Science is a strategic resource for Canada and underpins its economic and social well-being. Research and development are performed in the public, private and academic sectors, each of which addresses different needs: strength and balance is required across all of the sectors. The new federal strategy for science and technology provides a framework for research and innovation; it also recognizes the importance of measures to encourage industrial and private sector R&D, of international leadership, of a dynamic research environment and of a repository of expertise to serve the needs of the economy. Canada must be responsive to changing priorities and relentlessly pursue scientific and technological excellence; its research establishment must be productive, innovative and adaptable.
Research in remote regions is costly but essential to environmental stewardship, sovereignty, security and knowledge of the resources and conditions of these regions. Big science initiatives represent ‘flagship’ programs and facilities, and require a sustained financial commitment. Strategic international research alliances allow Canada to position itself in the international community. They provide profile, credibility, international leadership opportunities and access to methodologies, expertise, facilities and data, that might not otherwise be accessible.
There is a need to encourage an integrated ‘systems’ approach to our science and technology endeavours that will result in value-added outcomes for our investments. We also require strong data management, analysis, and archiving capacity, in order effectively to monitor and assess changing conditions, and to stimulate the development of new technologies.
We offer the following recommendations to sustain and advance Canada’s economic health and international stature.
1. Strengthen mechanisms for independent scientific advice to Government;
2. Reinvest in federal research infrastructure and science for the public good;
3. Encourage the archiving of scientific data, as a legacy for comparative purposes and analysis and as a base for future development;
4. Adopt a strategic approach to investments in big science initiatives and international science partnerships.
The context of R&D
The country’s economic health depends heavily on its human, natural and environmental resources – and on a legislative environment that allows effective use of these resources. Studies have shown a positive correlation between general education levels and Gross National Product. Countries with high academic enrolments have greater skill levels, employment levels, income, productivity and growth. The acceleration of technological progress in the global economy requires ongoing education and upgrading of skills. Canada’s universities and colleges continue to fulfill this role.
The nature of scientific research has changed over the past several years, becoming increasingly interdisciplinary, collaborative, international – and oriented to research outcomes. Recruitment and retention of skilled research personnel remains a challenge as Canada competes with other countries for these resources. Canada Research Chairs have attracted outstanding scientists to Canadian institutions; a stimulating research environment and competitive grant support is the key to retaining them. This should include support to optimize the use of new research facilities and infrastructure.
Research performing sectors have different, though complementary, missions:
• public sector research for standards and regulation, public services, policy development, national security issues and national databases;
• academic research to advance knowledge in fundamental and applied areas, to educate and train, and to provide information for standard setting and policy strategies;
• industrial research for developing new products, adapting to changing resource conditions, advancing commercial development and market share.
Strength and balance is required across all sectors.
Science advice to government
Canada must constantly look ahead to the ‘over the horizon’ opportunities and challenges: funding of a solid research base should be accompanied by resources for accelerated research in focused areas of national priority. The identification of research gaps, priorities and future trends requires mechanisms for independent advice to policymakers.
• Strengthen mechanisms for independent scientific advice to Government
Commercialization, venture capital and intellectual property
Information and insights from fundamental research feed entrepreneurial energy by providing opportunities for technological progress and market advantage. Fiscal and tax incentives encourage industrial investment in R&D, but Canada still faces challenges in stimulating industrial research and development. An outstanding science and technology infrastructure is an important factor in attracting foreign companies to invest in research here. Tax incentives can help ensure that laboratories are top of the line, well maintained and staffed by the required technical support. A strategy aimed at increasing industrial research thus must include measures to strengthen the scientific basis for innovation and new technology, as well as the uptake and use of results. Legislation can help ensure Canadian companies have ‘first to market’ advantage.
Federally funded research performed in government and higher education
Private sector companies are increasingly collaborating with the public and academic sectors through strategic alliances, research networks and partnerships. Faculty members also collaborate extensively with federal counterparts. This facilitates knowledge and technology transfer, and has numerous benefits – to students, to the universities, to the researchers and to policy and decision makers.
One of the most urgent issues our society must confront is how natural systems will respond to changing conditions. A substantial investment in fundamental research will allow better prediction of, and response to these changes.
International Polar Year has focused world attention on the need for proper archiving of, and access to scientific data, but this applies to other sectors as well: it is essential, for example, that Canada have ongoing records of environmental conditions in order to monitor the speed and extent of change and to stimulate the development of new technologies. The retention of records also provides a lasting legacy for comparative purposes and analysis.
• Reinvest in federal research infrastructure and science for the public good;
• Encourage the archiving of scientific data, as a legacy for comparative purposes and analysis and as a base for future development.
Big science projects and Canada’s position in global science and technology
Federal facilities require the technologies appropriate to a G-8 country, including state of the art equipment. For example, some research in engineering, pharmaceuticals, quantum chemistry, the financial sector, ocean and atmospheric studies and climate prediction requires supercomputing facilities. Canada currently lacks the processing speed and capacity available to its competitors and partners.
Canada must position itself to reap the benefits of globalization, in science as in other areas. The goal of world recognition and strategic international alliances is well served by supporting Canadian participation in international science programs, and encouraging Canadians to pursue leadership positions on their boards and scientific advisory bodies. Federal departments as well as the National Research Council support a number of international subscriptions, partnerships and bilateral agreements: PAGSE recommends a review of the support available, to ensure it is adequate to meet the international objectives of the S&T strategy.
The federal government has announced a major research facility in Canada’s north. The Arctic is vast: physical, biological, social and industrial conditions vary widely. PAGSE suggests a central hub to connect major existing and future research facilities in different regions of the north, thereby coordinating and providing administrative and other functions.
Big science facilities and collaborations are complex, costly, international in scope, have high visibility – and often serve multiple funding partners from different sectors. Sustained support will ensure optimal results from Canada’s big science research investments.
• Adopt a strategic approach to investments in big science initiatives and support for international science partnerships.