NRC president Stewart reappointed for another term

Veronica Silva
June 20, 2018

Iain Stewart, the current president of the National Research Council (NRC), has been reappointed for a term of five years. The reappointment – announced by Navdeep Bains, minister for Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada on June 20 -- will allow Stewart to continue to work on the federal agency’s transformation, called the NRC Dialogue, which was launched in 2016 after months of consultations within the NRC and with stakeholders.

The feds said that by continuing on beyond his first term, which is due to end on August 25, 2018, Stewart can contribute to government plans under Budget 2018, in which the NRC was earmarked for $148 million annually in new funding.

Stewart had notified staff that he would apply for the same post for which he was appointed in August 2016 to continue with his "re-imagining" of the organization that he describes as a “work in progress”. Stewart’s vision for the transformation of the NRC is expected to continue for another two years at least.

“On August 25, 2018, my special two-year mandate will come to an end. As a result, the process to select the President of the NRC for the next five years was initiated today. As per the standard process, recruitment of the President is being done through an open and competitive process, resulting in a Governor in Council Appointment,” said Stewart in the staff letter dated April 12, a copy of which was obtained by R$. “Given my commitment to the NRC and the work in progress, I look forward to the opportunity to apply for this upcoming five-year term.”

Bains and Science minister Kirsty Duncan, who gave Stewart marching orders in 2016 to advise the government on NRC’s future directions, recommitted their support for Stewart.

“We look forward to supporting Mr. Stewart as he helps our government deliver on our pledge to place research at the heart of our decision making. Under his guidance and leadership, the NRC will further its reputation for research excellence and collaboration,” said Duncan.

“Under his leadership, the NRC will continue to play a key role in helping to make Canada a world leader in innovation and research,” added Bains.

To which Stewart replied: “I am honoured to be appointed for a second term as President of the NRC. It is a privilege to work with the people of the NRC in support of the government’s priorities and to deepen our research excellence and collaborations with Canadian business, academic and government partners.”

Stewart’s initial appointment was announced shortly after the abrupt departure of his predecessor, John McDougall. The assessment, or the NRC Dialogue, had several elements such as identifying changes that can bring coherence and improvements to NRC activities and sagging staff morale, expressed in a couple of position papers by NRC staff outlining their concerns.

The appointment of the NRC president, who acts as CEO, is mandated under the National Research Council Act of 1985 which states that the president will be appointed by the Governor in Council to work for five years. When Stewart was named president in July 2016, no such open competition was set, eliciting various reactions solicited by R$ from the STI community at large.

Stewart is a veteran bureaucrat specializing in innovation policy and the management of large organizations. While he lacks a science education background, he has extensive experience developing S&T policy, having served with the Treasury Board of Canada and other government agencies, such as Industry Canada (where he helped to develop the 2002 and 2007 S&T strategies and led the secretariat that supported the Jenkins expert panel review), Transport Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. He also served as assistant VP for Research at Dalhousie Univ in 2009-10. He obtained his master’s in public administration and bachelor’s degree in political science from Dalhousie.

The job posting for the NRC presidency urged applicants to have “relevant field of study, such as science or engineering, or an acceptable combination of education, job-related training and/or experience” and that “an advanced degree in science or engineering would be considered an asset.” But the ideal candidate should also have “experience leading and/or supporting transitions or transformational change in an organization.” Stewart has made several key changes and additions to NRC’s direction and operations since he assumed the post and following the completion of the NRC Dialogue exercise, led by NRC’s secretary general Roger Scott-Douglas, who Stewart recruited from Treasury Board. Among these include jettisoning the horizontal platform structure implemented by McDougall and replacing it with research centres, hiring more high-caliber Postdoctoral Fellows and students and distributing $5 million to small- and mid-sized companies (SMEs) through NRC's Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP) for projects.

The NRC Dialogue includes plans that stretch beyond Stewart’s two-year term. By the end of 2018, the Dialogue plans to allot $20 million over three years to upgrade its computing and data storage infrastructure; establish a competitive post-doctoral pilot program, and more. There are also plans for the next two to four years, including establishing a chief science advisor for NRC, establishing a President's Research Excellence Committee and developing a five-year NRC strategic science and innovation plan.

Commenting on NRC’s role in the ecosystem, a policy analyst tells R$ that there are some “clear roles” for NRC that no other institutions can fill.

Adam Holbrook, associate director and adjunct professor of the Centre for Policy Research on Science and Technology of Simon Fraser Univ, says NRC’s IRAP is a successful tech transfer program. “IRAP is the longest running technology program in Canada. It has undergone many changes, but it is still there, and its clients see it as the go-to program,” he tells R$. “They should concentrate on what they do well.”

The program offers mentoring, funding, advisory services and youth employment. Under the NRC Dialogue, there are many plans for IRAP in the coming years, including enhancing R&D collaboration, exploring opportunities to consolidate smaller SME grants and contributions programs into IRAP, and developing a clear and accessible IRAP appeals process.

Holbrook says the NRC should continue to operate national and regional facilities, and fund and manage big and technically sophisticated projects.

The NRC, though, will be losing the IRAP Concierge to Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, which is consolidating similar programs, like the Accelerated Growth Service, under its wing. On the other hand, Budget 2018 allocated $150 million annually to IRAP and increased the size of projects IRAP is authorized to undertake from $1 million to $10 million.

The NRC job opportunity comes with a five-year term and a salary range of $259,900 - $305,700.

Review of the applications got underway May 3.

The new approach to GIC appointments was announced by the Liberals in 2016 to attract high-quality candidates and reflect Canada’s diversity.



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