Seizing Canada’s Moment: Moving
forward in science, technology, and innovation
The Partnership Group for Science and Engineering
(PAGSE) is an umbrella organization operating under the
auspices of the Royal Society of Canada to represent the
Canadian science and engineering community in Canada. PAGSE’s
members are drawn from learned and professional societies
across the spectrum of science and engineering as practiced
in our country. PAGSE keeps abreast of science and engineering
policy and implementation in Canada through monthly meetings
with agencies and institutions involved in science policy,
and it organizes the Bacon and Eggheads breakfast speaker
series to communicate important advances in science and
engineering to decision makers.
PAGSE has discussed Industry Canada’s
science and technology consultation paper, and is pleased
to forward the following responses to the questions posed
in the paper for consideration by the Minister.
Building on the advice provided by
the Expert Panel on Federal Support for Research and Development,
what more can be done to improve business investment in
R&D and innovation?
The discussion paper acknowledges that Canadian
business continues to underinvest in R&D and innovation.
This is occurring while Canadian companies hold large portfolios
of surplus cash, which they are choosing to withhold from
such investment. Clearly, R&D and innovation investment,
as presently understood by business, is unattractive for
broad swaths of the private sector. The Minister should
demonstrate to Canadian businesses, using information available
to the Government of Canada, that investment in R&D
is directly tied to long-term business performance over
a time frame of a decade or two (since 1995). The performance
should be demonstrated, for example, in terms of: share
price, market share, dividend distribution, and job creation,
especially for young Canadians. The business performance
of companies that invest significantly in R&D should
be explicitly highlighted. The case for investment must
be made in business’s own terms.
What actions could be taken, by the
government or others, to enhance the mobilization of knowledge
and technology from government laboratories and universities,
colleges and polytechnics to the private sector?
The Government’s Innovation strategy
has been in place now for several years. However, many people
in the research sector, especially those in positions of
leadership, were educated, trained, and matured in a different
culture. The government should encourage and enhance opportunities,
such as via internships and exchanges, for increased understanding
and shared vision between the research and business communities.
The Mitacs internships program is an excellent example of
an initiative to fuse the two cultures. These internships
are for graduate students, and will likely return dividends
in the long run. At present there are no similar programs
at the professional or senior scientist level. If exchanges
(not just visits) of several months between universities
and industry or government and
industry were developed, they would help nurture communities
of common focus and mutual respect. In addition, the German
model for connecting research and innovation relies on institutes
for upstream research (Max Planck Institutes) and manufacturing
innovation (Franhofer Institutes). Industry, universities,
and government work cooperatively in the Franhofer Institutes.
President Obama has announced an expansion of similar manufacturing
institutes in the United States, but not to the detriment
of the upstream research because it nurtures manufacturing
innovation. Canada, too, should have sophisticated institutions
in both roles.
How can Canada continue to develop,
attract and retain the world’s top research talent
at our businesses, research institutions, colleges and polytechnics,
The key condition required to attract and
retain top talent is a stable and sustained funding environment.
The time scale for many positions in business is 2 –
4 years, but in research the time required to initiate,
examine, and conclude projects is on the order of 7 –
15 years. Top research talent expects to work in a fully
professional environment using state-of-the-art equipment
and instruments. Their research staff anticipate a career
with its associated prospects and commitments. In the last
decade, professional research support staff numbers have
remained static or declined. If staffing cannot be sustained,
the top talent leaves. Furthermore, significant reductions
to resources devoted to research tools and instruments are
in progress, so maintaining technological excellence is
increasingly difficult. The constraints with staffing and
equipment can be addressed on a project-by-project basis,
but this fails to correct deterioration in the overall research
environment and the broader support required to assist Canada’s
diverse industrial base.
How might Canada build upon its success
as a world leader in discovery-driven research?
Canadians, by and large, recognize that research
is a long-term investment, and that most publicly funded
research is upstream, some years away from product development.
Canadians also understand that business’s role is
to bring products to market. The former activity, if publicly
funded, takes place in a context where results must be freely
available, while the latter is in a specifically competitive
environment. There is a continuum between the upstream activities
and the market place, between initial research concept and
product distribution. This is the innovation supply chain.
All elements of this continuum must be supported for success.
The links of the chain can be strengthened if constructive
opportunities for development of common visions are provided,
as mentioned above.
Is the Government of Canada’s
suite of programs appropriately designed to best support
Research is a community activity, and most
research institutions operate on a multidisciplinary basis.
At present there is considerable emphasis on interdisciplinary
initiatives for the conduct of science and engineering and
identification of solutions to real-world problems. The
top journals are multidisciplinary. The majority of advances
in industry supporting Canada’s resource sector, for
example, occur as collaborations of scientists and engineers.
If government programs are perceived to downgrade particular
branches of science, the research community, writ large,
quickly senses a divisive ethos. Excellence, across-the-board,
suffers when upstream science or particular areas of science
are downgraded, because it is extremely difficult to predict
the particular projects conducted today that will yield
the benefits of tomorrow. That is the fundamental problem
far-sighted innovation policy must address.