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Making Research and Innovation Work to Canada’s Advantage

Statement to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance by
The Canadian Institutes of Health Research
The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada
The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada
September 26, 2007

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) are federal arm's-length organizations created by separate Acts of Parliament. Their role is to invest in the best research in the country and in the nation’s brightest minds.

CIHR is the Government of Canada’s agency for health research. Its mission is to create new scientific knowledge and to catalyze its translation into improved health, more effective health services and products, and a strengthened Canadian health-care system. Composed of 13 institutes, CIHR provides leadership and support to more than 11,000 health researchers and trainees across Canada.

NSRC works to make Canada a country of discoverers and innovators for the benefit of all Canadians. The agency invests in people by supporting some 25,000 university students and postdoctoral fellows in their advanced studies. NSERC promotes discovery by funding more than 11,000 university professors every year and helps make innovation happen by encouraging over 1,400 Canadian companies to invest in university research and training.

SSHRC funded research builds understanding about people, societies and institutions. It fuels innovative thinking and evidence-based approaches to societal issues including the economy, education, health care, the environment, immigration, globalization, language, peace and security, human rights, law, ethics and religion. SSHRC’s investments in research training help build the skills and know-how of people who contribute to every sector of the economy and every facet of life in Canada. Its strategies focus on generating research of the highest standards, facilitating partnerships and connections, and increasing the impact of research.

Introduction

Healthy...

Currently, more than two million Canadians have diabetes and the numbers keep rising. Results of the CIHR-funded trial known as DREAM, led by Drs. Hertzel Gerstein and Salim Yusuf from McMaster University, found the drug Rosiglitazone reduced the chance of getting diabetes by 60 per cent. The results offer hope for new strategies for preventing and delaying the onset of diabetes and its devastating complications.

Through its new S&T Strategy, Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada’s Advantage, the Government of Canada has committed to maintaining Canada’s G-7 leadership in public sector R&D performance. For Canada to be successful, we must excel both in the generation of new knowledge and in capturing the full economic, social, cultural and health benefits of that knowledge for Canadians. Canada already has a high reputation for research excellence in a number of areas. The S&T Strategy builds on existing strengths, focusing efforts in areas where Canada can achieve global excellence, to make a real impact on the lives of Canadians and in the marketplace. CIHR, NSERC and SSHRC strongly support the government’s commitment to excellence in research and the development of talent in all disciplines. The Strategy also underlines the value of the peer review process used by the three funding agencies to ensure excellence, transparency and fairness in the allocation of public funds for research.

Our agencies have been assigned an important role in Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada’s Advantage. We are committed to achieving its goals and meeting its commitments. For the strategy to succeed, we need to maintain Canada’s competitive edge in research and innovation. We also need to ensure the right balance of investments in all the components of our post-secondary research and training system to ensure that they are healthy, complementary and working to Canada’s advantage.

In the context of current discussions about taxation and the levels and types of public goods provided by countries, it is appropriate to discuss the conditions that will lead to wealth and create a high quality of life for all Canadians.

Maintaining Canada’s Competitive Edge in Research and Innovation

Innovative...

A team led by Université de Sherbrooke professor Louis Taillefer have made a giant leap forward in the understanding of high-temperature superconductors, using uniquely pure crystals produced at the University of British Columbia. This NSERC-supported discovery brings scientists one step closer to the goal of creating room-temperature superconductors, which could lead to truly revolutionary technology for power transmission, levitating trains, magnetic medical imaging, wireless communications and quantum computing.

Research is a key foundation for Canada to remain globally competitive and to sustain a high quality of life. Virtually all aspects of Canadian society and economy are affected by advances in research. Research helps develop competitive products and penetrate new markets. It helps make businesses more efficient, communities safer, populations healthier and children better educated. It helps governments develop policies and regulations that affect the daily lives of Canadians, to improve our institutions, and to intervene efficiently on the world stage. The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada has estimated that, with a total investment of less than $10 billion, the impact of university R&D on GDP was $50 billion in 2004.

University researchers create the understanding and discoveries that drive innovation; they represent a tremendous human and knowledge capital. This rich capital of people and ideas is essential to conduct world-class research, to access the knowledge created elsewhere, to adopt and adapt new technologies, and to generate the knowledge and discoveries required to deal with complex social and economic challenges.

Sustaining a research capacity of the highest standard is also critical to training the people needed to fuel our knowledge-intensive economy. The vast majority of jobs created in Canada in the past 15 years have been for people with postsecondary degrees and the fastest growing occupations are for those with the highest levels of education. Our students acquire their skills by studying in environments where competitive research is conducted. CIHR, NSERC and SSHRC help nurture the strong research environment that allows students to acquire their skills from the best researchers and to become the next generation of leaders and innovators in universities, businesses and organizations in every sector of our economy.

