The Summit is in View!

March 6, 2018
Deborah Gordon-El-Bihbety
President and CEO
Research Canada

Budget 2018, Equality Growth: A Strong Middle Class has proposed unprecedented support for Canadian health research and innovation through an investment of nearly $4 billion in Canada’s research system.

Although we may not have arrived at the peak of the research community’s Mount Everest, we have reached a new plateau and our fellow mountaineers are friendly.

There is no doubt that Budget 2018 demonstrates the Liberal Government’s strong support for our enterprise and its confidence that our community has a role to play in guiding our country towards a future of economic and social growth. It is both heartening and exciting to see that this Government recognizes the leadership our sector provides as we face some of the most challenging domestic and global problems in Canada’s history.

Budget 2018 Signals
Budget 2018 repositions research on the public policy landscape by tethering it firmly to the economy, savvy public policy making and ultimately, nation building. It sends the signal to our community that we are more than a special interest group.

Budget 2018 connects the dots between research and economic growth: Investing in the people and projects that will change our world for the better is not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do for Canada’s economy. (p. 82)

In the new budget, the Government reinforces its promise to base public policy on hard facts and demonstrates confidence in the research sector to help deliver on that promise: Budget 2018 proposes to invest in Canada’s world-class federal science laboratories and facilities to enable scientists to continue to conduct research that promotes evidence-based decision-making. (p. 83)

It is vital to note that this Budget associates research with the fundaments of nation building: Research expands our basic understanding of the world, generates new ideas, leads to new jobs for our children and grandchildren when they grow up, and helps to build a workforce that is better able to respond to challenges with creativity and confidence. This doesn’t just have economic benefits—it also makes Canada and the world a safer, healthier, better place to live. (p. 86)

Advocacy Works!
How did this Government come to formally recognize the critical role our sector plays in nation building?

Let’s look back on the process as it evolved. When the Liberals commissioned the Fundamental Science Review, they did not know it would change them and our community. The Review made our community’s collective shoulders drop and we breathed a sigh of relief because the Review validated and articulated our collective view of where we were as an enterprise and where we need to go. We finally had a report that clearly spoke the truth about Canadian research and provided the research community with a concrete platform to stand upon and make our case. And, because we had something that collectively inspired us and gave us data, we were armed with the perfect vehicle to build a rallying cry among a diverse group of stakeholders.

As a result, in 2017, the Support the Report movement was born. It ignited the grassroots and inspired a chorus of compelling voices that could not be ignored. Our health research community was able to deliver a unified message, through diversified efforts, direct lobbying, social media campaigns, letter-writing and parliamentary health research caucus events that educated Parliamentarians on the importance of research to Canadians.

And ours is not just a story of how we worked with the Fundamental Science Review, it was also very much a story of how we accomplished our goals. As a community we worked in concert--Researchers and our Members, Supporters and Organizational Partners--all dedicated to advancing research and innovation and to delivering well-articulated and aligned messages to support the recommendations.

How were we able to accomplish this? There is no doubt in my mind it was because over time, our health research community worked hard to build a stable foundation to launch a strong and concerted advocacy voice. And as a result, we mobilized quickly and effectively.

Advocacy works over time and it works when we advocate together. Its ingredients are leadership—provided by individuals such as the David Naylors and Jim Woodgetts in our community; the advocacy infrastructure of our national health and other research advocacy organizations such as HCCC, AFMC, HealthCareCAN, Research Canada, Universities Canada, the U15 and our life science industries; our researchers, and most importantly; a strong and clearly articulated message we can rally around.

And, when we speak of leadership, let us not forget to tip our hats off to the leadership within Government. Minister Kirsty Duncan has been a dedicated advocate for Canadian research for many years. Her passion and commitment to our enterprise has advanced our cause tremendously.

Our new CSO, Dr. Mona Nemer, was also instrumental in educating key decision makers leading up to Budget 2018 on the important economic value of Canadian research. And, many young investigators conversed with our Minister of Finance in the days leading up to the final version of the budget to inspire him with their research and its possibilities.

What’s Next?
We have accomplished much with this Budget. And yes, we are not precisely where we want or need to be in terms of investment, but we are precisely where we want to be in terms of the hearts and minds we have won among our Government leaders. There is no doubt in my mind that this Government is going to be looking to our sector for guidance and partnership on many public policy issues moving forward.

So where do we go from here?

Our next step must be to regroup as a sector and decide how we can demonstrate results to inspire confidence not just within Government, but among Canadians as well.

It is time to tighten our hiking boots, check our climbing gear and prepare to guide this Government to the summit. We will need greater investments to be sure, but there are likely some low-hanging fruit in terms of health research areas that can deliver improved health, healthcare and greater prosperity for Canadians in the short-term. It may be a place to start.

We must step into the role that has inspired the Government’s trust. And, I for one am quite sure we will not disappoint.

1. Dr. Duncan was the Past Vice-Chair of Research Canada’s Parliamentary Health Research Caucus.