness of artificial intelligence (see my March 29, 2021 posting “Canada launches its AI dialogues” and these dialogues run until April 30, 2021 plus there’s this April 6, 2021 posting “UNESCO’s Call for Proposals to highlight blind spots in AI Development open ’til May 2, 2021” which was launched in cooperation with Mila-Québec Artificial Intelligence Institute).

Now there’s this, in a March 31, 2020 Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) news release, four new projects were announced. (Admittedly these are not ‘public engagement’ exercises as such but the reports are publicly available and utilized by policymakers.) These are the two projects of most interest to me,

Public Safety in the Digital Age

Information and communications technologies have profoundly changed almost every aspect of life and business in the last two decades. While the digital revolution has brought about many positive changes, it has also created opportunities for criminal organizations and malicious actors to target individuals, businesses, and systems.

This assessment will examine promising practices that could help to address threats to public safety related to the use of digital technologies while respecting human rights and privacy.

Sponsor: Public Safety Canada

AI for Science and Engineering

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning in science and engineering has the potential to radically transform the nature of scientific inquiry and discovery and produce a wide range of social and economic benefits for Canadians. But, the adoption of these technologies also presents a number of potential challenges and risks.

This assessment will examine the legal/regulatory, ethical, policy and social challenges related to the use of AI technologies in scientific research and discovery.

Sponsor: National Research Council Canada [NRC] (co-sponsors: CIFAR [Canadian Institute for Advanced Research], CIHR [Canadian Institutes of Health Research], NSERC [Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council], and SSHRC [Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council])

For today’s posting the focus will be on the AI project, specifically, the April 19, 2021 CCA news release announcing the project’s expert panel,

The Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) has formed an Expert Panel to examine a broad range of factors related to the use of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies in scientific research and discovery in Canada. Teresa Scassa, SJD, Canada Research Chair in Information Law and Policy at the University of Ottawa, will serve as Chair of the Panel.  

“AI and machine learning may drastically change the fields of science and engineering by accelerating research and discovery,” said Dr. Scassa. “But these technologies also present challenges and risks. A better understanding of the implications of the use of AI in scientific research will help to inform decision-making in this area and I look forward to undertaking this assessment with my colleagues.”

As Chair, Dr. Scassa will lead a multidisciplinary group with extensive expertise in law, policy, ethics, philosophy, sociology, and AI technology. The Panel will answer the following question:

What are the legal/regulatory, ethical, policy and social challenges associated with deploying AI technologies to enable scientific/engineering research design and discovery in Canada?

“We’re delighted that Dr. Scassa, with her extensive experience in AI, the law and data governance, has taken on the role of Chair,” said Eric M. Meslin, PhD, FRSC, FCAHS, President and CEO of the CCA. “I anticipate the work of this outstanding panel will inform policy decisions about the development, regulation and adoption of AI technologies in scientific research, to the benefit of Canada.”

The CCA was asked by the National Research Council of Canada (NRC), along with co-sponsors CIFAR, CIHR, NSERC, and SSHRC, to address the question. More information can be found here.

The Expert Panel on AI for Science and Engineering:

Teresa Scassa (Chair), SJD, Canada Research Chair in Information Law and Policy, University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law (Ottawa, ON)

Julien Billot, CEO, Scale AI (Montreal, QC)

Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Canada 150 Research Chair in New Media and Professor of Communication, Simon Fraser University (Burnaby, BC)

Marc Antoine Dilhac, Professor (Philosophy), University of Montreal; Director of Ethics and Politics, Centre for Ethics (Montréal, QC)

B. Courtney Doagoo, AI and Society Fellow, Centre for Law, Technology and Society, University of Ottawa; Senior Manager, Risk Consulting Practice, KPMG Canada (Ottawa, ON)

Abhishek Gupta, Founder and Principal Researcher, Montreal AI Ethics Institute (Montréal, QC)

Richard Isnor, Associate Vice President, Research and Graduate Studies, St. Francis Xavier University (Antigonish, NS)

Ross D. King, Professor, Chalmers University of Technology (Göteborg, Sweden)

Sabina Leonelli, Professor of Philosophy and History of Science, University of Exeter (Exeter, United Kingdom)

Raymond J. Spiteri, Professor, Department of Computer Science, University of Saskatchewan (Saskatoon, SK)

Who is the expert panel?

Putting together a Canadian panel is an interesting problem especially so when you’re trying to find people of expertise who can also represent various viewpoints both professionally and regionally. Then, there are gender, racial, linguistic, urban/rural, and ethnic considerations.

Statistics

Eight of the panelists could be said to be representing various regions of Canada. Five of those eight panelists are based in central Canada, specifically, Ontario (Ottawa) or Québec (Montréal). The sixth panelist is based in Atlantic Canada (Nova Scotia), the seventh panelist is based in the Prairies (Saskatchewan), and the eighth panelist is based in western Canada, (Vancouver, British Columbia).

The two panelists bringing an international perspective to this project are both based in Europe, specifically, Sweden and the UK.

(sigh) It would be good to have representation from another part of the world. Asia springs to mind as researchers in that region are very advanced in their AI research and applications meaning that their experts and ethicists are likely to have valuable insights.

Four of the ten panelists are women, which is closer to equal representation than some of the other CCA panels I’ve looked at.

As for Indigenous and BIPOC representation, unless one or more of the panelists chooses to self-identify in that fashion, I cannot make any comments. It should be noted that more than one expert panelist focuses on social justice and/or bias in algorithms.

Network of relationships

As you can see, the CCA descriptions for the individual members of the expert panel are a little brief. So, I did a little digging and In my searches, I noticed what seems to be a pattern of relationships among some of these experts. In particular, take note of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) and the AI Advisory Council of the Government of Canada.

Individual panelists

Teresa Scassa (Ontario) whose SJD designation signifies a research doctorate in law chairs this panel. Offhand, I can recall only one or two other panels being chaired by women of the 10 or so I’ve reviewed. In addition to her profile page at the University of Ottawa, she hosts her own blog featuring posts such as “How Might Bill C-11 Affect the Outcome of a Clearview AI-type Complaint?” She writes clearly (I didn’t seen any jargon) for an audience that is somewhat informed on the topic.

Along with Dilhac, Teresa Scassa is a member of the AI Advisory Council of the Government of Canada. More about that group when you read Dilhac’s description.

Julien Billot (Québec) has provided a profile on LinkedIn and you can augment your view of M. Billot with this profile from the CreativeDestructionLab (CDL),

Mr. Billot is a member of the faculty at HEC Montréal [graduate business school of the Université de Montréal] as an adjunct professor of management and the lead for the CreativeDestructionLab (CDL) and NextAi program in Montreal.

Julien Billot has been President and Chief Executive Officer of Yellow Pages Group Corporation (Y.TO) in Montreal, Quebec. Previously, he was Executive Vice President, Head of Media and Member of the Executive Committee of Solocal Group (formerly PagesJaunes Groupe), the publicly traded and incumbent local search business in France. Earlier experience includes serving as CEO of the digital and new business group of Lagardère Active, a multimedia branch of Lagardère Group and 13 years in senior management positions at France Telecom, notably as Chief Marketing Officer for Orange, the company’s mobile subsidiary.

Mr. Billot is a graduate of École Polytechnique (Paris) and from Telecom Paris Tech. He holds a postgraduate diploma (DEA) in Industrial Economics from the University of Paris-Dauphine.

Wendy Hui Kyong Chun (British Columbia) has a profile on the Simon Fraser University (SFU) website, which provided one of the more interesting (to me personally) biographies,

Wendy Hui Kyong Chun is the Canada 150 Research Chair in New Media at Simon Fraser University, and leads the Digital Democracies Institute which was launched in 2019. The Institute aims to integrate research in the humanities and data sciences to address questions of equality and social justice in order to combat the proliferation of online “echo chambers,” abusive language, discriminatory algorithms and mis/disinformation by fostering critical and creative user practices and alternative paradigms for connection. It has four distinct research streams all led by Dr. Chun: Beyond Verification which looks at authenticity and the spread of disinformation; From Hate to Agonism, focusing on fostering democratic exchange online; Desegregating Network Neighbourhoods, combatting homophily across platforms; and Discriminating Data: Neighbourhoods, Individuals and Proxies, investigating the centrality of race, gender, class and sexuality [emphasis mine] to big data and network analytics.

I’m glad to see someone who has focused on ” … the centrality of race, gender, class and sexuality to big data and network analytics.” Even more interesting to me was this from her CV (curriculum vitae),

Professor, Department of Modern Culture and Media, Brown University, July 2010-June 2018

.•Affiliated Faculty, Multimedia & Electronic Music Experiments (MEME), Department of Music,2017.

•Affiliated Faculty, History of Art and Architecture, March 2012-

.•Graduate Field Faculty, Theatre Arts and Performance Studies, Sept 2008-.[sic]

….

[all emphases mine]

And these are some of her credentials,

Ph.D., English, Princeton University, 1999.
•Certificate, School of Criticism and Theory, Dartmouth College, Summer 1995.

M.A., English, Princeton University, 1994.

B.A.Sc., Systems Design Engineering and English, University of Waterloo, Canada, 1992.
•first class honours and a Senate Commendation for Excellence for being the first student to graduate from the School of Engineering with a double major

It’s about time the CCA started integrating some of kind of arts perspective into their projects. (Although, I can’t help wondering if this was by accident rather than by design.)

