Carty sees commercialization as top priority of new national science advisor

Guest Contributor
December 22, 2003

The man chosen to occupy the most powerful S&T position in the county says that enhancing commercialization and industrial innovation are the most pressing issues facing the new Liberal government. When Dr Arthur Carty assumes the job of national science advisor (NSA) on April 1, he plans to move quickly to advise prime minister Paul Martin on approaches to unlocking the nation’s growing reservoir of knowledge.

Carty’s appointment has been greeted with universal acclaim throughout the S&T community and the position itself is being viewed as a powerful indication that S&T will move even further up the federal priority list than it enjoyed under the last administration. Carty acknowledges that while the opportunity to serve Canada as its first NSA since 1971 is gratifying, the responsibility it holds and the challenges he will likely encounter are sobering. He is also aware that he must retain the utmost credibility with a diverse range of stakeholders while carrying out his new responsibilities.

“One of the potential issues with the national science advisor is, how do you steer the middle ground? You have to provide independent advice and you have to be prepared to speak to the various communities and seek their counsel,” he says. “The NSA has to provide balanced, independent science advice which will be taken seriously by the government. It is going to be a sensitive task to balance what government itself thinks it needs — what it wants to do — and the science advice coming from the broad community. They are not necessarily synonymous.”

Carty contends that now is the time to move beyond building the national science base and reap the benefits stemming from unprecedented investment in largely university-based research since 1997. That necessitates developing a Made-in-Canada mechanism that can effectively assist firms in finding markets and competing globally. That could entail a “single window” for business to access the range of government assistance programs and mechanisms that exist or may be created in the future. That window could be manifested in a series of “Canada innovation centres” drawing at least in part from the Battelle model that’s experienced considerable success in the US.

“It’s absolutely critical in Canada that we build and support more small and medium enterprises and that we grow some of these fast moving SMEs — we sometimes call them gazelles — into the giants of the corporate marketplace,” says Carty. “The payoff for Canada will be when Canada’s knowledge base produces ideas and discoveries that can actually have an influence on industrial growth.”


In the weeks ahead, Carty says he will consult with his counterparts John Marburger, science advisor to the US president and director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and David King, the UK’s chief scientific advisor. and head of the Office of Science and Technology.

The NSA office will be situated within the prime minister’s office (PMO) or the privy council office although Carty has yet to delve into details either with Martin or Alex Himelfarb, clerk of the privy council. He’s also assuming that he will be equipped with adequate staff and resources.

“There is time to get these things in place. I believe that if they want me to do the job, there will have to be resources associated with it – good people able to assess, write and of course help me to provide advice to the prime minister,” he says.

For many, the creation of the NSA position could help reverse what they see as a shift towards partisan politics in the area of S&T policy. To cite just one example, the secretary of state position for science, research and development since the mid 90s has been turned into a revolving door, with appointees given little time or support to develop cohesive policy and meaningful collaboration with the community stakeholders.

“We’ve walked away from idea-based economic and social policy around science and innovation and waded into seedy politics,” says Dr John de la Mothe, a professor of innovation policy at the Univ of Ottawa. “Our innovation goals are ludicrously macro and so far there are no translation mechanisms. Art Carty is a splendid scientist and a great choice (for NSA). But he must also be allowed to focus on science and society priorities including commercialization. That’s the head of the nail.”

As envisioned by the Martin government, the NSA would be augmented by the work of Joe Fontana — the new parliamentary secretary for science and small business — as well as a resuscitated Advisory Council for Science and Technology (ACST). Carty has already met with Joe Fontana whom he views as enthusiastic and eager to make a positive difference. And Carty hopes to see the ACST given a higher level of visibility by having the prime minister actually chair the group.

“The science culture would be enormously helped in Canada by just simply having the prime minister appear as an important part of what’s going on. That goes for the Cabinet too,” says Carty. “If the recommendations of such an august body are to be taken seriously, then the highest levels of government — the prime minister and senior ministers — have to take an interest.”


The NSA will not be limited to working politicians and appointed experts to develop S&T policy. During his 10-year tenure as head of the National Research Council (NRC), Carty developed regional, national and international contacts that are second to none, and has facilitated collaboration with other S&T bodies within government, academia and industry.

“We have to have a comprehensive approach to commercialization that really does involve those (small and medium) companies, moving ideas and discoveries into the marketplace,” he says. “I’d like to see Canada tackle head on the commercialization aspect of a comprehensive program and that’s going to require close partnerships between organizations … There has to be a recognition that partnerships will help us to get there and break down barriers that currently exist.”

Many of those contacts and relationships will be conducted through the NRC and the Industrial Research Assistance Program. Under Carty’s leadership, both organizations have been transformed into agencies that are more flexible and attuned to the needs of the private sector than ever before, meaning they can be wielded as powerful tools on the commercialization front.

“I think I have an appreciation of the scope and magnitude of what this position might demand,” says Carty. “It’s going to be a challenge. I’ll have the opportunity to define what the position will be, which is good.”


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