May 29, 1984 (32nd Parliament, 2nd Session)


Thomas Edward Siddon

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Thomas Siddon (Richmond-South Delta):

Mr. Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to elaborate upon the questions which I asked on April 17 in the House of the Minister of State for Science and Technology (Mr. Johnston), as reported at page 3136 of Hansard. At that time I was disturbed by the interim report of the Macdonald Commission which failed to recognize the importance of the new technologies that are now transforming global economies from one end of the planet to another. This represents a significant challenge to Canada. I must clarify that I am talking about the challenge to use technology to increase the wealth and income to be extracted from our traditional strong suits-our resource-based industries and our manufacturing enterprises. I am not just talking about high technology or micro-electronics in a narrow sense, but the equalization process which is under way in the world and the transformation of the economies of all nations this challenge is presenting.
I expressed my concern about the report of the Macdonald Commission entitled "Challenges and Choices" which left the impression that Canada perhaps had a choice as to whether or not it should increase its commitment to technological advancement, as if we could stand idly by and watch these rapid transformations occurring throughout the world and not become involved by way of a major change or shift in the priorities of our nation and of the federal Government, particularly.
The approach taken by the Macdonald Commission, in not coming up with specific proposals or a categorical position on the issue, not only flies in the face of the facts as they reveal themselves around the world but seems contrary to the submission of the Minister of State for Science and Technology to the Macdonald Commission last October, wherein he included a call for a major increase in Canada's commitment to research and development. At that time he stated that the Government's target would be 1.5 per cent of Gross National Product being invested in research and development by 1985.
May 29, 1984

On April 17,1 sought the Minister's assurance that he stood by his earlier commitment and asked whether he was happy with the ambivalent approach of the Macdonald Commission to technology. What 1 received back was worse than ambivalence. Specifically I asked the Minister:
-does he still support his submission to the Commission where he said that Canada must raise its commitment to research and development in a major way-
He said, and I repeat, "that Canada must raise its commitment to research and development in a major way." His contradictory answer to the question was: "clearly I stand behind the submission I made to the Macdonald Commission." He went on to indicate:
-the Government's commitment to research and development has been consistent ... and has not decreased-
Is his statement that Canada's commitment to science and technology has not decreased the same as his earlier one that Canada should raise in a major way its national investment in research and development?
The Minister's answer shows that the Government has had no serious intention of increasing its expenditure on and encouragement of research and development, despite its longstanding pledge, going back several years, to raise this investment to 1.5 per cent of GNP by 1985. Indeed, if we go back to 1968 at about the time the present Prime Minister (Mr. Trudeau) took office, Canada was spending 1.5 per cent of its GNP on research and development. In the intervening decade or more, our investment in research declined in a rather drastic way.
This tendency has continued as confirmed by Statistics Canada's annual science bulletin which was issued just a few weeks prior to the Macdonald report. The Stats Can report released a couple of months ago said that Canada's investment in research and development had dropped from 1.29 per cent of GNP to 1.28 per cent in 1983 and will drop further to 1.24 per cent in the present financial year. This means that the Government has failed miserably in its attempt-if there has been any attempt at all-to meet its modest goal of spending
1.5 per cent of GNP on research by 1985. The amount of 1.5 per cent of GNP equates to about $6 billion. That is less than one-third of what we pay in this country merely to service our national debt. It is an investment which absolutely must be made by the nation.
The Minister did not dispute the fact that statistically our commitment to research had declined. In fact, he confirmed it with his attempt at excuse-making. Specifically I asked the
Adjournment Debate
Minister, "Does the Mnister have an explanation as to why in the two years he has been Minister of State for Science and Technology Canada's investment in research and development has dropped-?"
The Minister gave two strangely incongruous reasons for this decline. First he said, "That is one of the outcomes of any recession", implying that national incomes had dropped and therefore we spent less. In the same answer he said that this occurred because of the economic growth during the period. To my naive way of thinking, those two statements appear to be totally contradictory.

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