New federal budget could include funding for a quantum institute as global race for quantum tech heats up

Lindsay Borthwick
March 24, 2021

When Budget 2021 drops on April 19, some of Canada’s quantum researchers and entrepreneurs will be holding their breath. That is because the Standing Committee on Finance published a budget recommendation in February urging the federal government to “financially support the establishment of a quantum computing research institute in the Toronto area, similar to the Vector Institute.”

The recommendation comes midway through the report — number 79 of 145 proposed priorities to drive post-COVID-19 economic growth and recovery.

A new institute would bring together a wealth of quantum research expertise in Toronto and down the technology corridor toward Waterloo, Ontario. In addition to the quantum research out of the University of Toronto, the city is home to startups like Xanadu, which released the world’s first photonic quantum computer last September, Harvard University spin-off Zapata Computing and security software company Agnostiq.

Many of these companies have incubated at the Rotman School of Management’s Creative Destruction Lab (CDL), which launched the world’s first quantum machine learning program in 2017 and has supported more than 70 quantum startups to date. That support extends to infrastructure: With Xanadu and the MaRS Discovery District, CDL is currently constructing a quantum network to serve as a testbed for quantum R&D.

If the quantum institute is funded, it could further strengthen this local quantum ecosystem, and yield new research, talent, investment, and commercialization nationally.

“At this point, we have a lot of ‘quantum’ going on at the city — but without an umbrella institute,” said Dr. Dvira Segal (PhD), Canada Research Chair in Theoretical Chemistry and incoming director of the Centre for Quantum Information and Quantum Control at the University of Toronto. 

Segal said there is a lack of investment for infrastructure, for hiring researchers and for training students. 

“There is a clear demand for training coming from the new quantum industry. At the same time, there is huge interest among our students in science, engineering, and even the medical sciences to gain skills in quantum science. We need an organization to unify these efforts, grow our activities, compete with other nations... and become leaders,” she wrote in an email to Research Money.

Indeed, the quantum race is being spurred by new investments globally, some of them part of COVID-19 recovery strategies. For example, Germany announced a €50 ($75) billion stimulus for “future technologies” last June. That is in addition to the European Union's Quantum Technologies Flagship program, worth €1 ($1.5) billion over 10 years.

The United States launched a national quantum initiative in 2018; in the past year, it established five quantum information science centers at national labs run by the Department of Energy (US $965 million ($1.2 billion) over 5 years) and three Quantum Leap Challenge Institutes through the National Science Foundation that will tackle major fundamental research questions in quantum information science and engineering (US $75 ($94) million over 5 years).

Then there is China, which announced a five-year plan this month to increase R&D spending by as much as seven percent annually. Quantum information is one of its focus areas.

Industry experts are urging Canada to act quickly and decisively to maintain its position as a global leader in the field — a reflection of sustained investment by federal and provincial governments over more than a decade.

Since 2009, the Government of Canada has invested nearly $1 billion in quantum science and research, mostly through its granting agencies, according to a spokesperson from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED). There are also a variety of programs and initiatives, including the Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF), in place to support quantum startups.

“Through these initiatives, Canada is maintaining its steady course as a leader in quantum,” the spokesperson wrote in an email to Research Money.

Just this month, Burnaby, B.C.-based D-Wave Systems received $40 million through SIF for the commercialization of its quantum computer hardware and software systems.

“Now, we’re going to the next phase. This is about commercialization, it's about making quantum computing available to small- and medium-sized businesses across our nation,” said Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry François-Philippe Champagne at the announcement.

The Logic reported that the new D-Wave funding is part of a forthcoming national quantum strategy, which Research Money covered in 2019. Since 2017, the National Research Council, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and CIFAR have been developing the strategy, known as Quantum Canada, but it has yet to be unveiled or funded.

The ISED spokesperson did not confirm the report, however. "In recognition of the potential role quantum technologies could play in the economy, the Government of Canada continues to engage with Canada’s quantum community in exploring the best ways to tap into opportunities for growth," they wrote.

The Department of National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces released a quantum science and technology strategy in January, the first federal department to do so.


Other News

Events For Leaders in
Science, Tech, Innovation, and Policy

Discuss and learn from those in the know at our virtual and in-person events.

See Upcoming Events

You have 1 free article remaining.
Don't miss out - start your free trial today.

Start your FREE trial    Already a member? Log in


By using this website, you agree to our use of cookies. We use cookies to provide you with a great experience and to help our website run effectively in accordance with our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.