Marc Antoine Dilhac, an associate professor at l’Université de Montréal, he, like Billot, graduated from a French university, in his case, the Sorbonne. Here’s more from Dilhac’s profile on the Mila website,

Marc-Antoine Dilhac (Ph.D., Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne) is a professor of ethics and political philosophy at the Université de Montréal and an associate member of Mila – Quebec Artificial Intelligence Institute. He currently holds a CIFAR [Canadian Institute for Advanced Research] Chair in AI ethics (2019-2024), and was previously Canada Research Chair in Public Ethics and Political Theory 2014-2019. He specialized in theories of democracy and social justice, as well as in questions of applied ethics. He published two books on the politics of toleration and inclusion (2013, 2014). His current research focuses on the ethical and social impacts of AI and issues of governance and institutional design, with a particular emphasis on how new technologies are changing public relations and political structures.

In 2017, he instigated the project of the Montreal Declaration for a Responsible Development of AI and chaired its scientific committee. In 2020, as director of Algora Lab, he led an international deliberation process as part of UNESCO’s consultation on its recommendation on the ethics of AI.

In 2019, he founded Algora Lab, an interdisciplinary laboratory advancing research on the ethics of AI and developing a deliberative approach to the governance of AI and digital technologies. He is co-director of Deliberation at the Observatory on the social impacts of AI and digital technologies (OBVIA), and contributes to the OECD Policy Observatory (OECD.AI) as a member of its expert network ONE.AI.

He sits on the AI Advisory Council of the Government of Canada and co-chair its Working Group on Public Awareness.

Formerly known as Mila only, Mila – Quebec Artificial Intelligence Institute is a beneficiary of the 2017 Canadian federal budget’s inception of the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy, which named CIFAR as an agency that would benefit as the hub and would also distribute funds for artificial intelligence research to (mainly) three agencies: Mila in Montréal, the Vector Institute in Toronto, and the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (AMII; Edmonton).

Consequently, Dilhac’s involvement with CIFAR is not unexpected but when added to his presence on the AI Advisory Council of the Government of Canada and his role as co-chair of its Working Group on Public Awareness, one of the co-sponsors for this future CCA report, you get a sense of just how small the Canadian AI ethics and public awareness community is.

Add in CIFAR’s Open Dialogue: AI in Canada series (ongoing until April 30, 2021) which is being held in partnership with the AI Advisory Council of the Government of Canada (see my March 29, 2021 posting for more details about the dialogues) amongst other familiar parties and you see a web of relations so tightly interwoven that if you could produce masks from it you’d have superior COVID-19 protection to N95 masks.

These kinds of connections are understandable and I have more to say about them in my final comments.

B. Courtney Doagoo has a profile page at the University of Ottawa, which fills in a few information gaps,

As a Fellow, Dr. Doagoo develops her research on the social, economic and cultural implications of AI with a particular focus on the role of laws, norms and policies [emphasis mine]. She also notably advises Dr. Florian Martin-Bariteau, CLTS Director, in the development of a new research initiative on those topical issues, and Dr. Jason Millar in the development of the Canadian Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Ethical Design Lab (CRAiEDL).

Dr. Doagoo completed her Ph.D. in Law at the University of Ottawa in 2017. In her interdisciplinary research, she used empirical methods to learn about and describe the use of intellectual property law and norms in creative communities. Following her doctoral research, she joined the World Intellectual Property Organization’s Coordination Office in New York as a legal intern and contributed to developing the joint initiative on gender and innovation in collaboration with UNESCO and UN Women. She later joined the International Law Research Program at the Centre for International Governance Innovation as a Post-Doctoral Fellow, where she conducted research in technology and law focusing on intellectual property law, artificial intelligence and data governance.

Dr. Doagoo completed her LL.L. at the University of Ottawa, and LL.M. in Intellectual Property Law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law [a law school at Yeshiva University in New York City].  In between her academic pursuits, Dr. Doagoo has been involved with different technology start-ups, including the one she is currently leading aimed at facilitating access to legal services. She’s also an avid lover of the arts and designed a course on Arts and Cultural Heritage Law taught during her doctoral studies at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law.

It’s probably because I don’t know enough but this “the role of laws, norms and policies” seems bland to the point of meaningless. The rest is more informative and brings it back to the arts with Wendy Hui Kyong Chun at SFU.

Doagoo’s LinkedIn profile offers an unexpected link to this expert panel’s chairperson, Teresa Scassa (in addition to both being lawyers whose specialties are in related fields and on faculty or fellow at the University of Ottawa),

Soft-funded Research Bursary

Dr. Teresa Scassa

2014

I’m not suggesting any conspiracies; it’s simply that this is a very small community with much of it located in central and eastern Canada and possible links into the US. For example, Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, prior to her SFU appointment in December 2018, worked and studied in the eastern US for over 25 years after starting her academic career at the University of Waterloo (Ontario).

Abhishek Gupta provided me with a challenging search. His LinkedIn profile yielded some details (I’m not convinced the man sleeps), Note: I have made some formatting changes and removed the location, ‘Montréal area’ from some descriptions

Experience

Microsoft Graphic
Software Engineer II – Machine Learning
Microsoft

Jul 2018 – Present – 2 years 10 months

Machine Learning – Commercial Software Engineering team

Serves on the CSE Responsible AI Board

Founder and Principal Researcher
Montreal AI Ethics Institute

May 2018 – Present – 3 years

Institute creating tangible and practical research in the ethical, safe and inclusive development of AI. For more information, please visit https://montrealethics.ai

Visiting AI Ethics Researcher, Future of Work, International Visitor Leadership Program
U.S. Department of State

Aug 2019 – Present – 1 year 9 months

Selected to represent Canada on the future of work

Responsible AI Lead, Data Advisory Council
Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities

Jun 2020 – Present – 11 months

Faculty Associate, Frankfurt Big Data Lab
Goethe University

Mar 2020 – Present – 1 year 2 months

Advisor for the Z-inspection project

Associate Member
LF AI Foundation

May 2020 – Present – 1 year

Author
MIT Technology Review

Sep 2020 – Present – 8 months

Founding Editorial Board Member, AI and Ethics Journal
Springer Nature

Jul 2020 – Present – 10 months

Education

McGill University Bachelor of Science (BS)Computer Science

2012 – 2015

Exhausting, eh? He also has an eponymous website and the Montreal AI Ethics Institute can found here where Gupta and his colleagues are “Democratizing AI ethics literacy.” My hat’s off to Gupta getting on an expert panel for CCA is quite an achievement for someone without the usual academic and/or industry trappings.

Richard Isnor, based in Nova Scotia and associate vice president of research & graduate studies at St. Francis Xavier University (StFX), seems to have some connection to northern Canada (see the reference to Nunavut Research Institute below); he’s certainly well connected to various federal government agencies according to his profile page,

Prior to joining StFX, he was Manager of the Atlantic Regional Office for the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), based in Moncton, NB.  Previously, he was Director of Innovation Policy and Science at the International Development Research Centre in Ottawa and also worked for three years with the National Research Council of Canada [NRC] managing Biotechnology Research Initiatives and the NRC Genomics and Health Initiative.

Richard holds a D. Phil. in Science and Technology Policy Studies from the University of Sussex, UK; a Master’s in Environmental Studies from Dalhousie University [Nova Scotia]; and a B. Sc. (Hons) in Biochemistry from Mount Allison University [New Burnswick].  His primary interest is in science policy and the public administration of research; he has worked in science and technology policy or research administrative positions for Environment Canada, Natural Resources Canada, the Privy Council Office, as well as the Nunavut Research Institute. [emphasis mine]

I don’t know what Dr. Isnor’s work is like but I’m hopeful he (along with Spiteri) will be able to provide a less ‘big city’ perspective to the proceedings.

(For those unfamiliar with Canadian cities, Montreal [three expert panelists] is the second largest city in the country, Ottawa [two expert panelists] as the capital has an outsize view of itself, Vancouver [one expert panelist] is the third or fourth largest city in the country for a total of six big city representatives out of eight Canadian expert panelists.)

Ross D. King, professor of machine intelligence at Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology, might be best known for Adam, also known as, Robot Scientist. Here’s more about King, from his Wikipedia entry (Note: Links have been removed),

King completed a Bachelor of Science degree in Microbiology at the University of Aberdeen in 1983 and went on to study for a Master of Science degree in Computer Science at the University of Newcastle in 1985. Following this, he completed a PhD at The Turing Institute [emphasis mine] at the University of Strathclyde in 1989[3] for work on developing machine learning methods for protein structure prediction.[7]

King’s research interests are in the automation of science, drug design, AI, machine learning and synthetic biology.[8][9] He is probably best known for the Robot Scientist[4][10][11][12][13][14][15][16][17] project which has created a robot that can:

hypothesize to explain observations

devise experiments to test these hypotheses

physically run the experiments using laboratory robotics

interpret the results from the experiments

repeat the cycle as required

The Robot Scientist Wikipedia entry has this to add,

… a laboratory robot created and developed by a group of scientists including Ross King, Kenneth Whelan, Ffion Jones, Philip Reiser, Christopher Bryant, Stephen Muggleton, Douglas Kell and Steve Oliver.[2][6][7][8][9][10]

… Adam became the first machine in history to have discovered new scientific knowledge independently of its human creators.[5][17][18]

Sabina Leonelli, professor of philosophy and history of science at the University of Exeter, is the only person for whom I found a Twitter feed (@SabinaLeonelli). Here’s a bit more from her Wikipedia entry Note: Links have been removed),

Originally from Italy, Leonelli moved to the UK for a BSc degree in History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Science at University College London and a MSc degree in History and Philosophy of Science at the London School of Economics. Her doctoral research was carried out in the Netherlands at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam with Henk W. de Regt and Hans Radder. Before joining the Exeter faculty, she was a research officer under Mary S. Morgan at the Department of Economic History of the London School of Economics.

