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Overheard at the Standing Committee on Science and Research

The Standing Committee on Science and Research (SRSR) is now in session. We will continue to share updates on the Committee’s activities, so be sure to bookmark this page and check back soon.
Overheard at the Standing Committee on Science and Research

What is the Standing Committee on Science and Research?
Earlier this year, the Honourable Member of Parliament (MP) Kirsty Duncan (LPC) put forward a motion, titled M-38, to create a new Standing Committee on Science and Research. The motion received unanimous support from all Members of Parliament (MP), and called on the House of Commons to:

“(i) recognize that science and research are of critical importance to all Canadians, including, but not limited to, improving the health of Canadians, improving the environment, driving innovation and economic growth, and improving the quality of life of Canadians, (ii) recognize that science and research are more important than ever, as the economic, environmental and social challenges we face are greater, (iii) affirm its commitment to science, research and evidence-informed decision-making.”

With Canada’s 44th session of Parliament now underway, this new Standing Committee is also underway. So far, the mandate “includes, among other matters, reviewing and reporting on all matters relating to science and research, including any reports of the Chief Science Advisor, and any other matter which the House refers to the standing committee.”

Members of the new committee are as follows: Tony Baldinelli (CPC), Maxime Blanchette-Joncas (Bloc Québécois, Vice-Chair), Valerie Bradford (LPC), Richard Cannings (NDP), Chad Collins (LPC), Lena Metlege Diab (LPC), Kirsty Duncan (LPC, Chair), Mike Lake (CPC), Stéphane Lauzon (LPC), Ron McKinnon (LPC), Gerald Soroka (CPC) and Corey Tochor (CPC, Vice-Chair).

You can find the Standing Committee’s upcoming meetings and completed work here.

We will continue to provide updates on what we overhear at the Standing Committee on Science and Research (#EyesOnSRSR). Keep scrolling for updates!

Meeting 1
(Tuesday, 14 December 2021)


  • Members approved the selection of a Chair (Kirsty Duncan) and two Vice-Chairs (Corey Tochor and Maxime Blanchette-Joncas).
  • Next, members approved a series of routine procedural motions, including the creation of a Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure, and approving the time available for witness testimony and questioning. To note: witnesses will be allocated five minutes for their opening statements.
    • The remainder of the meeting involved open discussion on expectations from committee members. Here is a summary of key points raised:
      • Members have a few key issues in mind already: Ron McKinnon spoke to investigating the “state of the art in different areas of science” (such as fusion technology, quantum computing, and stem cells), and surveying “where we need to put our scientific expertise in this country, so that eventually we can make recommendations to the Parliament on how to proceed.” Stéphane Lauzon emphasized a need to increase access for rural regions by taking advantage of any technology or research related to communications, energy and transport, such as 5G technology, smart transport, robotics and green energy.
      • Some members expressed a desire to pursue a broader focus: Richard Cannings noted that “it would be fun to go off in all directions” but that “we should be aware that this is the science and research committee.” Cannings proposed a focus on fundamental and applied sciences, and to start off with a “broad study to teach us all about where Canada does well…look at those successes, and also look at the challenges where science could use some help from the government.” The latter broad point was later echoed by Valerie Bradford. Maxime Blanchette-Joncas noted that Canada is the only G7 country to reduce investments in research and development, and the only G7 country to not produce COVID-19 vaccines. Blanchette-Joncas also pointed out that the Fundamental Science Review has already put forward recommendations since 2017, and pointed to lessons to be learned from Québec. Mike Lake noted that the general interest of Canadians should be kept in mind, such as addressing the lack of clarity around Canada’s COVID-19 response, and that it’s not all about money — researchers also “want to see their research actually being used for meaningful action on behalf of the Canadians they are working with.”
      • Science communication made an appearance in the discussion: Lena Metlege Diab said that we “need to shine a light on our strong research sector and to help to tell the story in our own communities, our own backyards, in our own provinces, but also to the media and to everybody of the hard-working scientists and research that is going on across the country.”
      • Funding was raised as a critical issue: Maxime Blanchette-Joncas’ meetings with scientists have clarified that despite the government’s investment in science, it has not been enough to fill “the gap that has been dug in recent years.” Blanchette-Joncas says that “we will have to assess whether funding currently is fair, given the talent and potential that exists here in Canada.” Blanchette-Joncas remarked that there are competent scientists who have not been able to access funding due to the equity, diversity and inclusion criteria set out by the Government of Canada. Blanchette-Joncas said he is planning to table a motion to address this matter, and believes that the effect of these criteria on research should be examined.
      • Facts and evidence were mentioned a few times: Mike Lake noted that “if we’ve learned anything over the last couple of years, it’s that we’re in a world where ‘information’ is everywhere, and there’s a lack of clarity on what information is actually evidence-based.” Similarly, Corey Tochor stated that their hope was that this would not become a partisan committee, and that “facts are kind of facts — they don’t care what your political leanings are.”


