Federal government commits $2.4 billion to AI compute, startups, and safety through Budget 2024

Budget2024 AI announcement
Liberals aim to help “maintain Canada’s competitive edge” in AI with new spending.

Today, Canada’s Liberal government unveiled a $2.4-billion CAD package of measures designed to boost the country’s artificial intelligence (AI) sector.

In its announcement, which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made at Scale AI’s offices in Montréal, the Government of Canada noted that while the nation has a “world-leading AI ecosystem,” other countries have been racing to catch up and made big investments in AI. “To maintain Canada’s competitive edge, and secure good paying jobs and job security for generations of young Canadians, we must raise the bar.”

Through its upcoming 2024 budget, the Government of Canada plans to pump $2 billion into increasing the computing power available to the nation’s AI researchers, startups, and scaleups. 

“To maintain Canada’s competitive [AI] edge … we must raise the bar.”

The Government of Canada

The feds intend to help finance the near-term processing needs of these groups through a new AI Compute Access Fund. The Liberals said they will also develop a Canadian AI Sovereign Compute Strategy to grow its domestic AI capacity, or the amount of Canadian-owned and located AI infrastructure, over the long run.

The Government of Canada has also committed another $405 million to help AI startups bring new tech to market, boost AI adoption in critical sectors—and among small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs)—fund the creation of a new Canadian AI Safety Institute, support workers impacted by AI, and strengthen the enforcement of the proposed Artificial Intelligence and Data Act (AIDA), which is part of Bill C-27.

“AI has the potential to transform the economy. And our potential lies in capitalizing on the undeniable Canadian advantage,” Trudeau said in a statement. “This announcement is a major investment in our future, in the future of workers, in making sure that every industry, and every generation, has the tools to succeed and prosper in the economy of tomorrow.”

This $405-million figure includes $200 million in support through Canada’s Regional Development Agencies for AI startups seeking to commercialize their solutions and AI adoption in critical sectors like agriculture, cleantech, healthcare, and manufacturing. The feds are also allocating $100 million to the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program’s AI Assist initiative to help SMBs build and deploy AI.

The remaining funding consists of $50 million for skills training for workers who may be impacted by AI, $50 million for an AI safety institute that will work in coordination with local stakeholders and international partners to assess the risks associated with “advanced or nefarious” AI systems, and $5.1 million for the Office of the AI and Data Commissioner, who will be tasked with enforcing AIDA if and once Bill C-27 becomes enacted.

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Budget 2024, which is set to be announced later this month on April 16, will likely include more details on how the government will implement the abovementioned measures.

Canadian AI leaders have been calling for the Government of Canada to help address the availability and affordability of AI computing power and infrastructure. Some have argued that without action on this front, Canada may fall behind other countries.

“Oh wow, Canada is playing to win the AI game again,” posted Cohere co-founder and CEO Aidan Gomez in reaction to the news.

For his part, Council of Canadian Innovators president Benjamin Bergen said in a statement that, “done right, today’s announcement could be an important step in ensuring Canada’s continued AI leadership.” 

Bergen expressed the need for more details on how Canadian firms will be able to access this computing power. If this move gives Canadian firms the resources to compete globally, he said it will be good news for the country’s tech sector, but noted that it ought to be paired with other complementary strategies that ensure Canada benefits fully from its AI innovation.

Feature image courtesy Minister Champagne via X.

Josh Scott

Josh Scott

Josh Scott is a BetaKit reporter focused on telling in-depth Canadian tech stories and breaking news. His coverage is more complete than his moustache.

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