Busy committee members report in person

Tim Lougheed
November 23, 2022

For the first time in three years, representatives of the Canada Research Coordinating Committee (CRCC) had a chance to update a live audience on the activities of its secretariat and member organizations, which include the three main granting councils and the Canada Foundation for Innovation. The occasion was last week’s Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) in Ottawa, which welcomed hundreds of participants back into a physical venue for the first time since 2019.

The discussion ranged across a number of topics that have defined the CRCC’s work since it was established in 2017. Much of that work has been a response to Canada’s Fundamental Science Review, which called for more attention to challenges such as the funding of basic research and supporting a diverse research community. The Covid-19 pandemic has loomed large over these objectives, although Committee members acknowledged that there were some positive insights from this global public health crisis.

“We all saw times when we were successful as a country, and as governments, in reacting quickly in the face of uncertainty,” said Dr. Stephen Lucas, Deputy Minister with Health Canada. “We saw the critical importance, for example, of understanding the impact in long term care and strengthening infection prevention, control, and other measures to help the most vulnerable.”

The pandemic also drove the international collaborations that fostered dramatic progress on vaccines and treatments for viral infection, which has likewise prompted calls for a more general emphasis on research partnerships outside of Canada. Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) President Ted Hewitt pointed to the New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF), established by the CRCC in 2018, which awarded its first round of grants earlier this year.

“SSHRC and the CRCC recognize very clearly the importance of providing opportunities for researchers to work together — across disciplines, across sectors, but also across borders,” said Hewitt, who argued that the NFRF specifically meets that mandate. “Of all the funds in Canada that I hear about, as I travel from university to university, this is the fund that is creating the most buzz currently, in terms of what it’s designed to do and what it’s delivering.”

CRCC Chair Alejandro Adem, who is also president of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), noted that even as the CSPC was taking place in Canada, his agency was also partnered with its Uruguayan counterpart for a regional meeting of the Global Research Council in Montevideo. He added that this was among a number of initiatives NSERC has undertaken over the last few years.

During an extensive question and answer session, Committee members responded to a request for suggestions about how to better integrate the country’s industrial interests in research and development, an area where Canada has long lagged. National Research Council President Iain Stewart argued that greater investments in research ventures have not significantly improved this situation. He suggested it would be better to build up institutions and programs that provide effective interfaces between academic work and commercial undertakings.

By way of example, Stewart highlighted NRC’s own Industrial Research Assistance Program, various business-oriented initiatives mounted by Mitacs, and the dozens of NSERC-funded Technology Adoption Centres, which provide entrepreneurs with access to specialized facilities and technical expertise at Canadian colleges.

“As a community, we need to put more emphasis, more consciously, at a greater scale, on translation,” he concluded.

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