Canada comes online

Canadian researchers have been behind some recent major breakthroughs in artificial intelligence. Now, the country is betting on becoming a big player in one of the hottest fields in technology, with help from the likes of Google and RBC.

In an unassuming building on the University of Toronto’s downtown campus, Geoff Hinton laboured for years on the “lunatic fringe” of academia and artificial intelligence, pursuing research in an area of AI called neural networks.

Also known as “deep learning”, neural networks are computer programs that learn in similar way to human brains. The field showed early promise in the 1980s, but the tech sector turned its attention to other AI methods after that promise seemed slow to develop.

“The approaches that I thought were silly were in the ascendancy and the approach that I thought was the right approach was regarded as silly,” says the British-born professor, who splits his time between the university and Google, where he is a vice-president of engineering fellow.

Now, neural networks – which allow computers to do things like teach themselves to play games like Texas hold ’em – are considered tech’s next big thing, and Hinton is recognised globally for his work.

Neural networks perform complex and intuitive tasks through exposure to huge amounts of data. Today’s more powerful computers and massive sets of data allowed for breakthroughs in neural network technology, improving accuracy in speech recognition and computer vision, which is helping make self-driving cars a reality.

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Neural networks are used by the likes of Netflix to recommend what you should binge watch and smartphones with voice assistance tools. Google DeepMind’s AlphaGo AI used them to win against a human in the ancient game of Go in 2016.

Foteini Agrafioti, who heads up the new RBC Research in Machine Learning lab at the University of Toronto, said those recent innovations made AI attractive to researchers and the tech industry.

“Anything that’s powering Google’s engines right now is powered by deep learning,” she says.

Developments in the field helped jumpstart innovation and paved the way for the technology’s commercialisation. They also captured the attention of Google, IBM and Microsoft, and kicked off a hiring race in the field.

The renewed focus on neural networks has boosted the careers of early Canadian AI machine learning pioneers like Hinton, the University of Montreal’s Yoshua Bengio, and University of Alberta’s Richard Sutton.

Money from big tech is coming north, along with investments by domestic corporations like banking multinational RBC and auto parts giant Magna, and millions of dollars in government funding.

Toronto will soon get the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence, geared to fuelling “Canada’s amazing AI momentum”.

The new research facility, which will be officially launched on Thursday, will be dedicated to expanding the applications of AI by through explorations in deep learning and other forms of machine learning. It has received about C$170m (US$127m/£102m) in funding from the Canadian and Ontario governments and a group of 30 businesses, including Google and RBC.

Hinton will be the institute’s chief scientific adviser.

Former banking executive Ed Clark will head the institute, and says the goal is to make Toronto, which has the largest concentration of AI-related industries in Canada, one of the top five places in the world for AI innovation and business.

The founders also want it to serve as a magnet and retention tool for top talent aggressively head-hunted by US firms.

Clark says they want to “wake up” Canadian industry to the possibilities of AI, which is expected to have a massive impact on fields like healthcare, banking, manufacturing and transportation.

The Vector Institute is just the latest infusion of cash into Canada’s AI sector.

Google invested C$4.5m (US$3.4m/£2.7m) last November in the University of Montreal’s Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms.

Microsoft is funding a Montreal startup, Element AI. The Seattle-based company also announced it would acquire Montreal-based Maluuba and help fund AI research at the University of Montreal and McGill University.

Thomson Reuters and General Motors both recently moved AI labs to Toronto.

Earlier this month, the federal government announced C$125m ($94m/£75m) for a “pan-Canadian AI strategy”.

RBC is also investing in the future of AI in Canada, including opening a machine learning lab headed by Agrafioti, co-funding a program to bring global AI talent and entrepreneurs to Toronto, and collaborating with Sutton and the University of Alberta’s Machine Intelligence Institute.

Those trying to build Canada’s AI scene admit places like Silicon Valley will always be attractive to tech talent. But they hope strategic investments like these will allow Canada to fuel the growth of domestic startups.

Canadian tech also sees the travel uncertainty created by the Trump administration in the US as making Canada more attractive to foreign talent. (One of Clark’s the selling points is that Toronto as an “open and diverse” city).

“I would hate to see one more professor moving south,” Agrafioti says. “Really, I hope that five years from now we look back and say we almost lost it but we caught it in time and reversed it.”

