INVESTING IN CANADA’S FUTURE; Strengthening the Foundations of Canadian Research (Review of fundamental research final report): 1 of 3

This sucker (INVESTING IN CANADA’S FUTURE; Strengthening the Foundations of Canadian Research, also known as, Canada’s Fundamental Science Review 2017 or the Naylor report) is a 280 pp. (PDF) and was released on Monday, April 10, 2017. I didn’t intend that this commentary should stretch out into three parts (sigh). Them’s the breaks. This first part provides an introduction to the panel and the report as well as some ‘first thoughts’. Part 2 offers more detailed thoughts and Part 3 offers ‘special cases’ and sums up some of the ideas first introduced in part 1.

I first wrote about this review in a June 15, 2017 posting where amongst other comments I made this one,

Getting back to the review and more specifically, the panel, it’s good to see that four of the nine participants are women but other than that there doesn’t seem to be much diversity, i.e.,the majority (five) spring from the Ontario/Québec nexus of power and all the Canadians are from the southern part of country. Back to diversity, there is one business man, Mike Laziridis known primarily as the founder of Research in Motion (RIM or more popularly as the Blackberry company) making the panel not a wholly ivory tower affair. Still, I hope one day these panels will have members from the Canadian North and international members who come from somewhere other than the US, Great Britain, and/or if they’re having a particularly wild day, Germany. Here are some candidate countries for other places to look for panel members: Japan, Israel, China, South Korea, and India. Other possibilities include one of the South American countries, African countries, and/or the Middle Eastern countries.

Take the continent of Africa for example, where many countries seem to have successfully tackled one of the issues as we face. Specifically, the problem of encouraging young researchers. …

Here’s a quick summary about the newly released report from the April 10, 2017 federal government news release on Canada’s Public Policy Forum,

Today [April 10, 2017], the Government of Canada published the final report of the expert panel on Canada’s Fundamental Science Review. Commissioned by the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science, the report by the blue-ribbon panel offers a comprehensive review of the mechanisms for federal funding that supports research undertaken at academic institutions and research institutes across Canada, as well as the levels of that funding. It provides a multi-year blueprint for improving the oversight and governance of what the panelists call the “research ecosystem.” The report also recommends making major new investments to restore support for front-line research and strengthen the foundations of Canadian science and research at this pivotal point in global history.

The review is the first of its type in more than 40 years. While it focused most closely on the four major federal agencies that support science and scholarly inquiry across all disciplines, the report also takes a wide-angle view of governance mechanisms ranging from smaller agencies to big science facilities. Another issue closely examined by the panel was the effect of the current configuration of funding on the prospects of early career researchers—a group that includes a higher proportion of women and is more diverse than previous generations of scientists and scholars.

The panel’s deliberations were informed by a broad consultative process. The panel received 1,275 written submissions [emphasis mine] from individuals, associations and organizations. It also held a dozen round tables in five cities, engaging some 230 researchers [emphasis mine] at different career stages.

Among the findings:

  • Basic research worldwide has led to most of the technological, medical and social advances that make our quality of life today so much better than a century ago. Canadian scientists and scholars have contributed meaningfully to these advances through the decades; however, by various measures, Canada’s research competitiveness has eroded in recent years.
  • This trend emerged during a period when there was a drop of more than 30 percent in real per capita funding for independent or investigator-led research by front-line scientists and scholars in universities, colleges, institutes and research hospitals. This drop occurred as a result of caps on federal funding to the granting councils and a dramatic change in the balance of funding toward priority-driven and partnership-oriented research.
  • Canada is an international outlier in that funding from federal government sources accounts for less than 25 percent of total spending on research and development in the higher education sector. While governments sometimes highlight that, relative to GDP, Canada leads the G7 in total spending by this sector, institutions themselves now underwrite 50 percent of these costs—with adverse effects on both research and education.
  • Coordination and collaboration among the four key federal research agencies [Canada Foundation for Innovation {CFI}; Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council {SSHRC}; Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council {NSERC}; Canadian Institutes of Health Research {CIHR}] is suboptimal, with poor alignment of supports for different aspects of research such as infrastructure, operating costs and personnel awards. Governance and administrative practices vary inexplicably, and support for areas such as international partnerships or multidisciplinary research is uneven.
  • Early career researchers are struggling in some disciplines, and Canada lacks a career-spanning strategy for supporting both research operations and staff.
  • Flagship personnel programs such as the Canada Research Chairs have had the same value since 2000. Levels of funding and numbers of awards for students and post-doctoral fellows have not kept pace with inflation, peer nations or the size of applicant pools.

