What are Ottawa’s innovation priorities? For now, the answer seems to be ‘everything’

By Sebastian Leck

Sebastian Leck is the managing editor of Research Money.

Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry François-Philippe Champagne finally received his mandate letter last month — and with it came a very long list of to-do items.

As Research Money’s Mark Lowey reported, he’s been given more than 30 tasks, including leading the implementation of the Net Zero Accelerator Initiative, creating a moonshot fund for vaccines, introducing new privacy legislation, reviving Canada’s traditionally strong industries, developing critical minerals resources, launching a national quantum strategy, establishing a Canadian advanced research agency, strengthening surveillance of public health threats, establishing a digital policy task force and many more items. (The full list is far longer than can be repeated here.)

From there, it’s hard to pin down what this government considers its biggest priorities. The transition towards clean energy and net-zero greenhouse gas emissions is a clear frontrunner, as is public health research and innovation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The new Canadian Advanced Research Agency (CARPA) will be a major undertaking, and the Standing Committee on Industry and Technology is holding meetings this week to study the issue of critical minerals.

Research Money has been covering Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) as it begins implementing Champagne’s new mandate. This month, senior correspondent Lindsay Borthwick covered a major announcement of $144 million over six years to large-scale, interdisciplinary research projects through the New Frontiers in Research Fund Transformation stream. Despite the fanfare, there was no new funding, and observers will have to wait until the 2022 Budget for indications that Canada is boosting its R&D spending.

This week saw the launch of a new Earth Observation strategy, an indication that Ottawa is developing Canada’s vision for space. We’re also keeping an eye out for commissioned studies from the Council of Canadian Academies, including a report earlier this month that found that Canada lacks the data it needs to respond to extreme weather events (ISED has commissioned an upcoming report on the health and science misinformation, and the NRC has another one coming on AI for science and engineering).

As the Liberal government pursues its ambitions for Canadian science and technology in the coming months, Research Money will be watching for the impact on the innovation ecosystem, and all of the players in it.