Meeting 2
(Tuesday, February 1, 2022)


  • The Standing Committee met in camera (i.e., not public, generally to address administrative matters). In total, 11 members were present.
  • Per minutes, the Standing Committee decided to pursue three studies (which will include no less than four meetings, and will hear from witnesses), in the following order:
    • A study on successes, challenges and opportunities for science in Canada: This will involve developing “recommendations as to how to improve the current state of science research nationally.”
    • A study of how to attract and retain top talent, research and innovation: This will include exploring strategies to retain talent at “Canadian universities, colleges, and trade schools, and [to] support research and innovation.” The Standing Committee will also “request that the government provide a comprehensive response.”
    • A study to explore small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs), and what benefits it may offer the environment and economy in Canada: This will include the impacts of SMRs on climate change, domestic supply chains and Canadian-based manufacturing, as well as contributions to Canadian science, and opportunities for global export.

Meeting 3
(Tuesday, February 8, 2022 )

Recording* | Minutes)

*A portion of the recording is missing, specifically some of the questioning of Runte and Nemer as witnesses.

  • In this meeting, the Standing Committee called on witnesses to begin the study on successes, challenges and opportunities for science in Canada. Each witness provided opening remarks, and then received questions from present MPs.
  • The witness list was as follows:
    • Roseann O’Reilly Runte (Canada Foundation for Innovation’s President)
    • Mona Nemer (Chief Science Advisor)
    • John Pomeroy (Distinguished Professor and Canada Research Chair, University of Saskatchewan)
    • Gilles Patry (Executive Director, U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities)
    • Vivek Goel (President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Waterloo)
  • Here are some of the key points raised during the witnesses’ opening remarks:
    • Roseann O’Reilly Runte explained that the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI) is an arms-length not-for-profit organization which has been investing on behalf of the government in 40% of the total costs of infrastructure projects. Since its creation in 1997, CFI has committed $9 billion for over 12,000 projects, at 170 research institutions, in 80 municipalities across the country. Runte noted that “we must do more than collaborate internationally.” Her suggestions included developing a supply chain that goes from “ideas and discovery, to manufacturing and commercialization”, fostering research through competition and collaboration, and creating opportunities for convergence among disciplines, and across the country. Runte also stated that “57% of young adults believe it is critical for Canadian politicians and governments to rely on science when making policy decisions.”
    • Mona Nemer: Since 2017, the Office of the Chief Science Advisor has led several efforts, such as developing a roadmap for Open Science and a model Scientific Integrity Policy. Nemer noted that Canada’s relative spending on R&D has declined over the past two decades, and accounts for a relatively small share of the world’s research output on promising technology development. Nemer noted key lessons from the pandemic: the importance of home-grown research and manufacturing, and the power generated when government, business, academia and civil society work collaboratively to advance science-based solutions.
    • John Pomeroy noted Canada’s dependence on universities for research, and that this is a risk as “we lack the long-term means to sustain our national prominence in research areas.” Unlike Canada, in the UK and US, there are centers and institutes that bring together researchers from different sectors, and sustain long-term research objectives. Pomeroy stated that he works on issues of climate and water, and to do so, he and his colleagues have established six different research networks across the country with five different agencies. Pomeroy referred to this as being an “acronym surfer” — it is precarious, inefficient and is a great worry. Pomeroy’s suggestions included building cooperative institutes to bring together sectors, regions and communities to sustain long-term interests, big science and global preeminence in strategic areas of benefit to Canada.
    • Gilles Patry noted that members of the U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities are responsible for 78% of research in Canada, 81% of patents and 70% of PhDs. Pastry emphasized that innovation is about people, and builds on basic curiosity-driven research to make things better for the benefit of society. Patry noted a number of challenges, including increasing competition for talent recruitment, that “Canada has a serious research funding deficit, when compared to the period between 2002 and 2008”, and that Canada ranks 28th in the OECD when it comes to the share of Master’s and PhD degrees. Patry’s suggestions included investing in the granting councils, to be globally competitive in order to attract the best minds, and that research is all about the people, as “close to 80% of research funding goes to support students and postdoctoral fellows.”
    • Vivek Goel noted that we only have to look at Canada’s pandemic response to see the return on investment in science. Goel said that stable research funding is critical, but so are stable research programs. He noted that new programs are constantly created, with legitimate desires, but the design of the program often misses the importance of fundamental research, and that we all too often jump to commercialization as the only means of impact. Goel noted that for commercialization to be successful, we need receptors, but this is difficult as the business investment in R&D is very low. Here, the University of Waterloo has developed examples of how this can work, from quantum to robotics.
  • Here are some of the key points raised during the witness questioning period:
    • Several MPs asked what Canada should do to keep up globally when it comes to science and research, and referred issues such as brain drain, outstanding recommendations from the Fundamental Science Review, and lagging business R&D expenditures:
      • Runte noted that we must invest in young researchers, as well as in cutting edge research for the future. This includes smaller institutions too, so that young people everywhere have an opportunity.
      • Nemer said a rough target for Canada’s investment could be above the average of similar countries, be it the G7 or OECD. In response to Ryan Williams‘ (CPC) question about whether Canada needs not only a CARPA, but a US-style earth-shot initiative too, Nemer stated that we should have moonshot projects based on our needs, capacities, and competitive advantage, and to go after it in a determined and systematic way.
      • Patry outlined a number of actions, including investments in fundamental research (beyond inflation), tripling federal graduate scholarships (with the targeting of disciplines and/or specific demographics), and for the three federal granting agencies, the CFI, and even Genome Canada, to work in a more coordinated manner. Patry also noted that business R&D expenditure has been a long-standing issue, and that actions, such as direct investments or one-off funding, may be a potential alternative to the current SR&ED credits. Patry outlined three elements to activate industrial research: to invest in areas where there is expertise in Canada, to make sure these are significant markets, and to make sure Canada can take advantage of these investments.
      • Goel stated that a starting point to address brain drain is that we have to create more opportunities for graduates to stay in Canada. Goel also suggested that we need to ensure that the things we invest in have stable and continuous funding, and to look at the coordination between the different programs, and disparate funding streams.
  • Maxime Blanchette-Joncas (Bloc) pointed out that there was no Chief Science Advisor (CSA) role for at least a decade, and asked whether this position should be enshrined in legislation, like in Quebec? Nemer said the pandemic has illustrated that the CSA role is an important one, and that most big countries have such a position. Nemer’s deepest wish is to have a science advisory system like in the UK or US, where systems that have been well-established. Nemer said that it is up to Parliamentarians to enshrine the position in law, and that it would be welcome news for both the science community, and globally.

