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SUBMISSION TO HOUSE OF COMMONS STANDING COMMITTEE ON FINANCE

2009 PRE-BUDGET CONSULTATION


Presented by the Partnership Group for Science and Engineering

August 14, 2009

SUMMARY
The current global financial crisis has left no economy unscathed. Canada has so far fared better than many other countries, although vulnerabilities exist and action is necessary. Sustained economic recovery requires a mixture of short and long-term measures to ensure stability and long-term prosperity. The creation of knowledge through fundamental, discovery-driven research forms the basis for innovation in the future and lies at the heart of this recovery program.

Supporting a culture of innovation and discovery requires that Canada have the intellectual, organizational and institutional resources to generate new knowledge, identify and act on opportunities, develop strategic alliances and advance developments in new areas. Economic recovery thus requires support both for individuals, who are the drivers of research and innovation, as well as for the major facilities and collaborations of which they are a part. Science forms the core of Canada’s ‘knowledge’ and ‘people’ advantages, and is central to its economic recovery and future development.

The Partnership Group recommends:
• The Government improve Canada’s research and technical capacity to increase productivity and maintain its competitive position in research;
• The Government promote a sustainable knowledge economy through long-term support for major research facilities and collaborative research initiatives;
• The Government create a prestigious and competitive Research Fellows Program for post-doctoral researchers

Introduction
The current economic recession is of a scope and scale unprecedented in recent history. Navigating a path towards recovery demands a combination of immediate, short-term stimulus measures with longer-term investments that support and consolidate gains to ensure stability and long-term prosperity. Investment in discovery and innovation is, as has been emphasized recently by US President Obama1 and French President Sarkozy2, essential to this recovery strategy.

In previous briefs to this committee, the Partnership Group for Science and Engineering (PAGSE) – an association of over 25 professional and scientific organizations representing 50,000 members from academia, industry and government sectors – has emphasized a number of mechanisms to support research and innovation. Past recommendations include investments in infrastructure, programs to attract and retain the best researchers, and support for international science partnerships.

Recent federal stimulus measures in science and technology (S&T) have improved research infrastructure—a critical element in the environment for research and innovation3. However more could and must be done. Without a comparable commitment to supporting fundamental research and the people who do it, improved infrastructure will not result in the new knowledge and innovation required to stimulate and sustain the Canadian economy. Short and long term measures should therefore be considered simultaneously: investments in long-term growth will help reduce the deficits that accompany short-term recovery programs.

Prosperity through investment in research and innovation
Our prosperity depends on the ability to generate knowledge, to translate it into innovation, to use the results for product development and enhanced competitiveness, and to identify and capitalize on future opportunities. Sustained economic recovery and growth is best supported through investment in basic research, which creates knowledge and leads to innovation. Canada’s innovation capacity has improved in the last decade, although the recent report of the Science, Technology and Innovation Council4 (STIC) has made it clear that we still lag behind other countries in a number of key areas. Without rapid and sustained investment in basic research and innovation, our knowledge and innovation gap is likely to grow even larger.

Canada must maintain its competitive edge by increasing its investment in science and technology. We currently devote 1.9% of gross domestic product (GDP) to research and development (R&D), placing us 13th among OECD countries and below the G7 average5. With President Obama’s recent commitment to bring US expenditure on R&D up to 3% of GDP, a level that exceeds that achieved during the ‘golden’ years of scientific investment during the space race, and growing competition for talent from China, Japan, and Korea, Canada is in danger of losing its best and brightest researchers, reversing the gains of recent years.

This impending loss must be prevented. The Government could strive to match US commitments to science and technology by raising federal investments in basic and applied research to 3% of GDP. Increasing investment will create new incentives for private innovation, promote breakthroughs in energy and medicine, and improve education in math and science. Such investments could be realized by devoting significant new resources to funding councils and key agencies for advancement of science and engineering, as well as government labs.

Recommendation:
That the Government improve Canada’s research and technical capacity in order to increase productivity and maintain its competitive position in research.

Sustainability through knowledge
The knowledge advantage provided through research cannot be overstated. As Preston Manning wrote last year in the Globe and Mail, “Every day is science day”6. Canada must have the intellectual, organizational and institutional resources to generate new knowledge, identify and act on opportunities, develop strategic alliances and advance developments in new areas. Basic scientific research is essential in this regard.

Many policy and regulatory decisions are based on broadly accepted scientific knowledge and evidence. Here are three uniquely Canadian examples. First, in the energy sector: the development of next-generation renewable energy sources, energy-efficient technologies such as the Smart Electric Power Grid, and the cost-effective exploration, refinement, and routing of oil and gas require knowledge of processing technologies, ground stability for snow roads and pipeline routing, water supply and energy demand. Second, safe and secure transport across the Arctic calls for data on storms, on rates of sea ice melt and on changing environmental conditions. Third, public security requires scientific know-how for disaster response, tracking of airborne hazards, and rapid identification of infectious agents and vaccine development. All of these imply a ready supply of up-to-date knowledge and skilled people, that is, a sustainable ‘knowledge economy’.