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Top investor warns Canada, US infrastructure plans to take time

* Says could take more than a decade to launch projects

* OTPP is one of world’s largest infrastructure investors

* 2016 rate of return hit by negative currency impact
(Recasts, adds CEO comment on Canada/US infrastructure)

By Matt Scuffham

TORONTO, March 29 Ontario Teachers’ Pension
Plan, one of the world’s biggest infrastructure investors,
warned it could take more than 10 years for infrastructure
investment plans by Canada and the United States to come to

Canada hopes its planned ‘infrastructure bank’ will
facilitate billions of dollars of financing from private
investors for critical projects in areas such as public transit
and green infrastructure. Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald Trump
has said he will launch a $1 trillion infrastructure programme
funded from private sources.

“To really make a coherent, long-term, visionary
infrastructure plan for Canada or the U.S. you’ve got to think
in terms of a decade or a decade and a half to really get
momentum in these projects,” Mock told reporters after the OTPP
published its annual results on Wednesday.

Canada’s Liberal government has come under pressure to move
more quickly in rolling out a planned C$180 billion ($135
billion) infrastructure programme.

Chief Investment Officer Bjarne Graven Larsen said he
believed Canada was ahead of the United States in progressing
with its infrastructure plan, partly because of the creation of
the infrastructure bank.

Ontario Teachers’ pioneered a move by Canadian pension funds
in the 1990s to invest directly in private companies,
infrastructure and real estate internationally as an alternative
to Canadian equities and government bonds.

The fund’s infrastructure portfolio includes investments in
Britain’s high speed railway connecting London and the Channel
Tunnel and in one of the largest desalination plants in the
world in Sydney, Australia.

The OTPP, which administers pensions for 316,000 working and
retired teachers in Canada’s most populous province, said its
rate of return dropped to 4.2 percent last year from 13 percent
in 2015. It cited unfavorable currency movements as a factor
behind the weaker performance.

The results still exceeded a benchmark target of 3.5 percent
for the fund, Canada’s third-biggest public pension plan.

The OTPP said its net assets grew to C$175.6 billion at the
end of 2016 from C$171.4 billion a year earlier.

The fund, which has investments in more than 50 countries,
said currency movements had a negative impact of 280 basis
points on its rate of return in 2016, compared with an
830-basis-point positive effect in 2015.

Ontario Teachers’ said it was 105 percent funded as of Jan.
1, meaning it had a surplus of assets with which to meet its
future pension obligations.

($1 = 1.3372 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting by Matt Scuffham; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn, Bernard

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The wild west of weed: will legalisation work for Canada?

Canada’s current ‘green rush’ makes Amsterdam’s coffeeshops look restrained – but Justin Trudeau hopes to tame it by making recreational cannabis legal

Canada’s green revolution will get underway in 2018.

Canada’s green revolution will get underway in 2018.
Photograph: Chris Roussakis/AFP/Getty Images

The wild west of weed: will legalisation work for Canada?

Canada’s current ‘green rush’ makes Amsterdam’s coffeeshops look restrained – but Justin Trudeau hopes to tame it by making recreational cannabis legal

Opposite a bleak government building in suburban Ottawa, Canada, a barebones “cannabis clinic” – with just a cash register, jeweller’s scales and a glass counter – is doing a brisk trade. “Pirate! Muslim! Gangster! Yes! We all smoke!” shouts one teen as he high-fives the owner, Rohmi. He pockets his pungent bag and bounces out, giggling.

On the wall, there’s a menu listing today’s special: moonrocks – buds rolled in cannabis oil then dipped in powdered hash at C$40 (£24) a gram. There are cans of Canna Cola; potent, weed-laced gummy bears; a mound of gooey hashish smelling of dark chocolate, hops and pine resin.

If this is medicine, it’s unclear what the illness is, other than sobriety. It makes an Amsterdam coffeeshop look tame – and it’s this free-for-all, wild-west-of-weed attitude that Canada’s government wants to tame by legalising cannabis during prime minister Justin Trudeau’s first term in office. Laws that will legalise cannabis for recreational use will be announced in the week of 10 April, and will be passed by July 2018, say government sources, making Canada the first G7 country to do so.