The primary concern of CIHR, NSERC and SSHRC in the current context is to ensure the sustained quality and international competitiveness of Canada’s research environment. In the face of growing societal demand for new ideas and innovations, of massive faculty renewal at Canadian universities, of the influx of a new generation of researchers who are highly competitive in research, of the growing cost of conducting internationally competitive research, and of the international competition for the best researchers, the time is ripe to capitalize on Canada’s capacity through the federal granting agencies.

In the longer term, we must focus our efforts on ensuring that our higher education R&D system generates optimal research performance and maximum benefits for Canadians. The federal government supports higher education research activity through several agencies and programs that cover the direct costs of research, research infrastructure, support for researchers and capacity development, and the indirect costs of research. The level of investment in any of these components has important effects on other parts of the system. We, therefore, need to ensure that an adequate proportion of resources is invested in each component so that the system is balanced and performs well.

Our agencies fully support the Government’s S&T Strategy commitment to improve value for money for its investments by taking a more comprehensive approach to the management of the funding envelope used to support higher education R&D. Over the coming months, we will commission a thorough, objective examination of this issue in collaboration with partners such as the Canada Foundation for Innovation, in order to provide advice to the government.

Mobilizing Our Efforts to Implement the S&T Strategy

Competitive...

Paul Messinger at the University of Alberta tried to understand why Canadian retailers were not keeping pace with Americans in internet retailing. His SSHRC-supported research on online success helped businesses understand the vital importance of real-time aids in site navigation and decision-making, developed new tools to benchmark website performance and improve online product recommendations, and proposed policy options to help Canada avoid the boom-bust cycle of the internet business.

Following the release of the S&T Strategy, the presidents of NSERC, CIHR and SSHRC released a joint statement on May 23 expressing their commitment to strengthening collective efforts to address the knowledge, people and entrepreneurial advantages identified in the S&T Strategy.

Together, our agencies will lead or will be involved significantly in delivering on 18 of the 35 policy commitments articulated in the Strategy. The wide range and versatility of CIHR’s, NSERC’s and SSHRC’s activities enable them to be effective delivery instruments under all three of the Strategy’s entrepreneurial, knowledge and people advantages. In moving forward, our agencies will continue to work closely with the research community, governments and industry to look at new and better ways of delivering on the promise of research and on the commitments in the S&T Strategy.

Under the entrepreneurial advantage, the focus of our activities will be to strengthen public-private research and commercialization partnerships. Well underway are the implementation of new business-led Networks of Centres of Excellence, Centres of Excellence in Commercialization and Research, CIHR and NSERC commercialization programming, and the expansion of the College and Community Innovation program. These initiatives will respond to private sector priorities in areas where Canada can excel and will help translate new knowledge into practical applications to improve the wealth, health and quality of life of Canadians.

Under the knowledge advantage, the agencies are implementing new and innovative measures to mobilize research efforts and to make optimal use of the additional funds allocated in Budget 2007. The new funds will support world-class research excellence in key areas of national interest—energy; environment; health; information and communications technologies; and management, business and finance—and will enhance social, environmental and economic opportunities for Canada. More needs to be done to ensure that higher education institutions can compete with the best in the world and participate in international networks. CIHR, NSERC and SSHRC have each developed strategies to further international research activities and are working to harmonize their plans and actions on this front.

Under the people advantage, additional scholarships will greatly contribute to improving Canada’s production of graduates with advanced degrees. Our agencies are also working together, through their joint NCE Secretariat, to implement research internships that expose more students to the private sector and that encourage more firms to hire S&T graduates. Such internships have a record of success and more can be done to offer recent graduates a sustained experience that can launch their career in Canadian industry and spur Canadian firms to hire more graduates with advanced degrees.

Conclusion

CIHR, NSERC and SSHRC results to date provide clear evidence that research and innovation are critical to Canada’s competitiveness, prosperity and success. Our agencies believe that increased investments in research are needed to maintain Canada’s competitive edge and to provide the rich research environment needed to reap the full benefits of Canada’s investments in infrastructure and talent. We also believe that we must strike a balance among the components of the higher education R&D system in order to maximize the impact of all of these investments.

Our agencies welcome the trust that the government has placed in their ability to implement the S&T Strategy. We will act swiftly and synergistically to ensure that meeting the policy commitments entrusted to us in the S&T Strategy becomes part of our strong record of achievement.

People Discovery Innovation