Leonelli is the Co-Director of the Exeter Centre for the Study of the Life Sciences (Egenis)[3] and a Turing Fellow at the Alan Turing Institute [emphases mine] in London.[4] She is also Editor-in-Chief of the international journal History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences[5] and Associate Editor for the Harvard Data Science Review.[6] She serves as External Faculty for the Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research.[7]

Notice that Ross King and Sabina Leonelli both have links to The Alan Turing Institute (“We believe data science and artificial intelligence will change the world”), although the institute’s link to the University of Strathclyde (Scotland) where King studied seems a bit tenuous.

Do check out Leonelli’s profile at the University of Exeter as it’s comprehensive.

Raymond J. Spiteri, professor and director of the Centre for High Performance Computing, Department of Computer Science at the University of Saskatchewan, has a profile page at the university the likes of which I haven’t seen in several years perhaps due to its 2013 origins. His other university profile page can best be described as minimalist.

His Canadian Applied and Industrial Mathematics Society (CAIMS) biography page could be described as less charming (to me) than the 2013 profile but it is easier to read,

Raymond Spiteri is a Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Saskatchewan. He performed his graduate work as a member of the Institute for Applied Mathematics at the University of British Columbia. He was a post-doctoral fellow at McGill University and held faculty positions at Acadia University and Dalhousie University before joining USask in 2004. He serves on the Executive Committee of the WestGrid High-Performance Computing Consortium with Compute/Calcul Canada. He was a MITACS Project Leader from 2004-2012 and served in the role of Mitacs Regional Scientific Director for the Prairie Provinces between 2008 and 2011.

Spiteri’s areas of research are numerical analysis, scientific computing, and high-performance computing. His area of specialization is the analysis and implementation of efficient time-stepping methods for differential equations. He actively collaborates with scientists, engineers, and medical experts of all flavours. He also has a long record of industry collaboration with companies such as IBM and Boeing.

Spiteri has been lifetime member of CAIMS/SCMAI since 2000. He helped co-organize the 2004 Annual Meeting at Dalhousie and served on the Cecil Graham Doctoral Dissertation Award Committee from 2005 to 2009, acting as chair from 2007. He has been an active participant in CAIMS, serving several times on the Scientific Committee for the Annual Meeting, as well as frequently attending and organizing mini-symposia. Spiteri believes it is important for applied mathematics to play a major role in the efforts to meet Canada’s most pressing societal challenges, including the sustainability of our healthcare system, our natural resources, and the environment.

A last look at Spiteri’s 2013 profile gave me this (Note: Links have been removed),

Another biographical note: I obtained my B.Sc. degree in Applied Mathematics from the University of Western Ontario [also known as, Western University] in 1990. My advisor was Dr. M.A.H. (Paddy) Nerenberg, after whom the Nerenberg Lecture Series is named. Here is an excerpt from the description, put here is his honour, as a model for the rest of us:

The Nerenberg Lecture Series is first and foremost about people and ideas. Knowledge is the true treasure of humanity, accrued and passed down through the generations. Some of it, particularly science and its language, mathematics, is closed in practice to many because of technical barriers that can only be overcome at a high price. These technical barriers form part of the remarkable fractures that have formed in our legacy of knowledge. We are so used to those fractures that they have become almost invisible to us, but they are a source of profound confusion about what is known.

The Nerenberg Lecture is named after the late Morton (Paddy) Nerenberg, a much-loved professor and researcher born on 17 March– hence his nickname. He was a Professor at Western for more than a quarter century, and a founding member of the Department of Applied Mathematics there. A successful researcher and accomplished teacher, he believed in the unity of knowledge, that scientific and mathematical ideas belong to everyone, and that they are of human importance. He regretted that they had become inaccessible to so many, and anticipated serious consequences from it. [emphases mine] The series honors his appreciation for the democracy of ideas. He died in 1993 at the age of 57.

So, we have the expert panel.

Thoughts about the panel and the report

As I’ve noted previously here and elsewhere, assembling any panels whether they’re for a single event or for a longer term project such as producing a report is no easy task. Looking at the panel, there’s some arts representation, smaller urban centres are also represented, and some of the members have experience in more than one region in Canada. I was also much encouraged by Spiteri’s acknowledgement of his advisor’s, Morton (Paddy) Nerenberg, passionate commitment to the idea that “scientific and mathematical ideas belong to everyone.”

Kudos to the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) organizers.

That said, this looks like an exceptionally Eurocentric panel. Unusually, there’s no representation from the US unless you count Chun who has spent the majority of her career in the US with only a little over two years at Simon Fraser University on Canada’s West Coast.

There’s weakness to a strategy (none of the ten or so CCA reports I’ve reviewed here deviates from this pattern) that seems to favour international participants from Europe and/or the US (also, sometimes, Australia/New Zealand). This leaves out giant chunks of the international community and brings us dangerously close to an echo chamber.

The same problem exists regionally and with various Canadian communities, which are acknowledged more in spirit than in actuality, e.g., the North, rural, indigenous, arts, etc.

Getting back to the ‘big city’ emphsais noted earlier, two people from Ottawa and three from Montreal; half of the expert panel lives within a two hour train ride of each other. (For those who don’t know, that’s close by Canadian standards. For comparison, a train ride from Vancouver to Seattle [US] is about four hours, a short trip when compared to a 24 hour train trip to the closest large Canadian cities.)

I appreciate that it’s not a simple problem but my concern is that it’s never acknowledged by the CCA. Perhaps they could include a section in the report acknowledging the issues and how the expert panel attempted to address them , in other words, transparency. Coincidentally, transparency, which has been related to trust, have both been identified as big issues with artificial intelligence.

As for solutions, these reports get sent to external reviewers and, prior to the report, outside experts are sometimes brought in as the panel readies itself. That would be two opportunities afforded by their current processes.

Anyway, good luck with the report and I look forward to seeing it.

Online symposium (April 27 – 28, 2021) on Canada’s first federal budget in two years

The Canadian federal budget is due to be announced/revealed on April 19, 2021—the first budget we’ve seen since 2019.

The Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC)is hosting an April 27 -28, 2021 symposium online and the main focus will be on science and funding. Before moving onto the symposium details, I think a quick refresher is in order.

No oversight, WE Charity scandal

While the Liberal government has done much which is laudable by supporting people and businesses through this worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, there have been at least two notable missteps with regard to fiscal responsibility. This March 24, 2020 article in The Abbotsford News outlines the problem,

Conservative Finance critic Pierre Poilievre says there’s no deal yet between the Liberal government and Opposition over a proposed emergency aid bill to spend billions of dollars to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and cushion some of its damage to the economy.

The opposition parties had said they would back the $82 billion in direct spending and deferred taxes Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to put up to prepare the country for mass illness and help Canadians cope with lost jobs and wages.

Yet a draft of the bill circulated Monday suggested it was going to give cabinet, not MPs, extraordinary power over taxes and spending, so ministers could act without Parliament’s approval for months.

The Conservatives will support every one of the aid measures contained in bill with no debate, Poilievre said. The only issue is whether the government needs to be given never before seen powers to tax and spend. [emphasis mine]

When there’s a minority government like the one Trudeau leads, the chance to bring the government down on a spending bill is what gives the opposition its power.

The government did not receive that approval in Parliament—but they tried. That was in March 2020; a few weeks later, there’s this (from the WE Charity scandal entry on Wikipedia),, Note: Links have been removed

On April 5, 2020 amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic, the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, and his then-Finance Minister Bill Morneau, held a telephone conversation discussing measures to financially assist the country’s student population.[14] The Finance Department was tasked with devising a series of measures to address these issues. This would begin a chain of events involving numerous governmental agencies.

Through a no-bid selection process [emphasis mine], WE Charity was chosen to administer the CSSG [Canada Student Service Grant], which would have created grants for students who volunteered during the COVID-19 pandemic.[15][13] The contract agreement was signed with WE Charity Foundation,[16] a corporation affiliated with WE Charity, on June 23, 2020. It was agreed that WE Charity, which had already begun incurring eligible expenses for the project on May 5 at their own risk,[17][18] would be paid $43.53 million[19] to administer the program; $30 million of which was paid to WE Charity Foundation on June 30, 2020.[18] This was later fully refunded.[17] A senior bureaucrat would note that “ESDC thinks that ‘WE’ might be able to be the volunteer matching third party … The mission of WE is congruent with national service and they have a massive following on social media.”[20]

Concurrent to these events, and prior to the announcement of the CSSG on June 25, 2020, WE Charity was simultaneously corresponding with the same government agencies ultimately responsible for choosing the administrator of the program.[8] WE Charity would submit numerous proposals in April, beginning on April 9, 2020, on the topic of youth volunteer award programs.[9] These were able to be reformed into what became the CSSG.[8]

On June 25, 2020 Justin Trudeau announced a series of relief measures for students. Among them was the Canada Student Service Grant program; whereby students would be eligible to receive $1000 for every 100 hours of volunteer activities, up to $5,000.[21]

The structure of the program, and the selection of WE Charity as its administrator, immediately triggered condemnation amongst the Official Opposition,[22] as well as numerous other groups, such as the Public Service Alliance of Canada,[7] Democracy Watch,[23] and Volunteer Canada[24] who argued that WE Charity:

  • Was not the only possible administrator as had been claimed
  • Had been the beneficiary of cronyism
  • Had experienced significant disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic and required a bailout
  • Had illegally lobbied the government
  • Was unable to operate in French-speaking regions of Canada
  • Was potentially in violation of labour laws
  • Had created hundreds of volunteer positions with WE Charity itself as part of the program, doing work generally conducted by paid employees, representing a conflict of interests. …

In a July 13, 2020 article about the scandal on BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) online, it’s noted that Trudeau was about to undergo his third ethics inquiry since first becoming Prime Minister in 2015. His first ethics inquiry took place in 2017, the second in 2019, and again in 2020.