Meeting 4
(Thursday, February 10, 2022)

Recording | Minutes

  • In this meeting, the Standing Committee continued to call on witnesses to study successes, challenges and opportunities for science in Canada. Each witness provided opening remarks, and then received questions from present MPs.
  • Following witness questioning, the Standing Committee met in camera (i.e., not public, generally to address administrative matters). Per minutes, the Standing Committee decided to “consider the themes of government science, research during the pandemic, big science, and emerging opportunities.”
  • The witness list was as follows:
    • Robert Myers (Director, Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics)
    • Sylvain Charbonneau (Vice-President, Research and Innovation, University of Ottawa)
    • Angela Bedard-Haughn (Dean and Professor, College of Agriculture and Bioresources, University of Saskatchewan)
  • Here are some of the key points raised during the witnesses’ opening remarks:
    • Robert Myers: The Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics is an independent research center devoted to theoretical physics research, training and outreach. Myers noted that in just 20 years, Perimeter has increased Canada’s international standing in physics, trained over 1,000 researchers, and reached tens of thousands of students and teachers. Myers says that the key factor for success has been talent, saying that “we’ve always been uncompromising in recruiting at the very highest levels.”
    • Sylvain Charbonneau stated that Canada’s research excellence is world-class, but that more is needed to propel Canada to the forefront. Charbonneau noted two statistics — that between 2014 and 2018: (1) the number of full-time researchers per million inhabitants declined by 4.8% in Canada, but increased by 4.9% in the US, 9% in the UK, and a full 20% in Germany; and (2) 32 countries increased spending on R&D, but Canada was not one of these countries. Charbonneau sees these statistics as opportunities for not only government, but for academia and private sectors too. He emphasized that talent is the prize currency, and Canada’s universities hold the key to unlocking the potential of the next generation of highly skilled talent.
    • In opening remarks, Angela Bedard-Haughn shared various successes and opportunities in research related to natural resources, agriculture and climate adaptation. Bedard-Haughn noted that in the Prairies, researchers and the agriculture industry are already part of the climate change solution, but “we are willing and able to do more, but we need the infrastructure, support systems and funding in place to do the necessary research, and the policy to translate it into action.”
  • Here are some of the key points raised during the witness questioning period:
    • In response to Tony Baldinelli’s (CPC) question asked what can be done to better facilitate research, Charbonneau noted that it takes a village to bring research to commercial success, and one of the challenges is related to the SR&ED tax credit, given decreasing business R&D expenditure. Bedard-Haughn pointed to the issue of needing to optimize the use of shared infrastructure, and Myers emphasized that secure and ongoing funding is key.
    • In response to Lena Diab’s (LPC) question about what factors influence the attraction and retention of researchers in universities, Charbonneau said that the “talent will go wherever the investments are”, noting that with COVID-19, it has been very hard to attract international talent.
    • In response to Richard Cannings’ (NDP) question about collaborations, Bedard-Haughn noted current strengths in Canada, but that this can be made simpler, from sharing infrastructure to making it smoother to share resources. Charbonneau pointed out that Canada is “just too small” to not collaborate.
      In response to a question by Ryan Williams’ (CPC) question about Canada’s potential in quantum, Myers said that “it’s important to double down and bet on the excellence that we have here because of past investments, but it’s also an opportunity to collaborate” across the country, and with global players.
      In response to a question by Ryan Williams’ (CPC) question about how to turn Canada into an agricultural world-leader in innovation and food processing, Bedard-Haughn said that we need to continue to invest in the foundational science, explore by-products, and what it would take to turn this into something useful that could be used in materials or manufacturing.
      In response to a question by Jenna Sudds (LPC) about the progress and challenges involved in retaining and attracting women and diverse researchers in STEM, Charbonneau said that in certain disciplines, Canada is doing extremely well, but in STEM, there is added complexity. The pool of talent becomes increasingly smaller, said Charbonneau, referring to the need for bilingualism at the University of Ottawa. He referred to the equity targets introduced by the Canada Research Chairs as an example of progress, but that there is so much more to be done across universities.

