Long-overdue federal laboratories investment heralds new era of collaboration

Mark Henderson
November 25, 2020

While Covid-19 has dominated the headlines for most of 2020, the federal government has maintained its focus on executing an ambitious strategy for overhauling its laboratories and fostering a new era of collaboration across sectors.

The transformation will be remarkable (and long overdue) and signals a key success by policymakers in convincing their elected overlords that years of neglect need to be confronted with massive investment and coordinated action.

Last week, Research Money reported on the long-delayed announcement of a $2.8-billion investment by Public Works and Public Services Canada to build a series of collaboration centres where federal scientists and technologists can work side by side with their counterparts in industry, academia and the not-for-profit sector.

And that’s just the first phase. Once complete, much more investment will be made in the centres themselves to create “a world-class national network of modern, multipurpose, federal S&T laboratories to support collaborative, multidisciplinary research and innovation, and evidence-based decision-making, including in regulatory responsibilities.”

The National Research Council is continuing to do its part by strengthening collaborative relationships with key investments in areas considered crucial to Canada’s long-term social and economic wellbeing. The NRC was an early convert to the benefits of collaboration and successfully secured new investment in its 2018 Budget for this purpose. Gene cell therapy, pandemic response, Artificial Intelligence for Design and Materials for Clean Fuel are just some of the Challenge areas the NRC is focused on, pulling on both internal and external expertise to enhance Canadian expertise, technology solutions and their ultimate commercialization.

There are other equally important examples of how collaboration has become the new mantra for boosting S&T expertise and exploitation. The granting councils are doing their part to broaden the reach and impact of the researchers they support. The Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development is forging ahead with programs such as Innovation Solutions Canada and the Innovation Superclusters Initiative. And the Department of National Defence is taking a project-specific approach with its Innovation for Defence Excellence and Security (IDEaS) program.

As a small nation, Canada is wise to stimulate collaboration among all players in the S&T and innovation ecosystems. Our recent track record in these areas has been less than stellar, but with a new laser-sharp focus on marshalling resources and expertise regardless of their source, the odds of benefitting from these investments are immeasurably improved.



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