None of this has anything to do with science funding (as far as I know) but it does set the stage for questions about how science funding is determined and who will be getting it. There are already systems in place for science funding through various agencies but the federal budget often sets special priorities such as the 2017 Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy with its attendant $125M. As well,Prime Minister Justin Trudeau likes to use science as a means of enhancing his appeal. See my March 16, 2018 posting for a sample of this, scroll down to the “Sunny ways: a discussion between Justin Trudeau and Bill Nye” subhead.

Federal Budget 2021 Symposium

From the CSPC’s Federal Budget 2021 Symposium event page, Note: Minor changes have been made due to my formatting skills, or lack thereof,

Keynote talk by David Watters entitled: “Canada’s Performance in R&D and Innovation Ecosystem in the Context of Health and Economic Impact of COVID-19 and Investments in the Budget“ [sic]

Tentative Event Schedule

Tuesday April 27
12:00 – 4:30 pm EDT

12:00 – 1:00 Session I: Keynote Address: The Impact of Budget 2021 on the Performance of Canada’s National R&D/Innovation Ecosystem 

David Watters, President & CEO, Global Advantage Consulting

1:15 – 1:45 Session II: Critical Analysis 

Robert Asselin, Senior Vice President, Policy, Business Council of Canada
Irene Sterian, Founder, President & CEO, REMAP (Refined Manufacturing Acceleration Process); Director, Technology & Innovation, Celestica
David Wolfe, Professor of Political Science, UTM [University of Toronto Mississauga], Innovation Policy Lab, Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy

2:00 – 3:00 Session III: Superclusters 

Bill Greuel, CEO, Protein Industries Canada
Kendra MacDonald, CEO, Canada’s Ocean Supercluster
Angela Mondou, President & CEO, TECHNATION
Jayson Myers, CEO, Next Generation Manufacturing Canada (NGen)

3:30 – 4:30 Session IV: Business & Industry 3:30 – 4:30

Namir Anani, President & CEO, Information and Communications Technology Council [ICTC]
Karl Blackburn, President & CEO, Conseil du patronat du Québec
Tabatha Bull, President & CEO, Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business [CCAB]
Karen Churchill, President & CEO, Ag-West Bio Inc.
Karimah Es Sabar, CEO & Partner of Quark Venture LP; Chair, Health/Biosciences Economic Strategy Table

Wednesday April 28
2:00 – 4:30 pm EDT

2:00 – 3:00 Session V: Universities and Colleges

Steven Liss, Vice-President, Research and Innovation & Professor of Chemistry and Biology, Faculty of Science, Ryerson University
Madison Rilling, Project Manager, Optonique, Québec’s Optics & Photonics Cluster; Youth Council Member, Office of the Chief Science Advisor of Canada

3:30 – 4:30 Session VI: Non-Governmental Organizations 

Genesa M. Greening, President & CEO, BC Women’s Health Foundation
Maya Roy, CEO, YWCA Canada
Gisèle Yasmeen, Executive Director, Food Secure Canada
Jayson Myers, CEO, Next Generation Manufacturing Canada (NGen)

Register Here

Enjoy!

PS: I expect the guests at the Canadian Science Policy Centre’s (CSPC) April 27 – 28, 2021 Federal Budget Symposium to offer at least some commentary that boils down to ‘we love getting more money’ or ‘we’re not getting enough money’ or a bit of both.

I also expect the usual moaning over our failure to support industrial research and/or home grown companies E.g., Element AI (Canadian artificial intelligence company formerly headquartered in Montréal) was sold to a US company in November 2020 (see the Wikipedia entry). The US company doesn’t seem to have kept any of the employees but it seems to have acquired the intellectual property.

“Wolves, Livestock, and the Physical and Social Environments,” an April 14, 2021 event in celebration of Italian Research in the World Day

ARPICO (Society of Italian Researchers & Professionals in Western Canada) is presenting a pre-celebration event to honour Italian Research in the World Day (April 15, 2021). Take special note: the event is being held the day before.

Before launching into the announcement, bravo to the organizers! ARPICO consistently offers the most comprehensive details about their events of any group that contacts me. One more thing, to date, they are the only group that have described which technology they’re using for the webcast and explicitly address any concerns about downloading software (you don’t have to) or about personal information. (Check out Technical Instruction here.)

Here are the details from ARPICO’s April 4, 2021 announcement (received via email),

We hope everyone is doing well and being safe while we attempt to outlast this pandemic. In the meanwhile, from the comfort of our homes, we hope to be able to continue to share with you informative lectures to entertain and stimulate thought.

It is our pleasure, in collaboration with the Consulate General of Italy in Vancouver, to announce that ARPICO’s next public event will be held on April 14th, 2021 at 7:00 PM, in celebration of Italian Research in the World Day. Italian Research in the World Day was instituted starting in 2018 as part of the Piano Straordinario “Vivere all’Italiana” – Giornata della ricerca Italiana nel mondo. The celebration day was chosen by government decree to be every year on April 15 on the anniversary of the birth of Leonardo da Vinci.

The main objective of the Italian Research Day in the World is to value the quality and competencies of Italian researchers abroad, but also to promote concrete actions and investments to allow Italian researchers to continue pursuing their careers in their homeland. Italy wishes to enable Italian talents to return from abroad as well as to become an attractive environment for foreign researchers.

This year we are pleased to have Professor Marco Musiani, an academic in biological sciences, share with us a lecture titled “Wolves, Livestock, and the Physical and Social Environments.” An abstract and short professional biography are provided below.

We have chosen BlueJeans as the videoconferencing platform, for which you will only require a web browser (Chrome, Firefox, Edge, Safari, Opera are all supported). Full detailed instructions on how the virtual event will unfold are available on the EventBrite listing here in the Technical Instruction section.

If participants wish to donate to ARPICO, this can be done within EventBrite; this would be greatly appreciated in order to help us continue to build upon our scholarship fund, and to defray the cost of the videoconferencing license.

We look forward to seeing everyone there.

The evening agenda is as follows:

  • 6:45PM – BlueJeans Presentation link becomes active and registrants may join.
    • If you experience any technical details please email us at info@arpico.ca and we will attempt to assist you as best we can.
  • 7:00pm – Start of the evening Event with introductions & lecture by Prof. Marco Musiani
  • ~8:00 pm – Q & A Period via BlueJeans Chat Interface

If you have not already done so, please register for the event by visiting the EventBrite link or RSVPing to info@arpico.ca.

Further details are also available at arpico.ca and Eventbrite.

Wolves, Livestock, and the Physical and Social Environments

Due primarily to wolf predation on livestock (depredation), some groups oppose wolf (Canis lupus) conservation, which is an objective for large sectors of the public. Prof. Musiani’s talk will compare wolf depredation of sheep in Southern Europe to wolf depredation of beef cattle in the US and Canada, taking into account the differences in social and economic contexts. It will detail where and when wolf attacks happen, and what environmental factors promote such attacks. Livestock depredation by wolves is a cost of wolf conservation borne by livestock producers, which creates conflict between producers, wolves and organizations involved in wolf conservation and management. Compensation is the main tool used to mitigate the costs of depredation, but this tool may be limited at improving tolerance for wolves. In poorer countries compensation funds might not be available. Other lethal and nonlethal tools used to manage the problem will also be analysed. Wolf depredation may be a small economic cost to the industry, although it may be a significant cost to affected producers as these costs are not equitably distributed across the industry. Prof. Musiani maintains that conservation groups should consider the potential consequences of all of these ecological and economic trends. Specifically, declining sheep or cattle price and the steady increase in land price might induce conversion of agricultural land to rural-residential developments, which could negatively impact the whole environment via large scale habitat change and increased human presence.

Marco Musiani is a Professor in the Dept. of Biological Sciences, Faculty of Science, University of Calgary. He also has a Joint Appointment with the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Calgary. His lab has a strong focus on landscape ecology, molecular ecology, and wildlife conservation.

Marco is Principal Investigator on projects on caribou, elk, moose, wolves, grizzlies and other wildlife species throughout the Rocky Mountains and Foothills regions of Canada. All such projects are run together with graduate students and have applications towards impact assessment, mainly of human infrastructure.

His focus is on academic matters. However, he also serves as reviewer for research and management projects, and acted as a consultant for the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (working on conflicts with wolves).

WHEN (EVENT): Wed, April 14th, 2021 at 7:00PM (BlueJeans link active at 6:45PM)

WHERE: Online using the BlueJeans Conferencing platform.

RSVP: Please register for tickets at EventBrite

Tickets are Needed

Tickets for this event are FREE. Due to limited seating at the venue, we ask that each household register once and watch the presentation together on a single device.       You will receive the event videoconferencing invite link via email in your registration confirmation.