Globally, cannabis prohibition is being briskly dismantled, a wave of decriminalisation or legalisation sweeping south through the Americas, with states such as Colorado leading the way. California voted to legalise recreational use in November 2016. The US currently has 29 states offering legal medical marijuana and eight states with legal recreational cannabis markets. Countries including Uruguay, Mexico, Jamaica, Brazil, Colombia and Chile are either creating legal markets for medicinal cannabis or relaxing rules on possession and cultivation. In the EU, Germany is preparing for imminent full medicinal legalisation, and the Republic of Ireland voted in December 2016 to allow medical use. In the UK, medical marijuana is available in the form of a tincture spray, Sativex, but access is severely limited.

What is different about Canada’s plans to legalise is the scope of the law change – it will be legal, nationally, for anyone over the age of 18 to use cannabis for pleasure next year.

Trudeau told journalists early this month that he wanted to seize the profits of the criminalised market and use the income to help those with drug problems. But his main aim in legalising the drug was to make it harder for children to get hold of it, arguing that alcohol laws showed that proper controls and regulations work. “It’s easier for a teenager to buy a joint right now than a bottle of beer, and it’s not right,” he said. “We know by controlling and regulating it, we are going to make it more difficult for young people to access marijuana.”

The evidence is on his side: in Colorado, where cannabis has been legal since 2014, teen use has fallen by about 12%, due to a combination of factors including a smaller black market and better drugs education.

Ironically, however, the upcoming change in Canada has prompted a huge growth in outlaw dispensaries. Rohmi and hundreds of other dealers selling in kerbside clinics are claiming to be operating under rules allowing Canadians to use cannabis to treat complaints as diverse as insomnia, ADHD and chronic pain. In reality, they are cashing in and riding the pre-legalisation green rush.

Police are clamping down, with dozens of raids in recent weeks, but the mood on the streets and in the clinics is one of delighted anarchy, with some outfits simply reopening the day after a raid in a new spot.

Police seize marijuana from a dispensary in Toronto.

Police seize marijuana from a dispensary in Toronto. Photograph: Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Rohmi says he takes C$15,000 in cash every day, and claims his business is an act of civil disobedience. “We’re doing this as a Gandhi type of thing. Peaceful protest, activism,” he says. Isn’t he afraid of getting robbed? He laughs and nods at a plank in the corner with the word “Bertha” scrawled on it. “I got Bertha, she’s my security!”

The road to legalisation in Canada has been long and circuitous. Medical cannabis has been legal in Canada since 2000. By 2012, under the Conservative government of Stephen Harper, there were 40,000 Canadians growing cannabis at home, says Chuck Rifici, a cannabis entrepreneur and former chief financial officer for the centre-left Liberal party. “The average Canadian is not particularly concerned with cannabis usage, or its illegality,” he says, with wry understatement. Some of these homegrowers now illegally supply the clinics that are commonplace in all Canadian towns, while there are 38 licensed producers for the medical market, which has 130,000 users.

Trudeau, who won the 2015 general election for the Liberals on a promise to free the weed, has spoken of his own cannabis use in casual terms, cementing his image as a modern progressive. Trudeau sought policy advice from Bill Blair, an old-school cop famed for his zero-tolerance approach to cannabis when he ran the force in Toronto. Trudeau told Blair he wanted to legalise cannabis to stop criminals from preying on kids, and Blair agreed that this was the best way to present the policy to the public.

Cannabis is popular in Canada – one-third of 18 to 24-year-olds use it, as do 3.4 million of all Canadians, 10% of the country’s population. For comparison, in the UK, there are about 2 million users, 3% of the population.

Blair told Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper in January: “Our intent is to legalise, regulate and restrict. There needs to be reasonable restrictions on making sure that we keep it away from kids, because I think that is very much in the public interest.”

Trudeau set up a taskforce, led by Blair, in June 2016 to write the roadmap towards legalisation. A more moderate and Canadian approach is hard to imagine. Experts included researchers and academics, patients and lawyers, users, chiefs of police and fire departments, and government officials and associations.

Steve Moore, of British thinktank VolteFace, which is campaigning for legalisation in the UK, says Canada’s model is more sensible than that of the US. “The American states that have legalised are too libertarian, with their billboards and TV advertising,” says Moore, who lauds Trudeau’s focus on tackling crime and reducing youth access. The Canadian path to legalisation is at once liberal and conservative, adds Moore, who believes such an approach could work in the UK.

