On April 7, 2024, the federal government announced a commitment of $2.4 billion CAD to artificial intelligence (AI) compute, startups and safety through Budget 2024. The goal is to seize future economic opportunities, set up generations for success, and enhance productivity and economic growth. The investment will be divided among six main measures to secure Canada’s AI advantage and ensure responsible development. Nicole Janssen, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of AltaML, offers perspective on the opportunities and risks of the government’s latest effort and AI’s role in addressing Canada’s productivity challenges by embracing evolving technology.

Canada’s AI Advantage

It’s encouraging to see the federal government recognizing that while we have a real edge in AI grown from decades of investment, we are at a pivotal point and will need to invest further to maintain that strength. As a country, Canada continues to lag behind other nations in productivity and faces a looming labor shortage in most sectors which is predicted to only get worse. AI can be part of the solution.

The Outlined Measures

Investing $2 billion to build and provide access to computing capabilities and technological infrastructure for Canada’s world-leading AI researchers, startups, and scaleups

As a key player in the AI industry, I support investing in compute resources, but I’m wary of it being solely funneled to hyperscalers. The emphasis on aiding AI researchers, startups, and scaleups is commendable, and having compute infrastructure that allows us to deal with data sovereignty needs from certain industries and improving access for smaller players in the competitive compute landscape are definitely important pieces of a strong AI ecosystem. We just have to ensure funds are directed to Canadian companies.

Boosting AI startups to bring new technologies to market, and accelerating AI adoption in critical sectors, such as agriculture, clean technology, health care, and manufacturing, with $200 million in support through Canada’s Regional Development Agencies

I’m glad to see adoption included by the feds, as it’s often where we fall short, but overall, I would suggest some amendments. Redirecting $1 billion from the compute commitment to this area would be of greater value. If part of the incentive program was to use computing infrastructure in Canada, it would still promote its development. This reallocation to drive greater adoption would further our capabilities and ensure investments truly benefit Canadian innovation and industry.

Even though agriculture, cleantech, health care, and manufacturing are crucial, it’s essential to include energy, utilities, critical minerals, and government. Funds should be directed toward initiatives that build capabilities in Canada, emphasizing commercialization and IP development that remains within our borders.

One potential risk I want to flag is the friction startups may face in accessing this funding. We’ve seen from other federal programs, like SR&ED, the significant administrative burdens that can arise, and what a huge issue that can be. However, it’s promising that the initiative is executed through regional agencies to prevent funding concentration in central Canada. These regional agencies are well-positioned to understand the needs of local companies and can ensure that the incentives reach those who stand to benefit most.

Investing $100 million in the NRC IRAP AI Assist Program to help small and medium-sized businesses scale up and increase productivity by building and deploying new AI solutions 

While investing in businesses is welcomed, there are obstacles with this measure, particularly regarding the availability of data. Small and medium-sized companies often lack the volume of data necessary to deploy solutions built on models developed with their own data. It would be beneficial to extend this initiative beyond the initial grouping to include larger Canadian enterprises.

The current wording suggests a sole focus on small and medium-sized companies adopting AI by deploying existing solutions or building their own. To ensure comprehensive inclusion of all potential beneficiaries, it’s essential to broaden the scope. As a country, Canada is falling behind on AI investments, and companies at all levels need the extra nudge. Let’s make sure the funds go to companies that are truly Canadian, not just ones that have set up a Canadian office.

Supporting workers who may be impacted by AI, such as creative industries, with $50 million for the Sectoral Workforce Solutions Program, which will provide new skills training for workers in potentially disrupted sectors and communities

We strongly advocate for upskilling talent to prioritize higher-value work, contributing to talent retention within Canada. Early education diminishes fears, aversion to adoption, and overall acceptance of AI in everyday life. This measure enhances the country’s economic resilience and promotes more equitable distribution of AI innovation benefits across communities, but it will need to be maintained in the years ahead. 

Supporting workers impacted by AI through skills training programs is a proactive approach to addressing workforce challenges and fostering a sustainable, inclusive economy.

Creating a new Canadian AI Safety Institute, with $50 million to further the safe development and deployment of AI

I hope this initiative materializes, but I believe it should operate at arm’s length to ensure credibility. In order to establish Canada as a global leader of responsible AI, an AI Safety Institute that resides within our borders is important. We must make sure to identify the outcomes and benefits of such an institution from the onset to ensure there is benefit to Canadians and not just a PR stunt. 

Strengthening enforcement of the Artificial Intelligence and Data Act (AIDA), with $5.1 million for the Office of the AI and Data Commissioner  

We are so close to securing the title of global leader in responsible AI, ranked number one among 80 countries for responsible adoption, but it’s also ours to lose. To avoid falling behind, particularly in commercializing research and talent, we must first pass the AIDA legislation and then be prepared for the enforcement of the resulting regulations. Embracing responsible AI practices and cross-jurisdictional collaboration not only enhances our brand but also positions us as leaders in the field.

Currently, we sit in limbo with AIDA, which hurts our ecosystem not only in knowing how to move forward but also in raising capital from investors who are holding back until there is more clarity on legislation. It’s imperative that we seize this opportunity and move forward with confidence, leveraging our strengths while remaining vigilant against risks. There’s still a lot of work to be done on this front, but all AI technologies should begin and end with a focus on responsible practices, and having clear regulations in place helps pave the way for a more ethical and sustainable AI ecosystem.


These measures are a good start. Nevertheless, given the impact they hold for the entire country, we must ensure we get them right, listen to the experts, and address any associated risks to ensure we don’t fall behind. The government tables the budget on April 16 in the House of Commons, and after that, we’ll know more about what’s ahead for the future of AI in Canada.