Meeting 5
(Tuesday, February 15, 2022)

Recording | Minutes

  • In this meeting, the Standing Committee continued to call on witnesses to study successes, challenges and opportunities for science in Canada. Each witness provided opening remarks, and then received questions from present MPs.
  • The witness list was as follows:
    • Alejandro Adem (President, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council)
    • Ted Hewitt (President, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council)
    • Dominique Bérubé (Vice-President, Research, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council) [Did not appear]
      Michael J. Strong (President, Canadian Institutes of Health Research)
    • David Naylor (Professor, University of Toronto) [Appearing as an individual]
    • Tim Kenyon (Vice-President, Research, Brock University)
    • Karen Mossman (Vice-President, Research, McMaster University)
    • Gerry Wright (Director, Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research, and Lead, Canada’s Global Nexus for Pandemics and Biological Threats, McMaster University)
  • Here are some of the key points raised during the witnesses’ opening remarks:
    • Michael J. Strong noted that the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) was the first national agency in the world to launch an open call for COVID-19 research. Since then, CIHR has continued to invest in COVID-19-related research, as well as investigator-initiated research at full funding levels. Strong outlined broad potential actions to support science in Canada, including supporting excellence, strengthening investigator-initiated research, enhancing collaboration and harmonization across the federal funding agencies, and targeting research to help healthcare partners.
    • Alejandro Adem shared that since 1978, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) has played a critical role in supporting research, as well as creative public outreach activities to increase science literacy. Adem shared a number of examples of how NSERC supports research across Canada.
    • Ted Hewitt noted that Canada’s science system rests on three key pillars which are critical to its stability and success: 1) the research, the projects and the execution; 2) the researchers, including the new talent; and 3) the research tools, which includes the buildings, infrastructure and the equipment. “Could the system be strengthened? Absolutely,” said Hewitt, highlighting priorities such as multi-disciplinarity, barriers to equity, advancing reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, as well as Indigenous research capacity and training. Hewitt noted that especially in the humanities and social sciences, “we are well positioned to build the Canada that we want and need for today, and tomorrow.”
    • David Naylor emphasized that ultimately, science is about people, about investing in equity and excellence, and equipping the next, and subsequent, generations to lead and make a difference in Canada, and the world. Naylor noted that the bar has been raised globally when it comes to investing in science, and that Canada has to meet it, and surpass in the years ahead.
    • Tim Kenyon raised an incomplete recommendation (4.7) from the Fundamental Science Review about major research facilities, and stated that Canada needs a carefully considered implementation of national science and research facilities. Kenyon also spoke about small science, and pointed out that at least half of publicly-funded university researchers work at universities considered medium-sized or smaller. Kenyon encouraged “find[ing] ways to leverage the capacity of small to medium-sized research universities, at least in part by ensuring that their virtues are counted as virtues, and that they are appropriately resourced for that work.”
    • Karen Mossman shared a new model deployed at McMaster University to remove barriers and boundaries to research: Canada’s Global Nexus for Pandemics and Biological Threats. Mossman noted that through research, we can keep Canada competitive, and that we need to be creative to retain and attract researchers. Mossman asked the federal government to partner and accelerate this unique platform, which has the potential to advance the rapid development of therapeutics and train the much-needed highly qualified personnel.
  • Here are some of the key points raised during the witness questioning period:
    • In response to questions from Ryan Williams (CPC) about how to drive innovation (without heavy dependence on federal funding) and solutions to bridge the commercialization valley of death, Strong pointed to the biomanufacturing and science initiatives that are being built as we emerge from the pandemic, and the need to sustain it in the long-term. Strong said that it is important to ensure funding is in place, but also to develop a deeper association with industry to understand what is needed by industry to ensure that the ideas brought forward are operational.