FAQs

  • Where can I contact the organizer with any questions? info@arpico.ca
  • Can I update my registration information? Yes. If you have any questions, contact us at info@arpico.ca
  • I am having trouble using EventBrite and cannot reserve my ticket(s). Can someone at ARPICO help me with my ticket reservation? Of course, simply send your ticket request to us at info@arpico.ca so we help you.

You can find the programme announcement on this ARPICO event page.

Wilson Center’s Feb. 1, 2021 webcast: Low-Cost and Open Source Tools: Next Steps for Science and Policy

The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars has planned a US-centric event, in this case, but I think it could be of interest to anyone interested in low-cost and open source tools.

For anyone who’s unfamiliar with the term ‘open source’, as applied to a tool and/or software, it’s pretty much the opposite of a tool/software that’s kept secret by a patent. The Webopedia entry for Open Source Tools defines the term this way (Note: Links have been removed),

Open source tools is a phrase used to mean a program — or tool — that performs a very specific task, in which the source code is openly published for use and/or modification from its original design, free of charge. …

Getting back to the Wilson Center, I received this Jan. 22, 2021 announcement (via email) about their upcoming ‘Low-Cost and Open Source Tools: Next Steps for Science and Policy’ event,

Low-Cost and Open Source Tools: Next Steps for Science and Policy

Monday
Feb. 1, 2021
3:30pm – 5:00pm ET

Foldable and 3D printed microscopes are broadening access to the life sciences, low-cost and open microprocessors are supporting research from cognitive neuroscience to oceanography, and low-cost and open sensors are measuring air quality in communities around the world. In these examples and beyond, the things of science – the physical tools that generate data or contribute to scientific processes – are becoming less expensive, and more open.

Recent developments, including the extraordinary response to COVID-19 by maker and DIY communities, have demonstrated the value of low cost and open source hardware for addressing global challenges. These developments strengthen the capacity of individual innovators and community-based organizations and highlight concrete opportunities for their contribution to science and society. From a policy perspective, work on low-cost and open source hardware– as well as broader open science and open innovation initiatives– has spanned at least two presidential administrations.

When considering past policy and practical developments, where are we today?

With the momentum of a new presidential administration, what are the possible next steps for elevating the value and prominence of low-cost and open source tools? By bringing together perspectives from the general public and public policy communities, this event will articulate the proven potential and acknowledge the present obstacles of making low-cost and open source hardware for science more accessible and impactful.

To watch the livestream event, please RSVP here.

I found more information on the Wilson Center’s ‘Low-Cost and Open Source Tools: Next Steps for Science and Policy’ event webpage,

Agenda

3:30 [pm ET] Welcome

Alison Parker, Senior Program Associate, Science & Technology Innovation Program, The Wilson Center

3:40 Keynote Speech: Perspectives from the UNESCO Open Science Recommendation

Ana Persic, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

3:55 Panel: The progress and promise of low-cost and open tools for accelerating science and addressing challenges 

Meghan McCarthy, Program Lead, 3D Printing and Biovisualization, NIH/NIAID at Medical Science & Computing (MSC)

Gerald “Stinger” Guala, Earth Sciences Division, Science Mission Directorate, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Zac Manchester, The Robotics Institute, Carnegie Mellon University (CMU)

Moderator: Anne Bowser, Deputy Director, Science & Technology Innovation Program, The Wilson Center

4:45 Closing Remarks: What’s Next?

Shannon Dosemagen, Open Environmental Data Project

THING Tank

This project is an initiative of the Wilson Center’s THING Tank. From DIY microscopes made from paper and household items, to low cost and open microprocessors supporting research from cognitive neuroscience to oceanography, to low cost sensors measuring air quality in communities around the world, the things of science — that is, the physical tools that generate data or contribute to scientific processes — are changing the way that science happens.

Learn More

Enjoy!

Governments need to tell us when and how they’re using AI (artificial intelligence) algorithms to make decisions

I have two items and an exploration of the Canadian scene all three of which feature governments, artificial intelligence, and responsibility.

Special issue of Information Polity edited by Dutch academics,

A December 14, 2020 IOS Press press release (also on EurekAlert) announces a special issue of Information Polity focused on algorithmic transparency in government,

Amsterdam, NL – The use of algorithms in government is transforming the way bureaucrats work and make decisions in different areas, such as healthcare or criminal justice. Experts address the transparency challenges of using algorithms in decision-making procedures at the macro-, meso-, and micro-levels in this special issue of Information Polity.

Machine-learning algorithms hold huge potential to make government services fairer and more effective and have the potential of “freeing” decision-making from human subjectivity, according to recent research. Algorithms are used in many public service contexts. For example, within the legal system it has been demonstrated that algorithms can predict recidivism better than criminal court judges. At the same time, critics highlight several dangers of algorithmic decision-making, such as racial bias and lack of transparency.

Some scholars have argued that the introduction of algorithms in decision-making procedures may cause profound shifts in the way bureaucrats make decisions and that algorithms may affect broader organizational routines and structures. This special issue on algorithm transparency presents six contributions to sharpen our conceptual and empirical understanding of the use of algorithms in government.

“There has been a surge in criticism towards the ‘black box’ of algorithmic decision-making in government,” explain Guest Editors Sarah Giest (Leiden University) and Stephan Grimmelikhuijsen (Utrecht University). “In this special issue collection, we show that it is not enough to unpack the technical details of algorithms, but also look at institutional, organizational, and individual context within which these algorithms operate to truly understand how we can achieve transparent and responsible algorithms in government. For example, regulations may enable transparency mechanisms, yet organizations create new policies on how algorithms should be used, and individual public servants create new professional repertoires. All these levels interact and affect algorithmic transparency in public organizations.”

The transparency challenges for the use of algorithms transcend different levels of government – from European level to individual public bureaucrats. These challenges can also take different forms; transparency can be enabled or limited by technical tools as well as regulatory guidelines or organizational policies. Articles in this issue address transparency challenges of algorithm use at the macro-, meso-, and micro-level. The macro level describes phenomena from an institutional perspective – which national systems, regulations and cultures play a role in algorithmic decision-making. The meso-level primarily pays attention to the organizational and team level, while the micro-level focuses on individual attributes, such as beliefs, motivation, interactions, and behaviors.

“Calls to ‘keep humans in the loop’ may be moot points if we fail to understand how algorithms impact human decision-making and how algorithmic design impacts the practical possibilities for transparency and human discretion,” notes Rik Peeters, research professor of Public Administration at the Centre for Research and Teaching in Economics (CIDE) in Mexico City. In a review of recent academic literature on the micro-level dynamics of algorithmic systems, he discusses three design variables that determine the preconditions for human transparency and discretion and identifies four main sources of variation in “human-algorithm interaction.”

The article draws two major conclusions: First, human agents are rarely fully “out of the loop,” and levels of oversight and override designed into algorithms should be understood as a continuum. The second pertains to bounded rationality, satisficing behavior, automation bias, and frontline coping mechanisms that play a crucial role in the way humans use algorithms in decision-making processes.

For future research Dr. Peeters suggests taking a closer look at the behavioral mechanisms in combination with identifying relevant skills of bureaucrats in dealing with algorithms. “Without a basic understanding of the algorithms that screen- and street-level bureaucrats have to work with, it is difficult to imagine how they can properly use their discretion and critically assess algorithmic procedures and outcomes. Professionals should have sufficient training to supervise the algorithms with which they are working.”

At the macro-level, algorithms can be an important tool for enabling institutional transparency, writes Alex Ingrams, PhD, Governance and Global Affairs, Institute of Public Administration, Leiden University, Leiden, The Netherlands. This study evaluates a machine-learning approach to open public comments for policymaking to increase institutional transparency of public commenting in a law-making process in the United States. The article applies an unsupervised machine learning analysis of thousands of public comments submitted to the United States Transport Security Administration on a 2013 proposed regulation for the use of new full body imaging scanners in airports. The algorithm highlights salient topic clusters in the public comments that could help policymakers understand open public comments processes. “Algorithms should not only be subject to transparency but can also be used as tool for transparency in government decision-making,” comments Dr. Ingrams.

“Regulatory certainty in combination with organizational and managerial capacity will drive the way the technology is developed and used and what transparency mechanisms are in place for each step,” note the Guest Editors. “On its own these are larger issues to tackle in terms of developing and passing laws or providing training and guidance for public managers and bureaucrats. The fact that they are linked further complicates this process. Highlighting these linkages is a first step towards seeing the bigger picture of why transparency mechanisms are put in place in some scenarios and not in others and opens the door to comparative analyses for future research and new insights for policymakers. To advocate the responsible and transparent use of algorithms, future research should look into the interplay between micro-, meso-, and macro-level dynamics.”

“We are proud to present this special issue, the 100th issue of Information Polity. Its focus on the governance of AI demonstrates our continued desire to tackle contemporary issues in eGovernment and the importance of showcasing excellent research and the insights offered by information polity perspectives,” add Professor Albert Meijer (Utrecht University) and Professor William Webster (University of Stirling), Editors-in-Chief.

This image illustrates the interplay between the various level dynamics,

Caption: Studying algorithms and algorithmic transparency from multiple levels of analyses. Credit: Information Polity.

Here’s a link, to and a citation for the special issue,

Algorithmic Transparency in Government: Towards a Multi-Level Perspective
Guest Editors: Sarah Giest, PhD, and Stephan Grimmelikhuijsen, PhD
Information Polity, Volume 25, Issue 4 (December 2020), published by IOS Press

The issue is open access for three months, Dec. 14, 2020 – March 14, 2021.

