TO HOUSE OF COMMONS STANDING COMMITTEE ON FINANCE
2014 PRE-BUDGET CONSULTATION
The Partnership Group for Science
282 Somerset Street West, Ottawa
August 6, 2014
For several years, the focus of Canada’s support for
research has been to increase the competitiveness of Canadian
businesses through research, development, innovation and commercialization.
The emphasis in the public sector has been primarily on the
first three stages of this sequence, with commercialization
left to the private sector. In the last six years, government
policy towards innovation has emphasized development of partnerships
among universities, institutes and corporations. This brief
suggests that such partnerships must be further encouraged,
not only to enhance the prospects for innovation, but also
to further the potential contributions of many Canadians through
education and training.
The key point is that urgent consideration is required now,
early in the innovation chain to support university-based
researchers working at a fundamental level. Partnerships frequently
emerge from progress in basic research. The recent emphasis
on partnerships has reduced support at the basic level in
relative terms. This situation has led both to a stifling
of research activity at stages well before commercial interests
can be stimulated; and concentration of basic research in
fewer institutions, removing the innovation experience from
many bright young Canadians. The principal proposal contained
in this submission is support for basic, as well as applied,
engagement in all engineering and natural sciences disciplines
in conjunction with student training. It is from this research
that partnerships with business emerge.
The Partnership Group for Science and Engineering
(PAGSE) recommends the federal government:
• Address the relative erosion of support for
research to stop declining student engagement in fundamental
research, and to ensure a broadly-based innovation culture
flourishes across the country.
This recommendation addresses the following themes: Supporting
families and helping vulnerable Canadians by focusing on health,
education and training; increasing the competitiveness of
Canadian businesses through research, development, innovation
and commercialization; and maximizing the number and types
of jobs for Canadians.
• Expand partnership programs to facilitate
interchange of faculty as well as graduate students between
universities and industries and to facilitate its development
in the North.
This proposal addresses the same themes as the first
recommendation, as well as that of ensuring prosperous and
secure communities, including through support for infrastructure.
The Partnership Group for Science and Engineering (PAGSE)
is an association of 24 professional and scientific organizations
representing greater than 50,000 members from academia, industry
and government sectors. It represents the Canadian science
and engineering community to the Government and seeks to advance
research and innovation for the benefit of Canadians. PAGSE
is not a lobby group, but a cooperative partnership that addresses
broad issues of science and engineering policy at the national
PAGSE has engaged its member societies over several months
to ensure their input into this brief. We present you with
a consensus statement addressing matters raised across our
representation. In this brief we raise several points that
are now articulated in government programs, but require further
strategic development in order that the full potential of
the programs be realized. We concentrate on two themes: the
upstream end of the innovation chain and the flexible development
of innovation partnerships.
SUPPORT FOR UNIVERSITY-BASED RESEARCH
Canada has recently adopted a robust approach to identifying
and supporting outstanding research leaders, largely visible
through the Canada Research Chairs and Canada Excellence Chairs
programs. This is a significant achievement that has helped
to address gaps between Canada and the United States and Europe
in terms of attracting and retaining star researchers at the
pinnacle of their careers1. However, the national
investment in broadly-based innovation has stagnated and has
declined in relative terms, especially via inflation. The
landscape of excellence that has been fostered through the
celebration of the outstanding individuals, risks becoming
a monotonous plain, with concentrations of achievement and
relatively little between them. The danger for our country
stems from the fact that these concentrations are spatially
dispersed and there are broad areas and regions which become
relatively impoverished in the innovation market place. This
is particularly significant for young Canadians who do not
happen to attend our larger universities and are thereby denied
full access to innovation mentors and exemplars.
The main tool that has sustained the landscape of excellence
throughout the country has been the Natural Sciences and Engineering
Research Council of Canada (NSERC)’s Discovery Grants
Program. Every time this program is reviewed, including twice
in the last seven years, it is consistently found to be an
exemplary mechanism for generating the ideas that evolve into
innovations. The program supports research across the natural
sciences and engineering in universities throughout Canada.
In the last ten years, two forces, inflation and renewal of
the professoriate, have placed extreme pressure on the program,
lowering the grant allocation rate, especially in smaller
schools. The program has not grown with the renewal of the
professoriate across Canada so that, while we now have a disproportionate
number of young and energetic research faculty members, the
means to realize the potential of graduate students under
their guidance is under great pressure. Rather than fostering
the stability in which excellent research thrives, this situation
has begun to imperil research accomplishment everywhere, especially
outside the large research universities.