    • In response to questions from Lena Diab (LPC) and Richard Cannings (NDP) about the support for trainees and early career researchers, Adem said that people are indeed at the core of what we do, and that it is important to offer competitive stipends and support students adequately. He noted that primarily, three quarters of the research funding from NSERC goes to people (i.e., researchers and trainees). Adem flagged that it is a combination of resources that is used to fulfill student funding, including federal funding and teaching assistantships, but recognizes that this is a “stress point.”
    • In response to Maxime Blanchette-Joncas’ (Bloc) question about whether Québec’s research funding model is one to consider for a national scale, Strong acknowledged that there is close discussion and collaboration with Québec’s Chief Scientist, Rémi Quirion. Adem noted that Canada is a large country, with different points of view across different provinces. Hewitt added that the three different federal funding agencies are managed by one group. “At the end of the day, we have a system that is similar to the Québec system, but has advantages that allows us to support various communities in Canada,” said Hewitt.
    • In response to Maxime Blanchette-Joncas’ (Bloc) question about why SSHRC receives a smaller proportion of funding compared to NSERC and CIHR, Hewitt explained that the funding split is higher (it is 22-38-38), but he will persist in discussions with the government to increase this proportion, and the overall amount available for the three federal funding agencies.
    • The issue of fundamental research was raised in the question period:
      • Adem noted that “blue skies research is essential” and that “everything comes from an idea […] with fundamental research, we do not choose the winners.” Adem noted that in community consultations, we inevitably hear that fundamental research is the bedrock of Canadian science.
      • Naylor said that the whole point of having a broad ranging investment in fundamental science is to “let the winners emerge, not only through the process of peer review, but in the broader marketplace of ideas, inventions and discoveries.” Naylor stated that if we make a sustained, broad investment, this will unfold well.
      • During questioning, the federal funding agency presidents spoke about various initiatives, including coordination by the Canada Research Coordinating Committee, the NSERC Discovery Grants program, the New Frontiers in Research Fund, and the equity targets introduced by the Canada Research Chairs.
      • Naylor received multiple questions about the recommendations in the 2017 Fundamental Science Review (FSR). In brief:
        • Tony Baldinelli (CPC) asked Naylor about the recommendations to create a National Advisory Council on Research and Innovation (NACRI), and a Canada Research Coordinating Committee (CRCC). Naylor said that while the CRCC has made progress, it is still worth exploring whether the current CRCC structure is coordinating as well as hoped. Naylor said that part of the reason the FSR had recommended a second oversight body was to provide a second opinion on how things were evolving, and that innovation was linked to science and research. Naylor also acknowledged that recommendation 4.11 (to harmonize the legislation for the federal funding agencies) remains unresolved.
        • Maxime Blanchette-Joncas (Bloc) asked Naylor about whether in the aftermath of the Fundamental Science Review, government actions have been sufficient to help Canada catch up on research and innovation in the last few decades. Naylor acknowledged that he has been a part of a few government reports, and that “your batting average is never 100%. There will be some recommendations that stick, and others that don’t.” He noted various successes, and that now, at the five-year mark, it is time to reconsider what investments we need to make. “Now, we need to get back to basics, and think about how to support a broad range of disciplines, and institutions, of all types and sizes, and to lift all boats, as best we can,” said Naylor. Naylor flagged outstanding recommendations that would be a nice-to-have, such as recommendation 4.7 (major research facilities) and 4.11 (reviewing legislation for the federal funding agencies).
        • In a second question from Maxime Blanchette-Joncas (Bloc) about investments in research, Naylor noted that the most recent federal budget was completely understandable, as it was a pandemic budget. “We need a multi-year plan to re-invest now, on a steady basis,” said Naylor.
          Richard Cannings (NDP) asked Naylor about whether there has been progress on recommendation 4.1, flagging that a Council on Science and Innovation Secretariat was created but doesn’t seem to exist. Naylor stated that he had no special insights on the matter.
        • Richard Cannings (NDP) asked Naylor to weigh in with any additional insights. Naylor noted that the “free flow of imagination in all disciplines is so essential to create a better future for Canada, the world, and also, to allow young minds to flourish.” He said that Canada also has to “make some bets” with targeted investments, so it has to be a blend. Naylor also pointed out that we have to figure out how to link entities, like CARPA, to the upstream ecosystem. “We need a plan, a vision, and stable long-term support, and we need to make sense of how that works together in the broad public interest,” said Naylor.