Progress toward a sustainable knowledge economy in Canada can be achieved through support for two key sectors: major research facilities and collaborative research. Recent federal investments in research infrastructure have provided a much-needed boost but must be complemented by support for technical staff, trainees, and researchers to take full advantage of improved facilities. Major collaborative initiatives such as networks of Centres of Excellence require coordinated and sustained support to minimize inefficiencies; stop-and-go funding in 5-year slices is not conducive to full achievement of research outcomes. Better collaboration is also needed among the components in the innovation chain to reduce barriers to cooperation and maximize the return on Canada’s R&D investments.

Recommendation:
That the Government stimulate a sustainable knowledge economy through long-term support for major research facilities and collaborative research initiatives.

The people advantage
Individuals are the drivers of research and innovation. Researchers compete for funds primarily from the tri-council agencies (NSERC, SSHRC, CIHR) that are supported by federal allocations. These monies are used to fund the material costs of research (lab equipment, field vehicles, data collection and analysis) as well as salaries for trainees and skilled technicians. Supporting researchers and research teams therefore ensures a steady supply of highly skilled, creative, and innovative people for the future.

Just as recent federal stimulus measures are being realized through investment in ‘shovel-ready’ infrastructure projects, a comparable investment in ‘idea-ready’ personnel is necessary. Canada will continue to lag behind other OECD countries economically if it does not do more to provide opportunities to the best and brightest trainees. Sectors to be enhanced include federal support for engaging in science and technology collaboration with other countries, dealing with the looming issue of technical operations support for new and innovative infrastructure, and funding of high priority projects. Canada can rely to some extent on its recent PhD graduates in science and technology and those from other countries for these purposes. But this won’t be enough: Canada ranks 21st among OECD countries in the number of PhD graduates as a percentage of new degrees7. Without significant investment in training the next generation of researchers, this knowledge gap will inevitably widen, and with it the essential resource base for sustained and innovative recovery.

In this context, recent government commitments to supporting excellence in research are welcome. PAGSE applauds the government for its creation of the Vanier Scholarships and CERC programs to support world-class trainees and established researchers, respectively. Continued support for graduate scholarships and the Canada Research Chair program is also crucial. At the same time these programs leave recent PhD graduates, whether trained at home or abroad, with few options. A culture of post-doctoral training continues to be a significant gap in Canada relative to competitor countries in the EU, Australia and the US, all of which have prestigious programs designed to launch outstanding PhD graduates in their research careers. Canada must do the same.

The creation of a Research Fellows program at the post-doctoral level to complement existing support for world-class researchers at the doctoral (Vanier Scholarships) and professorial levels (CRC and CERC programs) would be a major step forward. It would provide a mechanism to close the training gap for Canadians and attract new talent to Canada from abroad. Fellows should receive multi-year salary support, the opportunity to apply for research funds, and be associated with top researchers at Canadian research centers, institutes, and universities.

Such a program has several advantages. First, it would allow established Canadian researchers to increase their capacity for valued output by attracting young collaborators. Second, Fellows would enhance international collaborations, if coming from prestigious research institutions abroad. Recent data from the Council of Ontario Universities suggests that scholars from abroad tend to remain in Canada, thereby enriching its research community. They would thus help fill what will become a demographic gap in the research enterprise in the next 10-20 years. Third, a premier program such as this can be used to leverage support from elsewhere, for example by providing CONACYT scholars from Mexico or Wellcome Trust scholars from the UK the opportunity to compete for one of these prestigious fellowships following their doctoral studies.

Recommendation:
That the Government create a prestigious and competitive Research Fellows Program at the post-doctoral level that would allow the most outstanding PhD graduates from Canada and abroad to establish their research careers in Canada.

Conclusion
The global recession has put increased pressure on, and intensified scrutiny for, government stimulus measures aimed at economic and social recovery. There is a natural tendency at times like this to retrench and wait out the storm. However this approach is not likely to promote sustained recovery in the long term, as the nature of the global economy will change in the mean time. Canada must not only be ready to accommodate those changes but also lead them. A mixture of short and long-term measures aimed at shoring up and increasing support for research and innovation is therefore necessary. The best way to do this is through a strong federal commitment to funding research and innovation, supporting individual researchers, and promoting discovery-driven science. Such commitments will establish a strong, innovative, and technically skilled generation of workers and researchers, and the new knowledge that will drive innovation and economic prosperity for the future.

1 Remarks by the President at the National Academy of Sciences Annual Meeting, April 27, 2009
2 Discours de M. le Président de la République à l’occasion des Assises européennes de l’Innovation à la Cité des Sciences, December 09, 2008
3 Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada’s Advantage Progress Report June 2009
4 State of the Nation 2008: Canada’s Science, Technology and Innovation System. Science and Technology Innovation Council; http://www.stic-csti.ca
5 Ibid. p 14.
6 Globe and Mail, Opinions, June 2, 2009.
7 Ibid. p 43.