Canada has an excellent reputation in education, research, and innovation and this despite our relatively small economy and population compared to our global competitors. We must optimize the leverage we gain from our research investment dollars so that researchers can be more effective, have more access to tools, and lower barriers to performing research and development.
Progress is underway in key application sectors, bolstered by investments in Superclusters and the introduction of Economic Strategy Tables- a new model for industry-government collaboration. Attention is now needed on the major research infrastructure that also advances Canada’s competitiveness. The recent increase and stability in funding for CFI is excellent – it’s a reminder of the importance of research infrastructure. We welcome the new Strategic Science Fund described in the 2019 Federal Budget as a potential solution to supporting Canada’s Major Science Initiatives (MSIs) and third-party organizations involved in accelerating discovery and innovation across sectors.
The funding decisions on these organizations pose a special challenge as they often have no common thread other than supporting and advancing science. We recommend selection criteria that are non-sector specific, non-discipline specific, for big and not so big science, and inclusive of applied science. This mirrors the diversity of facilities and their missions and translates to an assessment of the anticipated benefits to Canada such as HQP trained, start-ups created, publications, international collaborations, and industrial usage. A relative assessment of accrued facility user fees can be a good measure too. User fees not only help with some of the operating costs but also separate the users of consequence from the casual and provide a transaction-based access method that enables companies to make use of any spare capacity in a facility.
Another issue is that many of these entities could not survive even a temporary shutdown. If long-running research programs are interrupted then the research data collected may be invalid, engagements with suppliers or customers may be difficult or expensive to reset, and key employees can’t be put in cold storage until the program resumes. We need a long-term solution for funding and, if it is going to rely on investment cycles, they need to have enough overlap to ensure that commitments to partners, clients, suppliers and employees can be managed.
What is Canada’s policy on supporting research which is of benefit to the planet, or to researchers globally, but may require Canadian taxpayers’ support? Where do we draw the line? We have confidence that the consultation process will respond to these concerns and to the many others that will be raised during the process and we look forward to a stimulating and fruitful discussion.