Two articles from the special were featured in the press release,

“The agency of algorithms: Understanding human-algorithm interaction in administrative decision-making,” by Rik Peeters, PhD (https://doi.org/10.3233/IP-200253)

“A machine learning approach to open public comments for policymaking,” by Alex Ingrams, PhD (https://doi.org/10.3233/IP-200256)

An AI governance publication from the US’s Wilson Center

Within one week of the release of a special issue of Information Polity on AI and governments, a Wilson Center (Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars) December 21, 2020 news release (received via email) announces a new publication,

Governing AI: Understanding the Limits, Possibilities, and Risks of AI in an Era of Intelligent Tools and Systems by John Zysman & Mark Nitzberg

Abstract

In debates about artificial intelligence (AI), imaginations often run wild. Policy-makers, opinion leaders, and the public tend to believe that AI is already an immensely powerful universal technology, limitless in its possibilities. However, while machine learning (ML), the principal computer science tool underlying today’s AI breakthroughs, is indeed powerful, ML is fundamentally a form of context-dependent statistical inference and as such has its limits. Specifically, because ML relies on correlations between inputs and outputs or emergent clustering in training data, today’s AI systems can only be applied in well- specified problem domains, still lacking the context sensitivity of a typical toddler or house-pet. Consequently, instead of constructing policies to govern artificial general intelligence (AGI), decision- makers should focus on the distinctive and powerful problems posed by narrow AI, including misconceived benefits and the distribution of benefits, autonomous weapons, and bias in algorithms. AI governance, at least for now, is about managing those who create and deploy AI systems, and supporting the safe and beneficial application of AI to narrow, well-defined problem domains. Specific implications of our discussion are as follows:

  • AI applications are part of a suite of intelligent tools and systems and must ultimately be regulated as a set. Digital platforms, for example, generate the pools of big data on which AI tools operate and hence, the regulation of digital platforms and big data is part of the challenge of governing AI. Many of the platform offerings are, in fact, deployments of AI tools. Hence, focusing on AI alone distorts the governance problem.
  • Simply declaring objectives—be they assuring digital privacy and transparency, or avoiding bias—is not sufficient. We must decide what the goals actually will be in operational terms.
  • The issues and choices will differ by sector. For example, the consequences of bias and error will differ from a medical domain or a criminal justice domain to one of retail sales.
  • The application of AI tools in public policy decision making, in transportation design or waste disposal or policing among a whole variety of domains, requires great care. There is a substantial risk of focusing on efficiency when the public debate about what the goals should be in the first place is in fact required. Indeed, public values evolve as part of social and political conflict.
  • The economic implications of AI applications are easily exaggerated. Should public investment concentrate on advancing basic research or on diffusing the tools, user interfaces, and training needed to implement them?
  • As difficult as it will be to decide on goals and a strategy to implement the goals of one community, let alone regional or international communities, any agreement that goes beyond simple objective statements is very unlikely.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to successfully download the working paper/report from the Wilson Center’s Governing AI: Understanding the Limits, Possibilities, and Risks of AI in an Era of Intelligent Tools and Systems webpage.

However, I have found a draft version of the report (Working Paper) published August 26, 2020 on the Social Science Research Network. This paper originated at the University of California at Berkeley as part of a series from the Berkeley Roundtable on the International Economy (BRIE). ‘Governing AI: Understanding the Limits, Possibility, and Risks of AI in an Era of Intelligent Tools and Systems’ is also known as the BRIE Working Paper 2020-5.

Canadian government and AI

The special issue on AI and governance and the the paper published by the Wilson Center stimulated my interest in the Canadian government’s approach to governance, responsibility, transparency, and AI.

There is information out there but it’s scattered across various government initiatives and ministries. Above all, it is not easy to find, open communication. Whether that’s by design or the blindness and/or ineptitude to be found in all organizations I leave that to wiser judges. (I’ve worked in small companies and they too have the problem. In colloquial terms, ‘the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing’.)

Responsible use? Maybe not after 2019

First there’s a government of Canada webpage, Responsible use of artificial intelligence (AI). Other than a note at the bottom of the page “Date modified: 2020-07-28,” all of the information dates from 2016 up to March 2019 (which you’ll find on ‘Our Timeline’). Is nothing new happening?

For anyone interested in responsible use, there are two sections “Our guiding principles” and “Directive on Automated Decision-Making” that answer some questions. I found the ‘Directive’ to be more informative with its definitions, objectives, and, even, consequences. Sadly, you need to keep clicking to find consequences and you’ll end up on The Framework for the Management of Compliance. Interestingly, deputy heads are assumed in charge of managing non-compliance. I wonder how employees deal with a non-compliant deputy head?

What about the government’s digital service?

You might think Canadian Digital Service (CDS) might also have some information about responsible use. CDS was launched in 2017, according to Luke Simon’s July 19, 2017 article on Medium,

In case you missed it, there was some exciting digital government news in Canada Tuesday. The Canadian Digital Service (CDS) launched, meaning Canada has joined other nations, including the US and the UK, that have a federal department dedicated to digital.

At the time, Simon was Director of Outreach at Code for Canada.

Presumably, CDS, from an organizational perspective, is somehow attached to the Minister of Digital Government (it’s a position with virtually no governmental infrastructure as opposed to the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development who is responsible for many departments and agencies). The current minister is Joyce Murray whose government profile offers almost no information about her work on digital services. Perhaps there’s a more informative profile of the Minister of Digital Government somewhere on a government website.

Meanwhile, they are friendly folks at CDS but they don’t offer much substantive information. From the CDS homepage,

Our aim is to make services easier for government to deliver. We collaborate with people who work in government to address service delivery problems. We test with people who need government services to find design solutions that are easy to use.

Learn more

After clicking on Learn more, I found this,

At the Canadian Digital Service (CDS), we partner up with federal departments to design, test and build simple, easy to use services. Our goal is to improve the experience – for people who deliver government services and people who use those services.

How it works

We work with our partners in the open, regularly sharing progress via public platforms. This creates a culture of learning and fosters best practices. It means non-partner departments can apply our work and use our resources to develop their own services.

Together, we form a team that follows the ‘Agile software development methodology’. This means we begin with an intensive ‘Discovery’ research phase to explore user needs and possible solutions to meeting those needs. After that, we move into a prototyping ‘Alpha’ phase to find and test ways to meet user needs. Next comes the ‘Beta’ phase, where we release the solution to the public and intensively test it. Lastly, there is a ‘Live’ phase, where the service is fully released and continues to be monitored and improved upon.

Between the Beta and Live phases, our team members step back from the service, and the partner team in the department continues the maintenance and development. We can help partners recruit their service team from both internal and external sources.

Before each phase begins, CDS and the partner sign a partnership agreement which outlines the goal and outcomes for the coming phase, how we’ll get there, and a commitment to get them done.

As you can see, there’s not a lot of detail and they don’t seem to have included anything about artificial intelligence as part of their operation. (I’ll come back to the government’s implementation of artificial intelligence and information technology later.)

Does the Treasury Board of Canada have charge of responsible AI use?

I think so but there are government departments/ministries that also have some responsibilities for AI and I haven’t seen any links back to the Treasury Board documentation.

For anyone not familiar with the Treasury Board or even if you are, December 14, 2009 article (Treasury Board of Canada: History, Organization and Issues) on Maple Leaf Web is quite informative,

The Treasury Board of Canada represent a key entity within the federal government. As an important cabinet committee and central agency, they play an important role in financial and personnel administration. Even though the Treasury Board plays a significant role in government decision making, the general public tends to know little about its operation and activities. [emphasis mine] The following article provides an introduction to the Treasury Board, with a focus on its history, responsibilities, organization, and key issues.

It seems the Minister of Digital Government, Joyce Murray is part of the Treasury Board and the Treasury Board is the source for the Digital Operations Strategic Plan: 2018-2022,

I haven’t read the entire document but the table of contents doesn’t include a heading for artificial intelligence and there wasn’t any mention of it in the opening comments.

But isn’t there a Chief Information Officer for Canada?

Herein lies a tale (I doubt I’ll ever get the real story) but the answer is a qualified ‘no’. The Chief Information Officer for Canada, Alex Benay (there is an AI aspect) stepped down in September 2019 to join a startup company according to an August 6, 2019 article by Mia Hunt for Global Government Forum,

Alex Benay has announced he will step down as Canada’s chief information officer next month to “take on new challenge” at tech start-up MindBridge.

“It is with mixed emotions that I am announcing my departure from the Government of Canada,” he said on Wednesday in a statement posted on social media, describing his time as CIO as “one heck of a ride”.

He said he is proud of the work the public service has accomplished in moving the national digital agenda forward. Among these achievements, he listed the adoption of public Cloud across government; delivering the “world’s first” ethical AI management framework; [emphasis mine] renewing decades-old policies to bring them into the digital age; and “solidifying Canada’s position as a global leader in open government”.

He also led the introduction of new digital standards in the workplace, and provided “a clear path for moving off” Canada’s failed Phoenix pay system. [emphasis mine]

I cannot find a current Chief Information of Canada despite searches but I did find this List of chief information officers (CIO) by institution. Where there was one, there are now many.

Since September 2019, Mr. Benay has moved again according to a November 7, 2019 article by Meagan Simpson on the BetaKit,website (Note: Links have been removed),

Alex Benay, the former CIO [Chief Information Officer] of Canada, has left his role at Ottawa-based Mindbridge after a short few months stint.