The Canadian taskforce’s paper made more than 80 recommendations, including a minimum age of access – 18 – with restrictions on advertising, and guidance on production, manufacturing and distribution. It laid out measures for testing, packaging and labelling, with a strong emphasis on education around the risks of use, especially driving under the influence. It drew no conclusions on whether legalisation would lead to increased use, and instead took a harm-reduction and public-health approach – acknowledging the risk inherent in cannabis use and proposing ways to mitigate it.

Police will admit privately that the cannabis clinics aren’t a priority. “We have other problems,” says a source, drily. A public emergency has been declared in the state of British Columbia, where opiate users are dying in unprecedented numbers. With a population of just 4.6 million, in 2016, there were more than 900 deaths from fentanyl, a super-strong synthetic opioid. In the UK in 2015, there were just 11 fentanyl deaths, and 1,201 heroin deaths, according to the Office of National Statistics.

The Canadian government is preparing for the public-health problems that an estimated 600,000 new smokers will bring. No one yet has a satisfactory answer as to how driving under the influence will be managed, since a roadside test for the drug is still not sufficiently accurate, and no agreed metric of cannabis impairment has been set.

Another day, another dispensary; this time, Montreal. I decide to register to see how strictly procedures are observed. They have run out of forms, so I am handed a laminated document that I fill in with a whiteboard pen, claiming a bad back and occasional anxiety. I’m registered in minutes, and wander into the striplit room for my medical consultation. The staff know little about the dosage, onset or duration of effects for the drugs they are selling me, and hand me a small pinch-seal bag of capsules with a handwritten label on it: “20mg THC”. A child could open it in a second – and they look like sweets. It is easy to see why a more regulated market solution is being urged.

An altogether more orderly vision of the future can be found a short drive from Ottawa, in the town of Gatineau, western Quebec, where a licensed medicinal cannabis producer, The Hydropothecary, is expanding ahead of legalisation, hoping to supply the new market. We approach the farm and more than 100 security cameras silently track us. We kit up in hazmat suits, shoe covers, hair- and beardnets (the site has to follow safety rules drawn up for opioid factories) before we enter the grow room.

The unmistakable aroma of 1,200, two-foot female cannabis plants is like a gentle slap in the face, but I’m blinded by 1MW of high-pressure sodium light beaming down on the spiky leaves and budsites.

The plants are stretching towards a bespoke arched glass roof that shelters them from the Canadian winter, pumping out THC in a fruitless search for a male. It’s a female-only space; pollen from males would fertilise them, rendering the bud seedy and worthless. This room can produce 350kg of marijuana a month, says Adam Miron, the firm’s co-founder. A similar operation in the UK would currently carry up to a 10-year jail sentence.

A female cannabis plant at the Hydropothecary farm in Gatineau.

A female cannabis plant at the Hydropothecary farm in Gatineau. Photograph: Remi Theriault

The crop will sell for an average of C$10 a gram, and as the company is vertically integrated, selling via next-day mail order, all profits stay in-house. Miron flips fluently between biology and marketing matters, to legal and political issues, and back to branding. He introduces his master grower, Agnes Kwasniewska, a permanently delighted and highly educated Polish-Canadian who takes pride and interest in every plant.

We enter the drying vault through a thick steel door, where millions of dollars of product lie curing in temperature-controlled cases. There’s a litre flask of cannabis oil worth C$80,000, which is passed between the terrified visitors as if it’s plutonium. Every gram is documented from seed to bag. Every gram will be taxed, and children will not be allowed to buy it. Trudeau and Blair would be happy.

Just as the 1,200 plants in Gatineau were being tended by Kwasniewska, a vast, illegal grow was discovered in Wiltshire in a nuclear-bomb shelter, with three trafficked and enslaved Vietnamese teenage boys tending about 4,000 plants, imprisoned behind a five-inch steel door. Industrial-scale cannabis farmers in the UK have often used trafficked children who are imprisoned for months and forced to water and monitor and protect the plants from rival gangs. Upon discovery, the children, already abused and exploited, are jailed.

Canada, meanwhile, is creating a C$20bn-a-year industry that will employ thousands of people, minimise public-health harms, cut teen access to the drug and save the taxpayer millions in enforcement costs. There’s a sense of energised hope and cautious optimism in every conversation you have: Canadians feel that change is coming.

