Senate Committee releases its full report on a science policy for Canada and provides recommendations for renewed government organization

Published On: February 2023Categories: 2022 Conference editorials, Editorials


Paul Dufour



Institute for Science, Society, and Policy, University of Ottawa

Senior Fellow

Recipient of the CSPC LifeTime Achievement Award

Paul Dufour

Today, the Senate’s Harvard-trained economist as Chair of the Special Senate Committee offered up several key recommendations to the Trudeau Government on how to better strengthen science policy in government. The report examines key issue areas such as the reorganization of government departments, new granting councils, enhanced federal-provincial partnerships, the strengthening of industrial R&D and innovation, and a more coherent role on international S&T collaboration. Also included are suggestions on improving the role of Parliament with science.

The 300 plus page report encapsulates the results of a multiyear series of hearings, consultations and testimony over the future direction of the country’s science and technology policy… As the Senate Committee notes:

We believe that the Canadian government should not rush into making organizational changes or create new agencies on the spur of the moment in the field of science policy, without first having considered and decided the broad targets to be achieved and the strategies to be followed… 

That said, the report re-assesses the nature and role of the central machinery for Canadian science policy, the future of a Ministry of State for Science and Technology, the need for an inter-ministerial committee for science and technology, and the enhanced mandate for the  Science Council of Canada and scientific societies.

The Senators opine on the reorganization of departments and agencies including the granting agencies, governmental intramural basic research and assistance to industrial R&D and innovation, warning that the government must sustain its efforts guarding against conflicts wherein there is often:  the natural desire to create rival baronies, each jealousy guarding its own territory and seeking to expand that territory at the expense of other agencies.

The report argues that: Industry has begun to realize that it could better produce technology to serve education, healthcare and environmental quality… Universities are more interested than they were in contributing on an interdisciplinary basis to the R&D effort leading to social innovation. Governments are beginning to see that the organization of social R&D raises special difficulties because, according to the Canadian Constitution, the provinces are the main social innovators in the public sector. On the one hand, it would be wasteful and inefficient if each province were to organize and develop its own overall social R&D effort. On the other hand, the federal government cannot assume exclusive responsibility for social R&D programs.

Borrowing ideas from other jurisdictions, the report examines various organizational models for science policy –pluralistic, concerted action and centralized, arguing that the concerted action model may well be the best approach for Canada as it provides the best opportunity to produce a policy for science and science for policy.

The report goes on to make a case for three separate foundations to support academic research. The authors conclude that support for research in the life sciences, including biology, has been relatively neglected and that the name of the Medical Research Council should be changed with  its activities extended to all of the life sciences.  As well, a new foundation for the social sciences and humanities separate from the Canada Council should also be envisaged. Three foundations are necessary according to the authors of the Senate Committee, but the need for greater coordination between them is universally recognized. Indeed, closer liaison is desirable to ensure complementarity between services and consistency between programs and in order to foster interdisciplinary undertakings. A Canadian Research Board  independent of the ministry responsible for science should also be put in place. Such a Board would:  give the granting structure more flexibility and the capability to change and further evolve in time .

The Senate Committee offers some guidance on the issue of international relations in science and technology stating that : the government has not given the development of these (international) relations the priority they should have in terms of allocation of resources and has not established the strategy for effective information networks…..neither a narrow nationalism nor the self-serving chauvinism of special interest groups will be of much service  here..  Even the superpowers are not independent of the R&D efforts of other countries–or their training of scientists and engineers. Canada, which in the past has required a great influx of qualified scientists and engineers, should be well aware of its beneficial and necessary interdependence with other countries.

Noting that the dialogue between Parliament and science needs to be improved, the Committee report recommends that a group of parliamentarians from the Senate and the House of Commons be organized to study science policy matters and programmes and opportunities raised by science and technology and that, in order to attain this objective, it be authorized to form a Canadian Association of Parliamentarians, Scientists and Engineers, in collaboration with representatives of scientific and engineering bodies.

In its concluding section, the Senate Committee reports  that new decision models will be needed for science policy, especially for mission-oriented programs. As it states,  it is clear that as the world around us changes, science policy must change; that is, it must be dynamic. A static policy would be ephemeral; in a short time, new imbalances in the national effort and rigidities in our institutions would arise just as they have in the past. Science policy must anticipate change in the environment and respond to them in such a way that Canada can best use technology and science to achieve full development and allow us to live a better life.

Source: A Science Policy for Canada: Report of the Senate Special Committee on Science Policy,  Volume 3 , Chair; The Honourable Maurice Lamontagne, 1973