The news came Thursday, when KPMG announced that Benay was joining the accounting and professional services organization as partner of digital and government solutions. Benay originally announced that he was joining Mindbridge in August, after spending almost two and a half years as the CIO for the Government of Canada.

Benay joined the AI startup as its chief client officer and, at the time, was set to officially take on the role on September 3rd. According to Benay’s LinkedIn, he joined Mindbridge in August, but if the September 3rd start date is correct, Benay would have only been at Mindbridge for around three months. The former CIO of Canada was meant to be responsible for Mindbridge’s global growth as the company looked to prepare for an IPO in 2021.

Benay told The Globe and Mail that his decision to leave Mindbridge was not a question of fit, or that he considered the move a mistake. He attributed his decision to leave to conversations with Mindbridge customer KPMG, over a period of three weeks. Benay told The Globe that he was drawn to the KPMG opportunity to lead its digital and government solutions practice, something that was more familiar to him given his previous role.

Mindbridge has not completely lost what was touted as a start hire, though, as Benay will be staying on as an advisor to the startup. “This isn’t a cutting the cord and moving on to something else completely,” Benay told The Globe. “It’s a win-win for everybody.”

Via Mr. Benay, I’ve re-introduced artificial intelligence and introduced the Phoenix Pay system and now I’m linking them to government implementation of information technology in a specific case and speculating about implementation of artificial intelligence algorithms in government.

Phoenix Pay System Debacle (things are looking up), a harbinger for responsible use of artificial intelligence?

I’m happy to hear that the situation where government employees had no certainty about their paycheques is becoming better. After the ‘new’ Phoenix Pay System was implemented in early 2016, government employees found they might get the correct amount on their paycheque or might find significantly less than they were entitled to or might find huge increases.

The instability alone would be distressing but adding to it with the inability to get the problem fixed must have been devastating. Almost five years later, the problems are being resolved and people are getting paid appropriately, more often.

The estimated cost for fixing the problems was, as I recall, over $1B; I think that was a little optimistic. James Bagnall’s July 28, 2020 article for the Ottawa Citizen provides more detail, although not about the current cost, and is the source of my measured optimism,

Something odd has happened to the Phoenix Pay file of late. After four years of spitting out errors at a furious rate, the federal government’s new pay system has gone quiet.

And no, it’s not because of the even larger drama written by the coronavirus. In fact, there’s been very real progress at Public Services and Procurement Canada [PSPC; emphasis mine], the department in charge of pay operations.

Since January 2018, the peak of the madness, the backlog of all pay transactions requiring action has dropped by about half to 230,000 as of late June. Many of these involve basic queries for information about promotions, overtime and rules. The part of the backlog involving money — too little or too much pay, incorrect deductions, pay not received — has shrunk by two-thirds to 125,000.

These are still very large numbers but the underlying story here is one of long-delayed hope. The government is processing the pay of more than 330,000 employees every two weeks while simultaneously fixing large batches of past mistakes.

While officials with two of the largest government unions — Public Service Alliance of Canada [PSAC] and the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada [PPSC] — disagree the pay system has worked out its kinks, they acknowledge it’s considerably better than it was. New pay transactions are being processed “with increased timeliness and accuracy,” the PSAC official noted.

Neither union is happy with the progress being made on historical mistakes. PIPSC president Debi Daviau told this newspaper that many of her nearly 60,000 members have been waiting for years to receive salary adjustments stemming from earlier promotions or transfers, to name two of the more prominent sources of pay errors.

Even so, the sharp improvement in Phoenix Pay’s performance will soon force the government to confront an interesting choice: Should it continue with plans to replace the system?

Treasury Board, the government’s employer, two years ago launched the process to do just that. Last March, SAP Canada — whose technology underpins the pay system still in use at Canada Revenue Agency — won a competition to run a pilot project. Government insiders believe SAP Canada is on track to build the full system starting sometime in 2023.

When Public Services set out the business case in 2009 for building Phoenix Pay, it noted the pay system would have to accommodate 150 collective agreements that contained thousands of business rules and applied to dozens of federal departments and agencies. The technical challenge has since intensified.

Under the original plan, Phoenix Pay was to save $70 million annually by eliminating 1,200 compensation advisors across government and centralizing a key part of the operation at the pay centre in Miramichi, N.B., where 550 would manage a more automated system.

Instead, the Phoenix Pay system currently employs about 2,300.  This includes 1,600 at Miramichi and five regional pay offices, along with 350 each at a client contact centre (which deals with relatively minor pay issues) and client service bureau (which handles the more complex, longstanding pay errors). This has naturally driven up the average cost of managing each pay account — 55 per cent higher than the government’s former pay system according to last fall’s estimate by the Parliamentary Budget Officer.

… As the backlog shrinks, the need for regional pay offices and emergency staffing will diminish. Public Services is also working with a number of high-tech firms to develop ways of accurately automating employee pay using artificial intelligence [emphasis mine].

Given the Phoenix Pay System debacle, it might be nice to see a little information about how the government is planning to integrate more sophisticated algorithms (artificial intelligence) in their operations.

I found this on a Treasury Board webpage, all 1 minute and 29 seconds of it,

The blonde model or actress mentions that companies applying to Public Services and Procurement Canada for placement on the list must use AI responsibly. Her script does not include a definition or guidelines, which, as previously noted, as on the Treasury Board website.

As for Public Services and Procurement Canada, they have an Artificial intelligence source list,

Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) is putting into operation the Artificial intelligence source list to facilitate the procurement of Canada’s requirements for Artificial intelligence (AI).

After research and consultation with industry, academia, and civil society, Canada identified 3 AI categories and business outcomes to inform this method of supply:

Insights and predictive modelling

Machine interactions

Cognitive automation

PSPC is focused only on procuring AI. If there are guidelines on their website for its use, I did not find them.

I found one more government agency that might have some information about artificial intelligence and guidelines for its use, Shared Services Canada,

Shared Services Canada (SSC) delivers digital services to Government of Canada organizations. We provide modern, secure and reliable IT services so federal organizations can deliver digital programs and services that meet Canadians needs.

Since the Minister of Digital Government, Joyce Murray, is listed on the homepage, I was hopeful that I could find out more about AI and governance and whether or not the Canadian Digital Service was associated with this government ministry/agency. I was frustrated on both counts.

To sum up, there is no information that I could find after March 2019 about Canada, it’s government and plans for AI, especially responsible management/governance and AI on a Canadian government website although I have found guidelines, expectations, and consequences for non-compliance. (Should anyone know which government agency has up-to-date information on its responsible use of AI, please let me know in the Comments.

Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR)

The first mention of the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy is in my analysis of the Canadian federal budget in a March 24, 2017 posting. Briefly, CIFAR received a big chunk of that money. Here’s more about the strategy from the CIFAR Pan-Canadian AI Strategy homepage,

In 2017, the Government of Canada appointed CIFAR to develop and lead a $125 million Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy, the world’s first national AI strategy.

CIFAR works in close collaboration with Canada’s three national AI Institutes — Amii in Edmonton, Mila in Montreal, and the Vector Institute in Toronto, as well as universities, hospitals and organizations across the country.

The objectives of the strategy are to:

Attract and retain world-class AI researchers by increasing the number of outstanding AI researchers and skilled graduates in Canada.

Foster a collaborative AI ecosystem by establishing interconnected nodes of scientific excellence in Canada’s three major centres for AI: Edmonton, Montreal, and Toronto.

Advance national AI initiatives by supporting a national research community on AI through training programs, workshops, and other collaborative opportunities.

Understand the societal implications of AI by developing global thought leadership on the economic, ethical, policy, and legal implications [emphasis mine] of advances in AI.

Responsible AI at CIFAR

You can find Responsible AI in a webspace devoted to what they have called, AI & Society. Here’s more from the homepage,

CIFAR is leading global conversations about AI’s impact on society.

The AI & Society program, one of the objectives of the CIFAR Pan-Canadian AI Strategy, develops global thought leadership on the economic, ethical, political, and legal implications of advances in AI. These dialogues deliver new ways of thinking about issues, and drive positive change in the development and deployment of responsible AI.

Solution Networks

AI Futures Policy Labs

AI & Society Workshops

Building an AI World

Under the category of building an AI World I found this (from CIFAR’s AI & Society homepage),

BUILDING AN AI WORLD

Explore the landscape of global AI strategies.

Canada was the first country in the world to announce a federally-funded national AI strategy, prompting many other nations to follow suit. CIFAR published two reports detailing the global landscape of AI strategies.

I skimmed through the second report and it seems more like a comparative study of various country’s AI strategies than a overview of responsible use of AI.

Final comments about Responsible AI in Canada and the new reports

I’m glad to see there’s interest in Responsible AI but based on my adventures searching the Canadian government websites and the Pan-Canadian AI Strategy webspace, I’m left feeling hungry for more.

I didn’t find any details about how AI is being integrated into government departments and for what uses. I’d like to know and I’d like to have some say about how it’s used and how the inevitable mistakes will be dealh with.

The great unwashed

What I’ve found is high minded, but, as far as I can tell, there’s absolutely no interest in talking to the ‘great unwashed’. Those of us who are not experts are being left out of these earlier stage conversations.

I’m sure we’ll be consulted at some point but it will be long past the time when are our opinions and insights could have impact and help us avoid the problems that experts tend not to see. What we’ll be left with is protest and anger on our part and, finally, grudging admissions and corrections of errors on the government’s part.