Meeting 6
(Thursday, February 17, 2022)

Recording | Minutes

  • In this meeting, the Standing Committee continued to call on witnesses to study successes, challenges and opportunities for science in Canada. Each witness provided opening remarks, and then received questions from present MPs.
  • The witness list was as follows:
    • Nipun Vats (Assistant Deputy Minister, Science and Research Sector, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada)
    • Danial Wayner (Departmental Science Advisor, National Research Council of Canada)
    • Shannon Quinn (Secretary General, National Research Council of Canada)
    • Robert Annan (President and Chief Executive Officer, Genome Canada)
    • Pari Johnston (Vice-President, Policy and Public Affairs, Genome Canada)
    • Paul Davidson (President and Chief Executive Officer, Universities Canada)
    • Ann Mainville-Neeson (Vice-President, Policy and Government Relations, Universities Canada)
    • Dr. Volker Gerdts (Director and Chief Executive Officer, Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization – International Vaccine Centre).
  • Here are some of the key points raised during the witness questioning period:
    • Corey Tochor (CPC) asked about security concerns related to AI and quantum in an international setting. Vats stated that guidance has been introduced, such as the Safeguarding Your Research portal, to enable researchers to “better understand the risks associated with their research being potentially stolen by foreign actors”, while being “as open as possible but as secure as necessary.” Vats also noted that several policy statements have been made by Ministers (including the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, and the Minister of Public Safety) to ask “the government to implement more stringent due diligence processes in federal granting programs that are, in particular, partnership programs between industry and university researchers.”
    • Maxime Blanchette-Joncas (Bloc) asked about the progress on the outstanding Fundamental Science Review recommendation (4.1) to create a national advisory council on research and innovation. Vats noted that they could not speak to “the government’s intentions with respect to when to move forward with that” or specifics in terms of delays, but pointed out that during the pandemic, the government has drawn on a lot of expert advice, through expert committees that “have been integral to decisions.” Vats noted that the “process of selection for these types of committees does take a period of time.” Blanchette-Joncas said requested “a written response from your department on the matter,” as well as what indicators have been used to measure progress on “action plans on equity, diversity and inclusion of the three federal granting agencies.”
    • In response to a question from Ryan Williams (CPC) about how to improve the process of supporting disruptive innovations in technologies, either at Natural Resources Canada or in a future CARPA, Wayner pointed out that “the opportunity is in collaboration” — specifically, to define “ways to get government labs that have key facilities and leadership, universities that have emerging ideas that are really disruptive, and industry that has the potential to actually advance them into products.”
    • Amid questioning, Vats and Wayner referred to recent investments in the 2021 federal budget, including the launch of a National Quantum Strategy. Wayner provided a high-level overview of how Natural Resources Canada’s 14 research centers are structured. Similarly, Vats provided a brief high-level overview of how the government achieves specific objectives, such equity, diversity and inclusion objectives, and making “sure there is an appropriate level of funding for that investigator-led, curiosity-based research, which is the foundation of the science ecosystem.”
    • In response to a question from Stéphane Lauzon (LPC) about how the pandemic has disrupted your operational plans, Shannon Quinn noted that some of Natural Resources Canada’s priorities, and activities, shifted. Quinn noted that this is why maintaining this scientific capability, is critical “because, at its core, science is science…the next emerging crisis may or may not be a pandemic, but I can tell you that the NRC, like it did with the current pandemic, will take its foundational scientific capabilities—both expertise and facilities—and bring them to bear.”
    • In response to a question from Chad Collins (LPC) about how the federal government might assist with future challenges, Annan said providing “strategic leadership is a big, important piece” and that “an injection of funding” is critical. Annan stated that “You need the fuel that drives the car; you need the foundation upon which you build. Going forward, that sense of both purpose and mission built on a solid foundation will really position us well to confront the other challenges we face.” Gerdts added three additional recommendations: to create training programs, invest in research and build infrastructure to enable multi-sector collaborations. Gerdts stated that it is important to bring commercial partners in early, so that “we see the seamless transition from discovery to commercial development,” and that this is where Canada is “not as effective.”
    • In response to Maxime Blanchette-Joncas’ (Bloc) question about how much the federal government should be investing in terms of GDP, Ann Mainville-Neeson stated that “recent research indicates that Canada has accumulated a deficit of at least $1 billion, simply to reach the competitive level of countries like Germany, Great Britain and Finland.” Mainville-Neeson provided recommendations on how to spend the $1 billion, including: (i) more than $770 million be invested in graduate and doctoral scholarships, (ii) $1.12 billion over five years for the three federal funding agencies, (iii) $100 million per year to fund research by the new research chairs, (iv) $75 million for the commercialization fund, (v) $135 million per year in security for the research, and (vi) $500 million over five years for accessibility and for accessible and sustainable campus infrastructure.
    • In response to Richard Cannings’ (NDP) question about how universities or organizations, like Genome Canada, can develop processes that bring people together to do the important work that really needs to be done, Annan noted that there is a “real appetite for collaboration” at the level of individual researchers, but processes, such as data sharing between provinces, inhibits this. Pari Johnston provided a high-level overview of CanCOGeN, stating that government funding partners had “to really come together to develop cross-provincial standards around data sharing that probably would have taken a lot longer, but given the urgency of the COVID challenge needed to be developed urgently.”
    • Maxime Blanchette-Joncas (Bloc) asked: if there was one urgent thing to be done following the recommendations of the Fundamental Science Review five years ago, what would it be? Davidson stated that it “has to be sustained, scalable investments that put Canada at the front ranks.”
    • Amid questioning, Gerdts highlighted what efforts can be taken to address future pandemics, including ensuring that there is enough commercial manufacturing capacity and sustainable operating funding, and to train the next generation of researchers. Annan noted that when we think about fragmentation, we often think of coordinating mechanisms, but this misses the point. “You can coordinate, but coordinate towards what?” said Annan, noting that developing a “shared sense of what we need to achieve and setting some strategic priorities allows the system to organize and align itself in some ways.” Davidson noted that some real strides have been made in equity, diversity and inclusion, but the pandemic risked undoing decades of progress in that regard.

