Canada launched the Pan-Canadian AI Strategy in 2017, the first of its kind in the country, building on the nation’s existing history of AI investments.
Through this strategy, the 2021 federal budget saw a commitment of $185 million in spending on AI over five years.
But is it enough?
A new report analyzing adoption of artificial intelligence technologies has found that, despite early leadership in the space, Canada lags behind many other OECD countries, ranking below the global average in 20th place.
Although Canada laid down important groundwork for AI development through the 1980s and 90’s, the nation has begun to lag in adoption of the tech, according to data gathered by the Toronto Metropolitan University’s think tank, the Dais.
Using Statistics Canada survey data, the Dais found that, at the start if 2022, fewer than 4% of Canadian businesses with five or more employees said they were using AI.
This is in stark contrast to global leaders such as Denmark, where one quarter of businesses use AI, as well as Portugal, Norway, Sweden, and Ireland, and others with higher rates than Canada.
“With all the breathless news coverage and raging debate surrounding artificial intelligence in recent months, it would not be unreasonable to think that the age of AI has already arrived for Canadian businesses,” offers Angus Lockhart, author of the Dais report. “The promise of artificial intelligence has long been its potential to make an economy more productive, increasing wages and living standards for all . . . Unfortunately, Canada lags behind.”
The Dais report found that AI adoption varies widely by industry.
For example, nearly one-in-five utilities companies take advantage of the tech, while only 1% of construction businesses do the same. 13% of finance firms use AI, but only 1% of restaurants do.
The think tank’s analysis also uncovered that larger businesses are adopting AI at much higher rates than small businesses. 20% of companies with 100 or more employees use AI, compared with just 6% of medium-size businesses and 3% of small businesses.
According to the report, the province of British Columbia ranks slightly ahead of the Canadian average for AI adoption—behind Quebec, tied with Ontario, and ahead of Alberta.
Many BC businesses who have not adopted AI say that they have not been able to make a business case for the tech, while others don’t know what AI tools are available on the market, data suggest.
If more small and medium size businesses in BC begin to leverage AI, the province could experience economic and productivity gains, Lockhart says.
“Even modest improvements in the rate of adoption of these technologies could move Canada from a global laggard to a frontrunner in AI adoption, with large potential benefits for productivity and our economy,” he writes for the report.