Let’s take this for an example. The Phoenix Pay System was implemented in its first phase on Feb. 24, 2016. As I recall, problems develop almost immediately. The second phase of implementation starts April 21, 2016. In May 2016 the government hires consultants to fix the problems. November 29, 2016 the government minister, Judy Foote, admits a mistake has been made. February 2017 the government hires consultants to establish what lessons they might learn. February 15, 2018 the pay problems backlog amounts to 633,000. Source: James Bagnall, Feb. 23, 2018 ‘timeline‘ for Ottawa Citizen

Do take a look at the timeline, there’s more to it than what I’ve written here and I’m sure there’s more to the Phoenix Pay System debacle than a failure to listen to warnings from those who would be directly affected. It’s fascinating though how often a failure to listen presages far deeper problems with a project.

The Canadian government, both a conservative and a liberal government, contributed to the Phoenix Debacle but it seems the gravest concern is with senior government bureaucrats. You might think things have changed since this recounting of the affair in a June 14, 2018 article by Michelle Zilio for the Globe and Mail,

The three public servants blamed by the Auditor-General for the Phoenix pay system problems were not fired for mismanagement of the massive technology project that botched the pay of tens of thousands of public servants for more than two years.

Marie Lemay, deputy minister for Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC), said two of the three Phoenix executives were shuffled out of their senior posts in pay administration and did not receive performance bonuses for their handling of the system. Those two employees still work for the department, she said. Ms. Lemay, who refused to identify the individuals, said the third Phoenix executive retired.

In a scathing report last month, Auditor-General Michael Ferguson blamed three “executives” – senior public servants at PSPC, which is responsible for Phoenix − for the pay system’s “incomprehensible failure.” [emphasis mine] He said the executives did not tell the then-deputy minister about the known problems with Phoenix, leading the department to launch the pay system despite clear warnings it was not ready.

Speaking to a parliamentary committee on Thursday, Ms. Lemay said the individuals did not act with “ill intent,” noting that the development and implementation of the Phoenix project were flawed. She encouraged critics to look at the “bigger picture” to learn from all of Phoenix’s failures.

Mr. Ferguson, whose office spoke with the three Phoenix executives as a part of its reporting, said the officials prioritized some aspects of the pay-system rollout, such as schedule and budget, over functionality. He said they also cancelled a pilot implementation project with one department that would have helped it detect problems indicating the system was not ready.

Mr. Ferguson’s report warned the Phoenix problems are indicative of “pervasive cultural problems” [emphasis mine] in the civil service, which he said is fearful of making mistakes, taking risks and conveying “hard truths.”

Speaking to the same parliamentary committee on Tuesday, Privy Council Clerk [emphasis mine] Michael Wernick challenged Mr. Ferguson’s assertions, saying his chapter on the federal government’s cultural issues is an “opinion piece” containing “sweeping generalizations.”

The Privy Council Clerk is the top level bureaucrat (and there is only one such clerk) in the civil/public service and I think his quotes are quite telling of “pervasive cultural problems.” There’s a new Privy Council Clerk but from what I can tell he was well trained by his predecessor.

Do* we really need senior government bureaucrats?

I now have an example of bureaucratic interference, specifically with the Global Public Health Information Network (GPHIN) where it would seem that not much has changed, from a December 26, 2020 article by Grant Robertson for the Globe & Mail,

When Canada unplugged support for its pandemic alert system [GPHIN] last year, it was a symptom of bigger problems inside the Public Health Agency. Experienced scientists were pushed aside, expertise was eroded, and internal warnings went unheeded, which hindered the department’s response to COVID-19

As a global pandemic began to take root in February, China held a series of backchannel conversations with Canada, lobbying the federal government to keep its borders open.

With the virus already taking a deadly toll in Asia, Heng Xiaojun, the Minister Counsellor for the Chinese embassy, requested a call with senior Transport Canada officials. Over the course of the conversation, the Chinese representatives communicated Beijing’s desire that flights between the two countries not be stopped because it was unnecessary.

“The Chinese position on the continuation of flights was reiterated,” say official notes taken from the call. “Mr. Heng conveyed that China is taking comprehensive measures to combat the coronavirus.”

Canadian officials seemed to agree, since no steps were taken to restrict or prohibit travel. To the federal government, China appeared to have the situation under control and the risk to Canada was low. Before ending the call, Mr. Heng thanked Ottawa for its “science and fact-based approach.”

It was a critical moment in the looming pandemic, but the Canadian government lacked the full picture, instead relying heavily on what Beijing was choosing to disclose to the World Health Organization (WHO). Ottawa’s ability to independently know what was going on in China – on the ground and inside hospitals – had been greatly diminished in recent years.

Canada once operated a robust pandemic early warning system and employed a public-health doctor based in China who could report back on emerging problems. But it had largely abandoned those international strategies over the past five years, and was no longer as plugged-in.

By late February [2020], Ottawa seemed to be taking the official reports from China at their word, stating often in its own internal risk assessments that the threat to Canada remained low. But inside the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), rank-and-file doctors and epidemiologists were growing increasingly alarmed at how the department and the government were responding.

“The team was outraged,” one public-health scientist told a colleague in early April, in an internal e-mail obtained by The Globe and Mail, criticizing the lack of urgency shown by Canada’s response during January, February and early March. “We knew this was going to be around for a long time, and it’s serious.”

China had locked down cities and restricted travel within its borders. Staff inside the Public Health Agency believed Beijing wasn’t disclosing the whole truth about the danger of the virus and how easily it was transmitted. “The agency was just too slow to respond,” the scientist said. “A sane person would know China was lying.”

It would later be revealed that China’s infection and mortality rates were played down in official records, along with key details about how the virus was spreading.

But the Public Health Agency, which was created after the 2003 SARS crisis to bolster the country against emerging disease threats, had been stripped of much of its capacity to gather outbreak intelligence and provide advance warning by the time the pandemic hit.

The Global Public Health Intelligence Network, an early warning system known as GPHIN that was once considered a cornerstone of Canada’s preparedness strategy, had been scaled back over the past several years, with resources shifted into projects that didn’t involve outbreak surveillance.

However, a series of documents obtained by The Globe during the past four months, from inside the department and through numerous Access to Information requests, show the problems that weakened Canada’s pandemic readiness run deeper than originally thought. Pleas from the international health community for Canada to take outbreak detection and surveillance much more seriously were ignored by mid-level managers [emphasis mine] inside the department. A new federal pandemic preparedness plan – key to gauging the country’s readiness for an emergency – was never fully tested. And on the global stage, the agency stopped sending experts [emphasis mine] to international meetings on pandemic preparedness, instead choosing senior civil servants with little or no public-health background [emphasis mine] to represent Canada at high-level talks, The Globe found.

The curtailing of GPHIN and allegations that scientists had become marginalized within the Public Health Agency, detailed in a Globe investigation this past July [2020], are now the subject of two federal probes – an examination by the Auditor-General of Canada and an independent federal review, ordered by the Minister of Health.

Those processes will undoubtedly reshape GPHIN and may well lead to an overhaul of how the agency functions in some areas. The first steps will be identifying and fixing what went wrong. With the country now topping 535,000 cases of COVID-19 and more than 14,700 dead, there will be lessons learned from the pandemic.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said he is unsure what role added intelligence [emphasis mine] could have played in the government’s pandemic response, though he regrets not bolstering Canada’s critical supplies of personal protective equipment sooner. But providing the intelligence to make those decisions early is exactly what GPHIN was created to do – and did in previous outbreaks.

Epidemiologists have described in detail to The Globe how vital it is to move quickly and decisively in a pandemic. Acting sooner, even by a few days or weeks in the early going, and throughout, can have an exponential impact on an outbreak, including deaths. Countries such as South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, which have fared much better than Canada, appear to have acted faster in key tactical areas, some using early warning information they gathered. As Canada prepares itself in the wake of COVID-19 for the next major health threat, building back a better system becomes paramount.

If you have time, do take a look at Robertson’s December 26, 2020 article and the July 2020 Globe investigation. As both articles make clear, senior bureaucrats whose chief attribute seems to have been longevity took over, reallocated resources, drove out experts, and crippled the few remaining experts in the system with a series of bureaucratic demands while taking trips to attend meetings (in desirable locations) for which they had no significant or useful input.

The Phoenix and GPHIN debacles bear a resemblance in that senior bureaucrats took over and in a state of blissful ignorance made a series of disastrous decisions bolstered by politicians who seem to neither understand nor care much about the outcomes.

If you think I’m being harsh watch Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) reporter Rosemary Barton interview Prime Minister Trudeau for a 2020 year-end interview, Note: There are some commercials. Then, pay special attention to the Trudeau’s answer to the first question,

Responsible AI, eh?

Based on the massive mishandling of the Phoenix Pay System implementation where top bureaucrats did not follow basic and well established information services procedures and the Global Public Health Information Network mismanagement by top level bureaucrats, I’m not sure I have a lot of confidence in any Canadian government claims about a responsible approach to using artificial intelligence.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter as implementation is most likely already taking place here in Canada.

Enough with the pessimism. I feel it’s necessary to end this on a mildly positive note. Hurray to the government employees who worked through the Phoenix Pay System debacle, the current and former GPHIN experts who continued to sound warnings, and all those people striving to make true the principles of ‘Peace, Order, and Good Government’, the bedrock principles of the Canadian Parliament.

A lot of mistakes have been made but we also do make a lot of good decisions.

*’Doe’ changed to ‘Do’ on May 14, 2021.