Industry Canada sets summer deadline for assessing Canada's S&T strengths & capacity

Guest Contributor
July 7, 2006

First job for new Council of Canadian Academies

By Debbie Lawes

The fledgling Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) has until August 30 to report on the state of science and technology in Canada as part of the Conservative government's efforts to develop a new science and investment strategy by the end of the year. The June 5 proposal from Industry Canada's Science & Innovation Sector asks the CCA to consult with experts and review existing data to identify scientific disciplines and technology applications where Canada excels globally - and areas where it could become strong in the future.

"In some sense, (this report) will provide a picture of our S&T balance sheet at a moment in time and viewed through an international optic. But it is not priority setting. We're not going to be making recommendations," CCA president Dr. Peter Nicholson said in a June 29 interview with RE$EARCH MONEY.

It represents the first assignment for the new Council, which late last year received $30 million over 10 years in funding from the federal government. For its investment, the government can request up to five assessments annually, with each one expected to take a year to 18 months.

Completing such a report in only two months, and during the summer when many people are on vacation, will be a formidable task. Nicholson says a follow up report may be needed later.

"It's very challenging assignment, but our board (of governors) has agreed to take it on. It means compressing our protocols a bit, but we will still adhere to them. At the same time, we don't expect this to be a huge report given the time - maybe 30 pages or so, with some big appendixes."

An expert panel of eight-to-10 individuals, including members of the CCA's scientific advisory committee, is expected to be in place this week. A peer review panel made up of Canadian and international experts will also be established, and have only a few days in late August to provide feedback. An English copy of the preliminary report will be delivered to government by August 30, with public release expected a week or two after.

In its request to the CCA, Industry Canada says having a good understanding of Canada's S&T strengths will enable it "to develop R&D partnerships, locate key personnel wherever in the country they reside, tap into research institutes that specialize in relevant areas, and support or monitor advances with a view to gaining first mover advantage upon implementation and adoption of the results of these efforts."

The report will feed into the government's broader S&T review, led by Industry minister Maxime Bernier in collaboration with Finance minister James Flaherty and the science-based departments and agencies (R$, May 16/06). Bernier and senior staff have recently been meeting with leaders from industry, research, education and labour to gauge their views on issues related to S&T, commercialization and prosperity, including:

* How Canada can get a greater return on its $5.8 billion in annual support for R&D in higher education, business and government

* Why Canada has a comparatively poor performance in terms of business R&D and technology adoption.

A recent meeting with Toronto stakeholders included senior executives from such industry heavyweights as Sanofi Pasteur, Research in Motion, Gennum Corp, Rogers Communications, Dupont Canada, General Motors, Cisco Systems as well as academic representatives. A similar meeting was held in Edmonton June 21st and chaired by Preston Manning, former leader of the Reform Party and president and CEO of the Manning Institute for Democracy.


With only four people on staff, most of the data collection will be done by outside consultants. In addition to Nicholson, the CCA has hired Marc Saner as its executive VP and director of assessments and two support people.

     Industry Canada has asked the CCA to report on:

  • the scientific disciplines in which Canada excels in a global context;
  • the technological applications where Canada excels in a global context;
  • the S&T infrastructure that currently provides Canada with unique advantages; and,
  • the scientific disciplines and technological applications that have the potential to emerge as areas of prominent strength for Canada and generate significant economic or social benefits

Nicholson says the report will include three components: a summary of existing studies (i.e. Conference Board of Canada, OECD); quantitative data based on established indicators (i.e. bibliometrics, patent/ trade data, human resources); and, an anonymous Internet questionnaire to determine Canada's standing relatively to other advanced countries in several disciplines and technology sectors. The survey will be sent to fellows of all Academies, Canada Research Chairs, university VPs of research, research-intensive firms, S&T advisory bodies and Industrial Technology Assistants with the Industrial Research Assistance Program, among others.


Like its counterparts in the UK and US, the CCA was established to perform independent, expert assessments of science that are relevant to public policy. As such, Nicholson stresses that clients cannot influence the content of the report, cannot see draft versions and cannot attend meetings, unless they're public. "That doesn't mean that the client can't give us information, but we're not bound to use it. Our clients are not co-authors of the report or part of the peer review committee."

In addition to the federal government, the CCA will consider proposals from the private sector, provincial governments or organizations, provided they pay the incremental costs.

"This is a service that hadn't existed in Canada, until now," says Nicholson, who compares the CCA to the National Academies in the US and the Royal Society in the UK, albeit on a much smaller scale and with a far shorter pedigree. "We don't see ourselves as a consulting company, and whether we take on a proposal or not will depend on what the scientific advisory committee advises and ultimately what the board accepts."


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