Miron’s desire to grow this business is impassioned and infectious, and seems more than simply financial. What drives him? “Two years ago, my father had terminal lung cancer,” he says. “Very terminal. He was given months to live. He didn’t have much breath capacity, but I will never forget holding a vaporiser to his lips as he sat on the porch with me, and he managed to inhale a few puffs. He slept there, free from pain for the first time in days, resting. He was my first customer.”

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Health care could be behind Canada's longer life expectancy

Canadians are outliving Americans, in some cases, by as much as a decade. Is public healthcare the secret to longevity?

When Erick Bauer was first diagnosed with cystic fibrosis as an infant, his parents were told he’d be lucky to make it to his 20th birthday.

Now turning 32 and expecting his first child, Mr Bauer attributes his relatively good health to the close relationship he has with his medical team at St Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, which he says helps him maintain a healthy and active lifestyle.

He takes about 60 pills a day to help control the hereditary disease, which can affect the lungs, pancreas and gastro-intestinal tract.

“For all those younger CF patients who live with the disease right now, it is really important to just keep searching for that cure or that control for that disease,” he told the BBC. “That is my hope for the future.”

Life expectancy for cystic fibrosis patients has increased much faster in Canada than it has in the US, a new study published this month in the Annals of Internal Medicine found.

Canadians living with cystic fibrosis lived on average 10 years longer than Americans with the same disease, in part because of the very different healthcare systems in the two countries, the study found.

When severity of disease, age and other variables were taken into account, Canadians had a 34% lower death rate than American patients overall.

US patients with private insurance had a similar life expectancy as their Canadian counterparts, whereas Canadians had a 44% lower death rate than Americans on Medicaid. The uninsured fared the worst – Canadians had a 77% lower death rate than Americans who had no insurance at all.

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“I think there may be some sort of inherent differences in the systems themselves, but teasing it out is hard,” says Dr Anne Stephenson, lead author of the study and a researcher at St Michael’s Hospital.

The results of the study did not come as a surprise to Michelle Brotherwood, a registered dietician who spent years working with children with cystic fibrosis in Canada and the US.

Ms Brotherwood spent three years working in a cystic fibrosis clinic in Los Angeles, after working at Dr Stephenson’s clinic in Toronto.

The differences, she says, were striking.

“In Canada, I make clinical decisions. I look at their case and I decide whether or not they would benefit from meeting with me. There, the decision is driven by their insurance,” she says.

Ms Brotherwood says she had to forgo seeing patients who were in real need, simply because they did not have the coverage.

Sometimes, she’d consult with patients who were thriving and did not necessarily need a dietician, simply because their plan covered it.

Even when they were insured, high co-pays meant that some families had to reduce the amount of medication they used, or avoid going to the hospital, she says.

Many researchers have suggested that this profit motive, and the strain it puts on families, may be to blame for the average lower life expectancy in the US.

Although the decade-long Canadian advantage seen in cystic fibrosis study is striking, numerous studies have shown that Canadians tend to outlive their American counterparts.

According to the World Health Organization, Canadians live almost three years longer than Americans overall.

This difference can be observed in a variety of diseases.

Dr PJ Devereaux, a researcher at McMaster University, says that studies of patients with end-stage renal failure show that Canadians live longer than Americans because the quality of care is better. He says for-profit health clinics in the US spend more on marketing, and less on qualified staff.

“You do not have to be a healthcare expert to recognise that a huge determinate of how you or your loved one will do depends on the quality” of healthcare providers, Dr Devereaux says.

But Erin Strumpf, who researches public health at McGill University in Montreal, says it is not so simple.

With so many factors affecting health, such as lifestyle and genetics, it can be difficult to draw broad conclusions about why Canadians live longer. Rates of obesity and smoking, and socioeconomic factors may all impact the different outcomes we see in the US.

“People like the explanation of universal health coverage, people like the explanation of more redistributive social programmes,” she says.

“But it is a challenging thing, to really understand what causes those differences.”

A 2007 joint-study between the Centre of Disease Control and Statistics Canada found that health outcomes were fairly similar between both countries, with most citizens reporting good health. However, Americans with the lowest income were more likely to report health problems than Canadians (31% v 23%), and when Americans complained of unmet health needs, they were more likely to cite cost as a reason. Canadians were more likely to cite waiting times.

