Capitalizing on Canada’s Research Strengths

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Author(s):

Simon Kennedy

Government of Canada

Deputy Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development

As the global economy changes, Canada has all the ingredients needed to thrive. Our workforce is one of the most educated in the world. We have world-class research institutions and abundant sources of clean energy. We are the only country in the world with free trade access to the entire G7 and the European Union. In this international race for investment and innovation, however, our competitors are moving fast. We need to act strategically and decisively to position Canada as an economic leader for decades to come. One of the ways Canada is tackling this challenge is by focussing support in three key areas of research and development where we already have established and acknowledged strengths on the world stage. 

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (AI)

Artificial intelligence is one of the greatest technological transformations of our age; it is also a research area where Canada is a global leader. Canada ranks fourth on the Tortoise Global AI Index and fifth on the Stanford Global AI Vibrancy Tool index. To build on this position, in June of this year, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry launched the second phase of the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy, supported by an investment of $443 million to advance commercialization, standardization, talent and research in this field. 

This investment is to leverage the potential of artificial intelligence to grow our economy and improve standards of living, while continuing to develop, retain and attract academic talent and deepen Canada’s research base. Among other measures, this includes new funding for Canada’s national Artificial Intelligence institutes, namely, Amii (Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute), Mila- Quebec AI Institute and the Vector Institute. This funding specifically helps businesses use artificial intelligence, supports the translation of cutting-edge research into useful applications, and assists research to be developed and used here, in Canada. These institutes are for growing Canada’s talent pipeline, and for training thousands of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, many of whom are international students who have come to Canada because of the recognized strengths of each institute.

Since 2017, the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy has worked to take advantage of Canada’s research strengths. Launched in partnership with Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR), the first phase of the strategy helped Canada secure a growing base of academic talent and maintain a globally competitive position in research in this area. There are now over 110 active Canada CIFAR AI Chairs funded by this strategy at universities across Canada, including over 50 leading international researchers attracted to Canada by this strategy and its investments. 

QUANTUM SCIENCE

The National Quantum Strategy represents Canada’s innovation aspirations when it comes to quantum technologies. In the past two decades, quantum computing has evolved from the theoretical to the practical. Today, we are capable of creating machines that exploit the laws of quantum mechanics and are on the cusp of solving problems much faster than has been traditionally possible. From speeding up the design of more effective drugs and the development of new diagnostic devices, to better climate forecasting and land, sea and air navigation, quantum technologies are set to provide meaningful improvements in our lives. 

Here again, Canada is a world leader, having invested more than $1 billion since 2012, including in several universities and companies that have pioneered world firsts. Key clusters of activity are located in greater Vancouver, Calgary-Edmonton, Toronto-Waterloo, greater Montréal, Sherbrooke, and Québec City. Worldwide, Canada is ranked among the top three for our share of highly cited quantum researchers. What’s more, quantum technologies have the potential to grow the economy and create jobs. A study commissioned by the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) in 2020 estimates that by 2045, quantum technology could be a $139 billion industry with over 200,000 jobs in Canada. If Canada maintains its leadership position, the country could capture up to 8 percent of global market share for quantum technologies, nearly doubling our current share of global technology revenues.

GENOMICS

Genomics is the science that aims to decipher and understand the entire genetic information of an organism encoded in DNA and related molecules. Advancements in genomics research have led to the development of cutting-edge technologies and innovations applicable across a number of sectors, including public health, food and natural resources. Canada currently ranks second in the world for genomics patents and is an international leader in the application of genomics across diverse sectors, particularly in forestry, fisheries, agriculture and mining. Most notably, genomics research has played an important role in Canada’s ability to track and fight COVID19. 

In recognition of Canada’s world-class strength in genomics research, the Government of Canada is in the process of creating a Pan-Canadian Genomics Strategy. Public consultations for the Strategy were launched in May. They consisted of a series of six thematic roundtable discussions, five with targeted genomics stakeholders from industry, academia, and not-for-profit organizations and a separate roundtable with provincial and territorial officials. An online web survey was launched in parallel and made available to key stakeholders as well as the broader public. This strategy has been designed to leverage Canada’s research excellence in genomics to drive further innovation in genomics through commercialization and adoption, create socioeconomic growth, and aims to cement Canada’s position as a world-leader in research and innovation. I invite readers of Canadian Science Policy Magazine to watch for the official launch of the Pan-Canadian Genomics Strategy in the months to come. 

Investing in these three key areas of Canadian strength is designed to reinforce the sustainability of economic growth in this country. At a time when countries around the world are making significant investments to shore up their own economic futures, the Government of Canada is targeting investments in key areas of innovation, research, and development and aiming for the necessary scale and ambition to make Canada a global leader.