Budget 2014’s reinvestment has been excellent, but when
considered over three or more years, there has been inflationary
erosion of the Discovery Grants Program in real terms. Small,
regional universities are losing their capacity for basic
research, while fluctuations in researcher support at the
larger institutions compromise the ability to offer long-term
programs and the ability of these researchers to involve graduate
students in their research and thereby to provide the country
with a continuing cadre of highly qualified graduates. The
Discovery Grants Program operates across the board, so the
pressures on innovators are acute in disciplines as diverse
as Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Geosciences.
They affect both our long-term future in IT and data management,
and in development of our natural resources, as well as in
all other aspects of a knowledge-based economy. If students
are exposed to fundamental research, they will acquire the
foundation for long-term innovation in their sector. An emphasis
on partnerships allows focus on a specific problem and, combined
with basic research experience, the production of graduates
well able to transfer knowledge and to innovate in their careers.
PAGSE does not advocate erosion of partnership and targeted
support; quite the opposite. We see that erosion of the system
supporting basic research is creating significant adverse
effects that will stifle supply of expertise to the innovation
chain, if not addressed.
A meaningful investment in research support, such as a 2%
increase in current investments over three years, would create
the most focussed benefits for idea generation and would reverse
the erosion of investment that imperils our research leadership
in the G20. Research, throughout the country needs a stable
environment to thrive, to drive innovation, and to generate
opportunities for partnerships with business. Research support
through programs such as NSERC’s Discovery Grant program,
is the key mechanism nourishing this environment.
LONGEVITY OF INNOVATION PARTNERSHIPS
The last six years have seen increasing emphasis on innovation
partnerships in federal support for research. One of the most
popular sources of funding is NSERC’s Engage Grants,
which yields $25k support for short periods for researchers
to tackle problems that industry cannot tackle on its own.
The premise of the program is the seed money will lead to
long-term relationships and larger, integrative projects.
Dedicated analysis of ENGAGE is required to determine if it
achieves meaningful outcomes that stimulate the economy and
contribute to long-term innovation.
PAGSE favours long-term initiatives that allow partnerships
to flourish. We urge the committee to emphasize long-term
support in its allocation of resources for innovation. We
appreciate the need for short-term start-up programs, but
we also acknowledge the time scale and resources required
to make partnerships work for individuals in separate institutions
LINKING INDUSTRY WITH RESEARCH IN THE NORTH
In Canada’s North, the private sector is relatively
undeveloped and concentrated in services and resource development.
Almost all engineering in the North is publicly funded, including
for the transportation network. A key requirement for northern
development is an innovative transportation infrastructure.
Similarly, public institutions are responsible for mine-site
remediation, as at the Giant Mine in Yellowknife, and other
major works. Northern development is therefore heavily dependent
on a publicly-funded platform on which private interests may
A government-supported agency linking industry with researchers
in post-secondary institutions, such as Mitacs, facilitates
the development of partnerships that explicitly address problems
facing industry and, in many cases, assists development of
products that can be brought to the market place. These programs
form an important part of Canada’s innovation infrastructure
both because of the linkage to industry and because they support
graduate student and post-doctoral training. They enable coordination
of graduate student programs with industry objectives, creating
paths for young Canadians towards long-term employment.
The philosophy Mitacs operates under requires explicit engagement
by the private sector. In southern Canada, this is an entirely
appropriate condition. At present, the North, however, is
not a place for which such programs are well configured, and
the economics of the North prohibit engagement in many areas
where innovation is currently critically required. PAGSE urges
the government to make programs such as Mitacs sufficiently
flexible for its deployment on a range of northern projects,
thereby releasing the power of innovation into northern development.
Second, a program should be created to assist interchange
of faculty-level, public-sector employees, as well as students,
between the private and public sectors. This program would
facilitate high-level integration of priorities and deeper
collaboration in the long run than may occur strictly in the
context of graduate student projects. This interchange might
occur outside the normal cycle of sabbatical leave for periods
of three months. It would enable mentors to develop a reliable
appreciation for the skills their students will need and it
will create conditions for inter-sector collaboration to be
part of a normal working life in the innovation sector.
The priority of the government to enhance and assist innovation
is widely recognized and appreciated in the knowledge sector.
Programs established by the government, including Mitacs,
stimulating partnerships between researchers along the innovation
chain, have flourished. Opportunities exist for further development
of these programs, in particular where there are clear opportunities
to integrate innovation in northern development with these
tools. Nevertheless, the science and engineering research
community is unanimous that, over time, the relative slippage
in support for basic research is becoming detrimental to both
the ability to create initial ideas for innovation and for
the continual supply of young innovators graduating from our
universities. PAGSE urges the committee to consider most seriously
increasing the amount of money allocated for basic research
so that promising young people throughout Canada may be inspired
by innovation and may bring this motivation into their careers
1Science-Metrix. 2010. Tenth-Year Evaluation
of the Canada Research Chairs Program: Final Evaluation Report.
Retrieved on 15 July 2014.