For Ms Brotherwood, the move back to Canada has been a relief, not because the doctors in Los Angeles were anything but excellent, but because she says she grew tired of spending so much energy fighting with insurance companies, instead of providing care.

“Kids would say to me, or teenagers or young adults, ‘My family is bankrupt because of my cystic fibrosis,'” she says.

That is something JJ Whicker hopes his son, who was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis shortly after being born last year, will never have to face.

A graduate student in Utah, Mr Whicker was concerned he’d have to quit school.

But he has been relieved to find that Medicaid covers almost all of his son’s needs.

As the US government weighs changes to the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid, he says he is worried about what the future will hold for families like his who rely on federal programmes to save their children’s lives.

“It is something I think about often,” he says.

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Costs of protectionism are 'steep': Bank of Canada's Poloz

By David Ljunggren and Alastair Sharp

OSHAWA, Ontario (Reuters) – Canada’s economy has a lot more room to grow, with higher unemployment and more excess capacity than the United States, and if interest rates were raised today Canada would tip into recession, Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz said on Tuesday.

In response to a question U.S. rate hikes, Poloz said the two countries share a similar growth path, but Canada has a lot more room to grow because it has not recovered fully from the oil price shock.

“It is why the interest rate is quite low now, is to give the economy extra room to grow … if we were to raise interest rates back to normal prematurely, like today, the economy would, I’m certain, have a recession,” Poloz said.

The Bank of Canada cut rates twice in 2015. Economists largely expect the bank will not raise rates until 2018. [CA/POLL]

Poloz defended the bank’s dovish outlook, saying it is more important to focus on the downside risks to the economy than the upside risks, even with recent signs of stronger-than-expected growth in jobs, gross domestic product and retail sales.

“I think it would be odd to forget about all those downside risks just because a couple of data points came in a little bit better than expected. We’ve had positive data points in the last three years, too, and they didn’t last, so we’re being very cautious in our outlook,” Poloz told reporters at a news conference.

He declined to say whether a rate cut was off the table, saying he did not want to prejudge the bank’s decision-making process. The bank is set to release its quarterly Monetary Policy Report together with an interest rate announcement on April 12, followed by a news conference.

Poloz’s comments followed a speech in which he said Canada must continue to push for open markets because the costs of protectionism are steep, pushing back against rising anti-trade sentiment in both the United States and Europe.

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Canadian MP responds to writer’s ‘odd’ story about trying to breastfeed his baby

Leah McLaren revealed how she once tried to nurse Michael Chong’s son without permission in column that received sharp rebuke over ‘inappropriate’ behavior

michael chong canada

Canadian Conservative MP Michael Chong walks to a news conference with his wife and three sons in Ottawa.
Photograph: Chris Wattie/Reuters

Canadian MP responds to writer’s ‘odd’ story about trying to breastfeed his baby

Leah McLaren revealed how she once tried to nurse Michael Chong’s son without permission in column that received sharp rebuke over ‘inappropriate’ behavior

In the race to become the next leader of Canada’s Conservatives, he’s promised lower income taxes and increased financing for small businesses while taking aim at the politics of fear.

But it wasn’t these issues that catapulted leadership hopeful Michael Chong into the spotlight this week. Instead it was his unwitting role in a bizarre breastfeeding tale – after a newspaper columnist detailed her covert attempt to breastfeed his infant without permission and while she was not lactating.

Written by longtime freelance contributor Leah McLaren, the column appeared briefly last week in Canada’s Globe and Mail before it was taken down without explanation. Days later, archived versions of the column began circulating online.

McLaren – who has also contributed articles to the Guardian – wrote that she had been at a Toronto house party when she stumbled on a baby alone in a bedroom sitting in a portable car seat. Next to him was a monitor.

She was about 25 years old at the time, single, childless and “broody in the way that young women in their late 20s often are”, she wrote. After exchanging smiles with the infant, she wrote that she felt an instant connection.

She then picked up the child. “Somehow, my pinky finger ended up in his mouth and I was astonished at strength of his sucking reflex. ‘C’mon lady,’ said his eyes,” McLaren said.

