Bill C-27 will put Canada at the forefront of the digital economy: François-Philippe Champagne
Canada’s industry and innovation minister pitched the tech world on his plans to make the country a hub for artificial intelligence development, and the measures the government is working on to make that happen safely.
Speaking at the Collision technology conference in Toronto on Wednesday, Francois-Philippe Champagne said the federal Liberal government plans to include a section on AI in its pending digital charter that seeks to address digital privacy concerns – and he argued Canada is ahead of other countries when it comes to developing such regulations.
“Canada is likely to be the first country in the world to have a digital charter where we’re going to have a chapter on responsible AI,” Champagne told the packed conference. “We want AI to happen here … we want it to be responsible.”
He said the government considers the rules an essential “stopgap measures” as artificial intelligence’s potential to transform society prompts excitement and fears, particularly as a hot topic at the gathering of international tech players in Canada’s largest city.
“Things are evolving quickly, but we need to give trust to the people, and we need to have AI that serves the people,” he added.
Along with supporting artificial intelligence development, Champagne said he considers cyber and quantum technology as priorities that should be given similar focus, because he said the explosion of AI applications will require tech that can protect those assets from cyber attacks and other risks.
“What we’re seeing now is AI is cross-industry. It’s going to touch every aspect of our lives. If you couple that with quantum technologies that are happening, obviously we need more cyber to protect that,” he said, adding that developing safeguards for new innovations is crucial as Canada tries to position itself as a global tech hub.
“We want to lead in that front, we want to work with the tech sector, but why I’m so keen about the digital charter in Canada is that if you want to lead internationally, you need to fix your own house first,” he said.
Champagne also used his Wednesday appearance at the conference to spread the word to attendees about federal immigration policies announced a day earlier at Collision aimed at attracting tech talent.
Measures include a new immigration pathway for STEM workers, increasing the number of available visas and clearing backlogs, as well as a new “digital nomad strategy” to allow remote workers to work in Canada for six months.
Champagne told the crowd that he wants them to “apply, apply, apply” for the new permanent residency stream.
“If you’re not Canadians, we want you here to contribute to the tech sector of the future,” he said. “We want to have the best and brightest.”
As for the benefits of starting companies in Canada, he said the country’s openness to diversity gives developers a window to the broader world, as well as access to Canada’s talent pool and research resources.
Jeff Shiner, CEO of security and privacy company 1Password, who spoke with Champagne on the panel, said the immigration changes will help businesses attract much-needed talent.
“I think it benefits a lot of the businesses,” he said. “We need talent … Good talent is still difficult to get.”