Meeting 7
(Tuesday, March 1, 2022 )

Recording | Minutes

  • In this meeting, the Standing Committee continued to call on witnesses to study successes, challenges and opportunities for science in Canada. Each witness provided opening remarks, and then received questions from present MPs.
  • Following witness questioning, the Standing Committee met in camera (i.e., not public, generally to address administrative matters). Per minutes, the Standing Committee agreed that “the proposed budget in the amount of $6,125, for the study of successes, challenges and opportunities for science in Canada, be adopted.”
  • The witness list was as follows:
    • Marc Nantel (Vice-President, Research and External Relations, Niagara College)
    • Adel El Zaïm (Vice-President, Research, Creation, Partnership and Internationalisation, Université du Québec en Outaouais)
    • Baljit Singh (Vice-President, Research, University of Saskatchewan)
    • Rémi Quirion (Chief Scientist, Chief Scientist Office of Quebec, Government of Quebec)
    • Marie Gagné (Chief Executive Officer, Synchronex)
    • Gail Murphy (Vice-President, Research and Innovation, University of British Columbia)
  • Here are some of the key points raised during the witnesses’ opening remarks:
    • Marc Nantel reflected on how programs, such as the Canadian Foundation for Innovation and Canada Research Chairs, have helped bring back Canadian scientists to Canada, and recruited international scientists too. Nantel shared that Niagara College was one of six colleges involved in the NSERC’s pilot College and Community Innovation (CCI) program between 2006-9. Nantel noted that the CCI now has an annual budget of $85 million a year, which represents ~2% of the total Tri-Council support for post-secondary research (with the rest going to universities). Nantel shared that there are 140 colleges in Canada (including 750 labs and research centres). Nantel also shared that in 2019 and 2020, colleges collaborated to work on more than 64,000 applied research projects, yielding more than 5,500 products and services, and engaging 42,000 students. Nantel noted that college education is often focused on the application of knowledge (such as developing new products, processes and processes) which helps give college students a richer education, and that this can be used to tackle Canada’s issue of not being able to reap the benefits of our intellectual property. Nantel asked the Committee to consider the place that college applied research can play in Canada’s overall research landscape, economic development and wealth generation. Nantel concluded by saying that colleges could “contribute so much more, with better than 2% of the federal dollars going to all post-secondary [research].”
    • Adel El Zaïm provided a high-level overview of research within Université du Québec en Outaouais, and how the pandemic has introduced both challenges, and prompted a number of innovations, such as vaccine development. El Zaïm noted that Canada will “need to change, and become a proactive, rather than reactive, world”, and that a danger today is a lack of a scientific and research culture, as we “have a generation that does not how to differentiate between personal opinion, public opinion, and proven scientific fact.” El Zaïm shared several recommendations, including developing more international partnerships, training more researchers to use multidisciplinary approaches, and fostering a culture of research among school-aged children.
    • Baljit Singh provided four key recommendations, and drew on examples from the University of Saskatchewan to provide context. Singh requested that the Standing Committee (1) consider a national conversation to create an alternative funding model for large national research science facilities that consider the full life cycle of the facility; (2) creating a better funding model that galvanizes the partnerships between universities and Indigenous communities to create a better and prosperous way of life for Indigenous populations; (3) leadership from the federal government to coalesce existing abilities in One Health to create a legacy program to protect health in Canada; and (4) a better investment into social sciences and humanities.
    • In opening remarks, Rémi Quirion explored the following themes: basic research, talent, scientific literacy, misinformation, democracy, and Canada’s science and innovation ecosystem. Quirion stated that in 2001, Canada had a peak of 2.5% in investment in R&D, increased to 4% in 2017, and has now dropped again. Quirion noted his role in the 2017 Fundamental Science Review, and that more recent studies have estimated ~$1 billion should be invested in Canadian science. Quirion stated that our training scholarships and bursaries aren’t competitive enough, and are a pittance compared to several European countries.
    • Marie Gagné introduced that CCTTs (les centres collégiaux de transfert de technologie) are entities that help commercialize new products, processes and procedures, such as developing probiotics. Gagné provided a number of examples of how CCTTs contribute to economic development within Canada. Gagné noted that applied research is just as necessary as basic research, and that a balance must be struck.
    • Gail Murphy provided an overview of research at the University of British Columbia. Murphy noted that past investments have helped position Canada well, but “we now risk being left behind if we’re not able to continue to attract and retain top talent, while other countries accelerate and intensify their investment.” Murphy pointed out that Canada ranks 28th in the OECD when it comes to graduate degree attainment, and that funding amounts for graduate student scholarships have not changed in nearly two decades. Murphy offered several recommendations, such as increasing the number and value of graduate student awards, as well as the participation of undergraduate students in research.
  • Here are some of the key points raised during the witness questioning period:
    • In response to a question from Tony Baldinelli (CPC) about what the federal government can do to reduce barriers to secure funding, Nantel noted that as a college, it’s not easy to secure funding to keep going for a number of reasons, including the fact that faculty are hired to teach (not do research), and so, the burden of securing funding falls upon administration.
    • Maxime Blanchette-Joncas (Bloc) asked Nantel to expand on an earlier comment regarding Canada being competitive in basic fundamental research. Nantel said that a number of major facilities in Canada have made discoveries of worldwide importance, and that “Canada punches above its weight when it comes to fundamental research.” Nantel said that we need better involvement of colleges in Canadian research.
    • In response to a question from Maxime Blanchette-Joncas (Bloc) about whether it is still possible in Canada, and on the world stage, to conduct and publish scientific studies in French, El Zaïm said that it is still possible to study in French, but is more difficult to publish in French. But, El Zaïm noted that this begs the question: what, for whom and why? El Zaïm said that we should all be polyglots, and that we need more support to conduct and publish in French.
    • In response to Corey Tochor’s (CPC) question about the potential impact on research as a result of tensions in Eastern Europe and immigration from Ukraine, Murphy stated that the pandemic impacts are likely to continue, including an inability to collaborate internationally, and an interruption in international students being able to pursue graduate studies in Canada.
    • In response to a question from Chad Collins (LPC) about misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic, Quirion said that there is no easy answer, and proposed several recommendations, including sharing the principles of science at an early age, and having social scientists onboard to better understand society, and emerging technologies, such as social media. Quirion also posed the question: how do we explain to our citizens that climate change is very important, and what does it mean for me, on my street, and for my family?
    • In response to a question from Maxime Blanchette-Joncas (Bloc) about how Canada has positioned itself since the Fundamental Science Review, Quirion noted several actions have been taken, such as the appointment of Dr. Mona Nemer as the Chief Science Advisor, and increased interactions between federal funding agencies and research centres to create multi-disciplinary teams. Quirion noted that there are still significant challenges when it comes to support for basic research. Quirion recommended that a small taskforce be struck to explore how Canada’s research and development ecosystem can be simplified.
      Amid questioning, El Zaïm recommended to “remember that we cannot get through this alone, [that] we need domestic and international partners”, and that it is important to remove cumbersome red-tape and paperwork to facilitate research, and instill the “taste and desire” among youth to pursue graduate studies. Singh provided a high-level overview of how the Canadian Foundation for Innovation’s Major Science Infrastructure competitions are structured, and that a ‘patchwork of funding’ (i.e. having to secure complementary funding from entities, such as provincial governments) adds complexity to this situation. Singh proposed that a different funding model is necessary: one that considers costs over a full life cycle. Murphy stated that an ecosystem approach is necessary: that so often, major discoveries start from curiosity-based investigator-led research, which take many years to bring forward. To enable this, Murphy noted that we need to fund different parts of this overall ecosystem pipeline. Quirion described the differences between his role as Quebec’s Chief Scientist and Dr. Mona Nemer’s role as a Chief Science Advisor.