“And I suddenly knew what he wanted. And I of course wanted to give him what he wanted. The only problem was, I had no milk. But would it be so bad, I wondered, if I just tried it out – just for a minute – just to see what it felt like?”

She began unbuttoning her blouse. As she was reaching into her bra, a man walked into the room, she wrote. “‘Oh um, hello!’ he said, in a friendly, upbeat tone that could not entirely conceal the fact that he was flummoxed to see me sitting there with my top half unbuttoned holding his baby. ‘I see you’ve met my son. May I take him now?’”

The man was Michael Chong, now a veteran politician who is one of more than a dozen contenders vying to become Canada’s next Conservative leader. After taking his son, he bade her a polite goodbye and their paths didn’t cross again for the rest of the night.

McLaren, now in her 40s, wrote that she now realised her actions were wrong and rude, and wondered what might have transpired if either of the parents had walked in when she was in the act. “I think if I found a strange woman – one who was both childless and milkless – nursing my baby at a party, I’d be inclined to give her a swift smack upside the head and then call the police.”

The archived column lit up social media, with many describing McLaren’s behaviour as inappropriate and verging on assault. Others questioned why the Globe and Mail had published the column in the first place. The newspaper did not reply to a request for comment.

On Monday, Chong confirmed McLaren’s claim. “Incident happened over 10 years ago. It was no doubt odd, but of no real consequence,” he wrote on Twitter. “Let’s focus on the important challenges facing Canada.”

Michael Chong 🇨🇦

Incident happened over 10 years ago. It was no doubt odd, but of no real consequence. Let’s focus on the important challenges facing Canada

March 27, 2017

His tweet sparked dozens of replies, with some urging him to make the most of the unexpected publicity. “Dude, you have a rare opportunity to turn this into a longish-tail story and steal media impressions from Leitch/O’Leary,” wrote one, referring to the two leadership candidates who have dominated media coverage to-date. “This is an admirable commitment to boringness on your part,” noted another.

The column caps off a strange month for Chong and his team, which had already included the revelation that the MP had become a poster boy for sanitary hygiene in Guatemala.

A Canadian tourist had spotted a stock photo of his smiling face outside a washroom in the country. The poster promised visitors clean toilets as a “special service for special people like you”.

The news earned a swift reply from Chong: “Just part of the Chong campaign’s international outreach in Latin America,” he joked on Twitter.

Canada’s Conservatives will elect a new leader at the end of May.

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Canadian government, businesses back $150 mln artificial intelligence institute

The Canadian and Ontario governments plan to team up with a group of businesses to invest about C$200 million ($150 million) to fund an artificial intelligence institute at the University of Toronto, project organizers said on Tuesday.

Artificial intelligence, widely known as AI, has been touted as an emerging technology with potential to transform industries from healthcare and manufacturing to financial services. Those hopes have attracted Silicon Valley companies like Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google and Facebook (FB.O), as well as banks and manufacturers to invest in AI research.

The center, to be known as the Vector Institute, will train large numbers of masters, doctoral and postdoctoral AI scientists who are needed by Canadian industry, said Ed Clark, who will head the institute.

It will also support research projects with potential to move from the laboratory to commercial success, Clark, a former chief executive of Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD.TO), told Reuters in an interview ahead of a government announcement this week about the new center.

“Clearly, the giants in Silicon Valley are going to be major players in this. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t find things and areas where we end up being best in the class,” said Clark, now a business adviser to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.

Clark serves on the board of directors of Thomson Reuters (TRI.TO), the parent of Reuters News.

A majority of the financial commitment will come from the federal and Ontario governments, organizers said. They did not specify when the institute would begin operation.

The federal government committed C$125 million to develop AI industry in its budget last week. A Toronto-based Google spokesman said the company had committed C$5 million to the Vector Institute.

Geoffrey Hinton, an AI scholar known for his work with neural networks, will be the institute’s chief scientific adviser.

“This initiative came from the industry. They all know they need to have lots of very skilled people. This is a very fast-moving field and you want the people to be educated by people doing basic research,” Hinton said.

He said that government support for AI research and training would encourage large corporations to expand their research labs to Canada.

(Reporting by Denny Thomas; Editing by Jim Finkle and Peter Cooney)

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Trump to unveil team that will use business ideas to overhaul government

President Trump plans to unveil a new White House office Monday with sweeping authority to overhaul the federal bureaucracy and fulfill key campaign promises — such as reforming care for veterans and fighting opioid addiction — by harvesting ideas from the business world and, potentially, privatizing some government functions.

