A Brief Introduction

PAGSE is a cooperative association of more than 20 national organizations in Science and Engineering, representing over 50,000 individual scientists and engineers from academia, industry, and public service. Formed in June 1995 to represent the Canadian science and engineering community, PAGSE’s mandate is to educate and inform federal Parliamentarians, decision makers and other leaders of the importance and significance of Canadian research and innovation to economic development, and society as a whole. PAGSE is not a lobby group; we strive to be a helpful resource for access to research and innovation for the benefit of all Canadians. PAGSE became a non-profit organization in 2020.

See PAGSE’s current Board of Directors.

The History of PAGSE

Contributed by Howard Alper and Michael Dence

By 1995, Canada had an enormous debt crisis and massive budget cuts were implemented.  Many Government departments with research responsibilities shrank by 30% or more.  For the first time in Canadian history the three granting agencies were cut, overnight and several months later, by a total of 18%. This had a profound impact on the research community. In the next 6-24 months a substantial number of researchers moved to the U.S. and elsewhere creating a critical brain drain. Furthermore, as dollars for research shrank internecine warfare developed between biologists and chemists, chemists and physicists, medical researchers and scientists/engineers, and so on. This lack of unity frustrated efforts by Jon Gerrard, Secretary of State for Science, Research and Development, and other government ministers to develop a national science policy for Canada and create new opportunities for the research community by working in a collegial manner to develop new policies, initiatives, and solutions of benefit to our nation. Leadership by the research community was a matter of urgency.  A key principle was to establish an organization to educate and inform Canadians in government, industry, and academia on priority issues in an evidence-informed manner.

The leadership of the Academy of Science (Lawrence Mysak/Howard Alper/Michael Dence) of the Royal Society of Canada (RSC) convened a meeting of national science and technology organizations to discuss the noted subjects and other relevant matters. This meeting was held on Sunday, June 17, 1995, in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Ottawa, with the representatives from about two dozen societies/associations of national scope in attendance. The key outcome of the meeting was the foundation of what became the Partnership Group for Science and Engineering. The name of the organization was proposed by Howard Alper and accepted by the members. It was decided that this organization would initially be informal, under the auspices of the Academy of Science of the RSC. Membership could include commercial companies with similar research interests. It was not to serve as an advocacy or lobby group. Strict adherence to the latter resulted in high credibility for, and trust in, the nascent organization.

In 1996, Howard Alper took over as PAGSE Chair. During his tenure (1996 -1999) most of the modus operandi of PAGSE were developed.  In August 1995 Howard Alper and Rick Walter (BIOTECanada) represented PAGSE in meetings with senior government officials beginning with Secretary of State (Science, Research and Development) Jon Gerrard who was most interested in learning about the organization and how, through working in partnership with government, it could contribute to markedly enhancing economic development and the quality of life for all Canadians. A few weeks later, Industry Minister John Manley and two of his staff met with the two PAGSE representatives, engaging in stimulating discussions on what challenges and opportunities PAGSE could contribute.  We agreed that an ambitious research infrastructure program would empower our researchers to compete with the best of the best elsewhere. Follow-up discussions by government with other organizations, and the important contributions by the then Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (now Universities Canada) were fruitful, leading not only to erasing the earlier budget cuts to granting agencies but also to creating the Canada Foundation of Innovation (CFI) announced in the February, 1997 budget.

On November 24, 1996 in conjunction with the RSC-AGM, PAGSE held its first event, a symposium on “Science Highlights” in Ottawa. To develop new concepts for potential implementation to accelerate economic recovery and instigate greater competitiveness by our research community on a global basis, PAGSE, with strong support from Nortel and other industry members, commissioned a study on the economic benefits of research to Canada. An excellent symposium based on the report was followed by a lively discussion at Hart House, University of Toronto on October 16, 1997.  While this was a successful event, plans for further reports and symposia had to be modified after commercial support diminished following the unravelling of the high-tech industry a year or two later.  However annual symposia with NSERC support continued to be held on Parliament Hill and became a fruitful way of introducing outstanding young researchers from across Canada to politicians and policy issues. A particularly important and timely PAGSE symposium on “Science and technology as a vehicle for economic growth in Canada” took place at the National Press Club on September 28, 1999.

In 1998, in a further collaboration with NSERC, PAGSE revived the practice begun in the 1980s of prominent researchers making presentations to parliamentarians and other decision makers to highlight innovations in science and engineering. The earlier series had been organized by the Science Council of Canada, the RSC and other research organizations and were strongly supported by the speakers of the House and Senate, most prominently by Speaker John Fraser. For the most part they were half to full day affairs with parliamentarians coming and going as the style of presentation progressed. This series ended after the budget cuts in the early 1990s.  In 1997, PAGSE undertook consultations with different stakeholders, and consensus was reached that PAGSE would organize monthly presentations during breakfast whenever the House was in session, to showcase outstanding research by Canadians. As NSERC had been considering a similar initiative, it was agreed that PAGSE would appoint the Chair for the breakfast events and invite the speakers, who would be introduced by the President of NSERC or designate. After the presentation and Q&A, the speaker of the House of Commons, or designate, would thank the presenter(s).  At a PAGSE meeting, Jim Franklin proposed the name Bacon and Eggheads for this new program. Jim was the first chair for the program in 1998, and Deryn Fogg, a young female “rising star” scientist was chair for 1999-2009.  The first presentation was by Andrew Weaver who spoke on Global Climate Change on April 21,1998.   The program was enthusiastically received by Members of Parliament and other decision makers and has since been an integral part of PAGSE’s program. We are indebted to Minister John Manley who secured a room in the West Block of Parliament for these presentations.

A further PAGSE initiative starting in 2000 has been to respond to invitations by contributing pre-budget views to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance.  In addition members of PAGSE were invited by the Department of Industry to participate in meetings with distinguished foreign visitors.  In these and other ways, by 2000 PAGSE was successful in establishing itself as a reliable consensual source of objective, evidence-informed policy advice from the S & T research community.


About the Authors:

Howard Alper is spearheading the Global Excellence Initiative launched by former Governor General David Johnston, serving as Chair of the Canvassing Committee. Howard was Chair of the Government of Canada’s Science, Technology, and Innovation Council from 2007-2015, and Vice-President, Research at University of Ottawa from 1997 to 2006. He was Co-Chair of the InterAcademy Partnership (Global Network of Science Academies) from 2007 to 2013, and has received major awards (e.g. G. Herzberg Canada Gold Medal in Science and Engineering). 

Michael Dence specialized in the science of asteroid impact and planetary physics while a research scientist and division head in the Earth Physics Branch in what is now Natural Resources Canada. As Executive Director of the Royal Society of Canada, he participated in the rise of global change and interactions with parliamentarians that lead to the foundation of PAGSE. His awards include Fellowship in several international societies and the Barringer Medal of the Meteoritical Society.