Meeting 8
(Tuesday, March 22, 2022)

Recording | Minutes

  • In this meeting, the Standing Committee continued to call on witnesses to study successes, challenges and opportunities for science in Canada. Each witness provided opening remarks, and then received questions from present MPs.
  • The witness list was as follows:
    • Dr. Ken Coates (Professor, University of Saskatchewan) [As an individual]
    • Jim Balsillie (Co-Founder and Chair, Council of Canadian Innovators)
    • Rachael Maxwell (Executive Director, Evidence for Democracy)
      Farah Qaiser (Director, Research and Policy, Evidence for Democracy)
    • Dr. Alan E. Winter (Former British Columbia Innovation Commissioner) [As an individual]
    • Dr. Jeremy T. Kerr (Professor of Biology, Faculty of Science, University Research Chair, University of Ottawa) [As an individual]
    • Denise Amyot (President and Chief Executive Officer, Colleges and Institutes Canada)

Don Lovisa (President, Durham College, Colleges and Institutes Canada)

Check back later this week for a summary of the key points raised during witness remarks and questioning!

Meeting 9
(Thursday, March 31, 2022)

Recording | Minutes

  • In this meeting, the Standing Committee called on witnesses to study successes, challenges and opportunities for science in Canada. Each witness provided opening remarks, and then received questions from present MPs.
  • Following witness questioning, the Standing Committee met in camera (i.e., not public, generally to address administrative matters). Per minutes, the Standing Committee agreed that the “study of top talent, research and innovation commence on Thursday, April 28, 2022”, and a “proposed budget in the amount of $ 7,500, for the study of top talent, research and innovation, be adopted.”
  • The witness list was as follows:
    • Dr. Stéphanie Michaud (President and Chief Executive Officer, BioCanRx)
    • Dr. John Bell (Scientific Director, BioCanRx)
    • Dr. Allen Eaves (President and Chief Executive Officer, STEMCELL Technologies Inc.)
    • François Deschênes (Rector, Université du Québec à Rimouski, Université du Québec)
    • Etienne Carbonneau (Director, Support for Internationalization and Government Relations Senior Advisor, Université du Québec)
    • Dr. Jessie-Lee McIsaac (Assistant Professor, Canada Research Chair in Early Childhood: Diversity and Transitions, Mount Saint Vincent University)
    • Dr. Victor Rafuse (Director and Professor, Dalhousie University, Brain Repair Centre)
    • Dr. Nigel Smith (Executive Director, TRIUMF)

Check back later this week for a summary of the key points raised during witness remarks and questioning!

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