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On Knowledge and Its Use to Society: Some Key Directions of Government.

Setting the Scene: Some Recent Government Action.

The knowledge-based society is upon us! Few people now doubt that those countries which invest in knowledge will reap the rewards: a growing economy; expanding companies; highly paid jobs; increased exports; and, an improved quality of life. The government has recognized this reality and has invested extensively in research, researchers and research infrastructure.

You are no doubt familiar with some of the more recent initiatives. The government expanded and made permanent the Networks of Centres of Excellence program, now with an annual budget of $79 million. It created the Canadian Institutes of Health Research which by 2002 will have a budget of close to $500 million, nearly doubling federal support for health research. Genome Canada was established to help create and build on our competence in this area across the country. The budgets of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council were increased beyond those seen prior to the period of fiscal restraint. Finally, in response to concerns about the attraction and retention of world-class researchers at Canadian universities, the Canada Research Chairs (CRC) program was established. When fully operational in 2004-2005, the CRC will invest $300 million per year to support 2000 research chairs at Canadian universities. Our premiere, independent organization designed to invest in research infrastructure, in partnership with the private sector, other levels of governments and the voluntary sector - the Canada Foundation for Innovation - has received $3.15 billion from the federal government since its inception (including the most recent investment of $750 million announced in March 2001).

Then there is the international dimension, an important extension of our domestic efforts. It is today commonplace to refer to science as a global endeavour. The speed of scientific progress and scale of many research projects necessitates extensive international collaboration. Indeed, I meet regularly with my colleagues in the G-8 Carnegie Group of Science Ministers to discuss issues of common global concern such as bioethics, climate change, technology transfer from the public to the private sectors, and growing trends in support of international science partnerships. I will have the privilege of hosting the next meeting in June here in Canada, and my colleagues and I will no doubt converse on several emerging issues affecting the interface of science and society. In order for Canada to share in the global quest for knowledge it will be necessary to secure full access to and participation in major international scientific projects and programs. Just over a year ago the government commissioned a report from the Prime Minister's Advisory Council on Science and Technology (ACST) on Canada's role in international science and technology. This report was delivered to Cabinet last fall and included a number of recommendations to strengthen Canada's presence in the international research community. This report is currently being reviewed by the government, led by the departments of Industry Canada and Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Recommendations for a government response to the report are expected this year.

Anticipating the recommendations of the ACST report, the government, in its October 2000 Economic Statement and Budget Update committed $100 million to the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) to implement a program to support the international costs of Canadian participation in major international research initiatives. This funding will complement $100 million of existing CFI funding which has been allocated to support domestic costs of Canadian participation in international research activity.

Some Challenges that Remain

Over the past 18 months in my capacity as Secretary of State for Science, Research and Development, I have spent considerable time with the S&T community to hear more about their priorities and future directions. I am immensely proud of the talent and skills that we have in this country in many areas of research, from the social sciences and humanities, to the natural sciences and engineering, to health and medical research, and it is something I like to highlight with my colleagues from other countries around the globe. Our competence in such areas as astronomy, aerospace, information and computing technologies, petroleum and oceans engineering, are just some examples of this core research capability. There can never be enough said about the excellence of our research system (wherever it may be: in government labs, industry, universities and colleges, or science museums and outreach centres) and the quality of our talented scholars, men and women, experienced and young alike.

This does not mean that there aren't any challenges. I hear about these constantly. These have ranged from the pressures that are being brought to bear on our universities from both indirect and operating costs of research; and for the development and funding of longer-range, leading-edge research frontiers such as cosmology, nanotechnology, photonics, genomics, and new materials. Challenges remain with our partners in the private sector on increased investments in R&D, especially if we are to meet the goal from the 2001 Speech from the Throne of moving from 15th in the world to 5th in terms of R&D performance, including at least doubling federal R&D within the next 10 years. The government is preparing to follow up on these commitments and map out a plan for achieving its innovation objectives. Our government laboratories will continue to need strong support for their respective missions in addressing important societal and economic issues as food safety, fisheries and forestry technology, northern research, emerging infectious diseases and environmental impacts, which is why I value the work of the Council of S&T Advisers that I chair. This group of experts appointed by government departments and agencies has developed some key recommendations that will help us in enhancing the use of science advice in government as well as strengthening the excellence of our own laboratories.

But there is another major challenge that I consider critical in a knowledge society. It concerns the ability of our citizens in all regions to be well-served by the use of this knowledge that we are generating. That's why, for example, I have worked closely with my colleagues in the Cabinet to ensure an increase in the funding to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, as well as our world-class Networks of Centres of Excellence. The excellence of community research efforts in both our social sciences and health research programmes are examples of the lasting benefits that such research can bring to bear on the health and prosperity of comunities.

Communicating the results of scientific research to the public and to parliamentarians is a key responsibility of groups such as The Chemical Institute of Canada and other professional organizations. I have been working with these professional societies and others to help in the establishment of a new national science organization in Canada; one that will be independent, credible, drawing from a wide representation of our knowledge communities, and capable of providing assessments of S&T underlying pressing issues to support informed decision-making by government, industry and individual citizens. I am trying to catalyze a cross-section of Canada's knowledge community to help make a case for such an organization (that will build on, not replace, existing structures). I hope that readers of this magazine will contribute positively to this process.

The Responsibilities for All

Taken together, the government's new investments in R&D and innovation, both existing and promised, and its commitment to work with all sectors of our society to raise Canada's total level of R&D funding will brand Canada in the international community as a leading knowledge producer and user. This raised profile will help to attract investment and highly qualified people to Canada, enhance our knowledge base, support international marketing of Canadian products and services, and as a result help secure high standard of living and quality of life for all Canadians.

It is a new world, a world where knowledge and discovery our keys to competitive advantage, and with this government's continuing support for innovation, Canada will be at the forefront of those countries seeking to make knowledge work for them. I count on your ongoing support to achieve this.

Dr. Gilbert Normand is the Secretary of State, Science, Research and Development.
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Author:Normand, Gilbert
Publication:Canadian Chemical News
Date:Apr 1, 2001
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