The report also outlines a comprehensive agenda to strengthen the foundations of Canadian extramural research. Recommended improvements in oversight include:

  • legislation to create an independent National Advisory Council on Research and Innovation (NACRI) that would work closely with Canada’s new Chief Science Advisor (CSA) to raise the bar in terms of ongoing evaluations of all research programming;
  • wide-ranging improvements to oversight and governance of the four agencies, including the appointment of a coordinating board chaired by the CSA; and
  • lifecycle governance of national-scale research facilities as well as improved methods for overseeing and containing the growth in ad-hoc funding of smaller non-profit research entities.

With regard to funding, the panel recommends a major multi-year reinvestment in front-line research, targeting several areas of identified need. Each recommendation is benchmarked and is focused on making long-term improvements in Canada’s research capacity. The panel’s recommendations, to be phased in over four years, would raise annual spending across the four major federal agencies and other key entities from approximately $3.5 billion today to $4.8 billion in 2022. The goal is to ensure that Canada benefits from an outsized concentration of world-leading scientists and scholars who can make exciting discoveries and generate novel insights while educating and inspiring the next generation of researchers, innovators and leaders.

Given global competition, the current conditions in the ecosystem, the role of research in underpinning innovation and educating innovators, and the need for research to inform evidence-based policy-making, the panel concludes that this is among the highest-yield investments in Canada’s future that any government could make.

The full report is posted on


“In response to the request from Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister Duncan, the Science Review panel has put together a comprehensive roadmap for Canadian pre-eminence in science and innovation far into the future. The report provides creative pathways for optimizing Canada’s investments in fundamental research in the physical, life and social sciences as well as the humanities in a cost effective way. Implementation of the panel’s recommendations will make Canada the destination of choice for the world’s best talent. It will also guarantee that young Canadian researchers can fulfill their dreams in their own country, bringing both Nobel Prizes and a thriving economy to Canada. American scientists will look north with envy.”

– Robert J. Birgeneau, Silverman Professor of Physics and Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley

“We have paid close attention not only to hard data on performance and funding but also to the many issues raised by the science community in our consultations. I sincerely hope the report will serve as a useful guide to policy-makers for years to come.”

– Martha Crago, Vice-President, Research and Professor of Human Communication Disorders, Dalhousie University

“Science is the bedrock of modern civilization. Our report’s recommendations to increase and optimize government investments in fundamental scientific research will help ensure that Canada’s world-class researchers can continue to make their critically important contributions to science, industry and society in Canada while educating and inspiring future generations. At the same time, such investments will enable Canada to attract top researchers from around the world. Canada must strategically build critical density in our researcher communities to elevate its global competitiveness. This is the path to new technologies, new businesses, new jobs and new value creation for Canada.”

– Mike Lazaridis, Founder and Managing Partner, Quantum Valley Investments

“This was a very comprehensive review. We heard from a wide range of researchers—from the newest to those with ambitious, established and far-reaching research careers. At all these levels, researchers spoke of their gratitude for federal funding, but they also described enormous barriers to their success. These ranged from personal career issues like gaps in parental leave to a failure to take gender, age, geographic location and ethnicity into account. They also included mechanical and economic issues like gaps between provincial and federal granting timelines and priorities, as well as a lack of money for operating and maintaining critical equipment.”

– Claudia Malacrida, Associate Vice-President, Research and Professor of Sociology, University of Lethbridge

“We would like to thank the community for its extensive participation in this review. We reflect that community perspective in recommending improvements to funding and governance for fundamental science programs to restore the balance with recent industry-oriented programs and improve both science and innovation in Canada.”

– Arthur B. McDonald, Professor Emeritus, Queen’s University

“This report sets out a multi-year agenda that, if implemented, could transform Canadian research capacity and have enormous long-term impacts across the nation. It proffers a legacy-building opportunity for a new government that has boldly nailed its colours to the mast of science and evidence-informed policy-making. I urge the Prime Minister to act decisively on our recommendations.”

– C. David Naylor, Professor of Medicine, University of Toronto (Chair)

“This report outlines all the necessary ingredients to advance basic research, thereby positioning Canada as a leading ‘knowledge’ nation. Rarely does a country have such a unique opportunity to transform the research landscape and lay the foundation for a future of innovation, prosperity and well-being.”