The White House Office of American Innovation, to be led by Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior advisor, will operate as its own nimble power center within the West Wing and will report directly to Trump. Viewed internally as a SWAT team of strategic consultants, the office will be staffed by former business executives and is designed to infuse fresh thinking into Washington, float above the daily political grind and create a lasting legacy for a president still searching for signature achievements.

“All Americans, regardless of their political views, can recognize that government stagnation has hindered our ability to properly function, often creating widespread congestion and leading to cost overruns and delays,” Trump said in a statement. “I promised the American people I would produce results, and apply my ‘ahead of schedule, under budget’ mentality to the government.”

In a White House riven at times by disorder and competing factions, the innovation office represents an expansion of Kushner’s already far-reaching influence. The 36-year-old former real estate and media executive will continue to wear many hats, driving foreign and domestic policy as well as decisions on presidential personnel. He also is a shadow diplomat, serving as Trump’s lead advisor on relations with China, Mexico, Canada and the Middle East.

Kushner proudly notes that most of the members of his team have little to no political experience, hailing instead from the world of business. They include Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council; Chris Liddell, assistant to the president for strategic initiatives; Reed Cordish, assistant to the president for intergovernmental and technology initiatives; Dina Powell, senior counselor to the president for economic initiatives and deputy national security advisor; and Andrew Bremberg, director of the Domestic Policy Council.

Ivanka Trump — the president’s daughter and Kushner’s wife who now does her advocacy work from a West Wing office — will collaborate with the innovation office on issues such as workforce development but will not have an official role, aides said.

Powell, a former Goldman Sachs executive who previously worked in George W. Bush’s White House and State Department, boasts a government pedigree. Bremberg also worked in the Bush administration. But others are political neophytes.

Liddell, who speaks with an accent from his native New Zealand, served as chief financial officer for General Motors, Microsoft and International Paper, as well as in Hollywood for William Morris Endeavor.

“We are part of the White House team, connected with everyone here, but we are not subject to the day-to-day issues, so we can take a more strategic approach to projects,” Liddell said.

Like Kushner, Cordish is the scion of a real estate family — a Baltimore-based conglomerate known for developing casinos and shopping malls. And Cohn, a Democrat who has recently amassed significant clout in the White House, is the hard-charging former president of Goldman Sachs.

Trump’s White House is closely scrutinized for its always-evolving power matrix, and the innovation office represents a victory for Wall Street figures such as Cohn who have sought to moderate Trump’s agenda and project a friendly front to businesses, sometimes in conflict with the more hard-line conservatism championed by Bannon and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.

The innovation group has been meeting twice a week in Kushner’s office, just a few feet from the Oval Office, largely barren but for a black-and-white photo of his paternal grandparents — both Holocaust survivors — and a marked-up whiteboard more typical of tech start-ups. Kushner takes projects and decisions directly to the president for sign-off, though Trump also directly suggests areas of personal interest.

There could be friction as the group interacts with myriad federal agencies, though the advisors said they did not see themselves as an imperious force dictating changes but rather as a “service organization” offering solutions.

Kushner’s team is being formalized just as the Trump administration is proposing sweeping budget cuts across many departments, and members said they would help find efficiencies.

“The president’s doing what is necessary to have a prudent budget, and that makes an office like this even more vital as we need to get more out of less dollars by doing things smarter, doing things better, and by leaning on the private sector,” Cordish said.

Ginni Rometty, the chairwoman and chief executive of IBM, said she is encouraged: “Jared is reaching out and listening to leaders from across the business community — not just on day-to-day issues, but on long-term challenges like how to train a modern workforce and how to apply the latest innovations to government operations.”

Trump sees the innovation office as a way to institutionalize what he sometimes did in business, such as helping New York City’s government renovate the floundering Wollman Rink in Central Park, said Hope Hicks, the president’s longtime spokeswoman.

“He recognized where the government has struggled with certain projects and he was someone in the private sector who was able to come in and bring the resources and creativity needed and ultimately execute in an efficient, cost-effective, way,” Hicks said. “In some respects, this is an extension of some of the highlights of the president’s career.”

Parker and Rucker write for the Washington Post.


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