Invest in people, Science and Research Committee recommends

Tim Lougheed
June 8, 2022

The House of Commons Standing Committee on Science and Research, chaired by the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, has submitted its first report to Parliament. The Committee was charged with studying the successes, challenges, and opportunities presented by science in Canada, which resulted in a number of recommendations addressing the way in which scientific objectives are defined and the complex administrative structure that supports this work.

The committee heard from representatives of various research bodies — including TRIUMF, Genome Canada, SNOLAB, and the Canadian Light Source — about major accomplishments in recent years, especially with respect to addressing the major public health threat of Covid-19. At the same time, the pandemic was blamed for major interruptions in many research initiatives, which were forced to suspend much of their activity for extended periods.

The report also details Canada’s steady decline in gross expenditures on research and development over the past two decades, which lags behind most G7 countries and only slightly exceeds the OECD average. This prompted subsequent discussions before the Committee about strategic options to address this shortcoming, including a simplification of what was deemed to be a complex ecosystem for organizing and funding this work.

Committee members specifically asked Michael Strong, President of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, about Quebec’s unification of its three granting councils in 2011. He said the move has made it possible to adopt more broadly based policy measures, such as an emphasis on open science to promote wider sharing of valuable findings within the research community.

The principle of such sharing informed the Committee’s first formal recommendation, which was the creation of a pan-Canadian health research data repository, which would include participation from the federal and provincial governments. A second recommendation suggested that the three federal research granting councils should be more closely integrated in their programming, so that they could align their respective policies and strengthen collaboration.

While the Committee recommended increasing the budgets of the three councils, it also suggested an increase in the amounts paid to graduate students for scholarships and fellowships, including matching these increases to the consumer price index. This recommendation echoed an emphasis on making investments in the people who participate in science, so that they — and Canada — can compete globally in their respective disciplines.

“As a number of witnesses pointed out, ‘fundamentally, investing in research is about investing in people,’” states the report, which cites Chief Science Advisor of Canada Mona Nemer’s insistence that if the country wants to retain young people in these fields, it must present genuine career opportunities to them.

“They're not all going to go to universities,” she told the Committee. “In fact, even the majority of Ph.D.s don't end up being university professors. What we need to have more of in the country are science-based industries and a science-based economy. Just because we are rich in natural resources doesn't mean we can't do it. In fact, many of the latest technologies, whether AI, robotics or quantum, can have an amazing effect on our sectors, whether it's agriculture, natural resources or even mining.”


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