– Martha C. Piper, President Emeritus, University of British Columbia

“Our report shows a clear path forward. Now it is up to the government to make sure that Canada truly becomes a world leader in how it both organizes and financially supports fundamental research.”

– Rémi Quirion, Le scientifique en chef du Québec

“The government’s decision to initiate this review reflected a welcome commitment to fundamental research. I am hopeful that the release of our report will energize the government and research community to take the next steps needed to strengthen Canada’s capacity for discovery and research excellence. A research ecosystem that supports a diversity of scholars at every career stage conducting research in every discipline will best serve Canada and the next generation of students and citizens as we move forward to meet social, technological, economic and ecological challenges.”

– Anne Wilson, Professor of Psychology, Wilfrid Laurier University

Quick facts

  • The Fundamental Science Review Advisory Panel is an independent and non-partisan body whose mandate was to provide advice and recommendations to the Minister of Science on how to improve federal science programs and initiatives.
  • The panel was asked to consider whether there are gaps in the federal system of support for fundamental research and recommend how to address them.
  • The scope of the review included the federal granting councils along with some federally funded organizations such as the Canada Foundation for Innovation.

First thoughts

Getting to the report itself, I have quickly skimmed through it  but before getting to that and for full disclosure purposes, please note, I made a submission to the panel. That said, I’m a little disappointed. I would have liked to have seen a little more imagination in the recommendations which set forth future directions. Albeit the questions themselves would not seem to encourage any creativity,

Our mandate was summarized in two broad questions:

1. Are there any overall program gaps in Canada’s fundamental research funding ecosystem that need to be addressed?

2. Are there elements or programming features in other countries that could provide a useful example for the Government of Canada in addressing these gaps? (p. 1 print; p. 35 PDF)

A new agency to replace the STIC (Science, Technology and Innovation Council)

There are no big surprises. Of course they’ve recommended another organization, NACRI [National Advisory Council on Research and Innovation], most likely to replace the Conservative government’s advisory group, the Science, Technology and Innovation Council (STIC) which seems to have died as of Nov. 2015, one month after the Liberals won. There was no Chief Science Advisor under the Conservatives. As I recall, the STIC replaced a previous Liberal government’s advisory group and Chief Science Advisor (Arthur Carty, now the executive director of the Waterloo [as in University of Waterloo] Institute of Nanotechnology).

Describing the NACRI as peopled by volunteers doesn’t exactly describe the situation. This is the sort of ‘volunteer opportunity’ a dedicated careerist salivates over because it’s a career builder where you rub shoulders with movers and shakers in other academic institutions, in government, and in business. BTW, flights to meetings will be paid for along with per diems (accommodations and meals). These volunteers will also have a staff. Admittedly, it will be unpaid extra time for the ‘volunteer’ but the payoff promises to be considerable.

Canada’s eroding science position

There is considerable concern evinced over Canada’s eroding position although we still have bragging rights in some areas (regenerative medicine, artificial intelligence for two areas). As for erosion, the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) dates the erosion back to 2001 (from my June 2, 2014 posting),

Interestingly, the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) Science, Technology and Industry Scoreboard 2013 dates the decline to 2001. From my Oct. 30, 2013 posting (excerpted from the scorecard),

Canada is among the few OECD countries where R&D expenditure declined between 2000 and 2011 (Figure 1). This decline was mainly due to reduced business spending on R&D. It occurred despite relatively generous public support for business R&D, primarily through tax incentives. In 2011, Canada was amongst the OECD countries with the most generous tax support for R&D and the country with the largest share of government funding for business R&D being accounted for by tax credits (Figure 2). …

It should be noted, the Liberals have introduced another budget with flat funding for science (if you want to see a scathing review see Nassif Ghoussoub’s (professor of mathematics at the University of British Columbia April 10, 2017 posting) on his Piece of Mind blog). Although the funding isn’t quite so flat as it might seem at first glance (see my March 24, 2017 posting about the 2017 budget). The government explained that the science funding agencies didn’t receive increased funding as the government was waiting on this report which was released only weeks later (couldn’t they have a sneak preview?). In any event, it seems it will be at least a year before the funding issues described in the report can be addressed through another budget unless there’s some ‘surprise’ funding ahead.

Again, here’s a link to the other parts:

INVESTING IN CANADA’S FUTURE; Strengthening the Foundations of Canadian Research (Review of fundamental research final report) Commentaries

Part 2

Part 3

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