Standing Committee on Science and Research

Speaking points

Dr. Mona Nemer
Chief Science Advisor of Canada

Standing Committee on Science and Research

February 8, 2022

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Good evening vice chairs and members of the committee. Thank you for the opportunity to exchange with you this evening.

I would like to first congratulate you and all members on being nominated to this important committee, the creation of which is vital not just for the research community, but for our country’s future.

Over the past two years, we have seen science in action like never before, as a new virus swept through countries and posed an existential threat not seen for a century. Science guided us throughout the pandemic and gave us the tools – from diagnostics to vaccines and therapies –that saved lives and are allowing us to return to a more normal state. Researchers raced to learn more about the virus and the disease it causes; their discoveries informed public policies in real time and generated an unprecedented public interest in science, science advice and evidence-informed decisions.

During this time, in my capacity as Chief Science Advisor, I reached out to Canadian researchers who generously participated in many task forces and expert panels to help provide science advice to our government in support of pandemic management. This included advice on research needs, the role of aerosols in virus transmission, the impact of the disease on children, and options for ongoing virus monitoring and early detection.

Science and research will be needed even more in the post-pandemic era, to help us build healthy, safe and sustainable societies while addressing the challenges of mitigating and adapting to climate change. Which is why the work of this committee is so important.

Since its inception in the fall of 2017, my office has been working toward fulfilling our mandate to provide advice to government on (1) improving support for quality scientific research, including guidelines for an open science ecosystem, and (2) enhancing the science advisory function within government, including processes for science-informed decisions. To these ends, we developed a model scientific integrity policy that has now been implemented by 22 federal departments and agencies, along with a roadmap for open science which has also been embraced by the research community within and outside government departments. We have also recommended and helped develop a growing network of departmental science advisors that further enhances the science advisory needs of government. If I may, Madame Chair, I wish to acknowledge your invaluable support in helping set up this most useful network, in your role as Minister of Science.

Additionally, my office participated in the creation of the Interdepartmental Indigenous STEM Cluster, or I-STEM, which works to increase and expand support for Indigenous priorities in environmental stewardship and research. We have also been active in international scientific engagement, which greatly benefited our country during the pandemic.

My office will continue to provide science advice on issues that are critical to the welfare of Canadians, including emergency preparedness, climate change adaptation, advanced technologies, and research and talent development in key sectors.

The acquisition of new scientific understanding, its mobilization in technology innovation, and its careful, appropriate and transparent use in government decision-making contribute to the welfare and prosperity of all Canadians. Over the years, we have enjoyed some noteworthy successes in diverse areas ranging from physics, computer sciences and engineering to life sciences and health, which has translated into digital technologies and health products, among other innovations. But, as many countries around the world increased their attention to and investments in research to drive their economies, Canada’s relative spending on R&D has declined over the past two decades. A 2018 report of the Council of Canadian Academies outlines how Canada is lagging other countries in research on most enabling and strategic technologies, and accounts for a relatively small share of the world’s research output for promising areas of technology development, notably biotechnology, nanotechnology and materials science. This of course has a direct impact on our ability to create innovative products and businesses that generate jobs and prosperity. Canada can still catch up to our peer countries who are forging ahead with big, bold visions for science and technology. We have the essential ingredients to do so with our talented people and our world-class facilities, but getting there means prioritizing science in our economic strategies.

The pandemic has already taught us many lessons: the importance of home-grown research, innovation and manufacturing; and the power generated when government, business, academia and civil society work collaboratively to advance science-based solutions. Most of our peer countries are prioritizing research and innovation for their post-pandemic economies, creating a highly competitive environment for attracting and retaining talent and investments. As we look to a future that will need even more science and research, we must set ambitious targets for our country and ensure that we have the appropriate environment and conditions to meet them. A thriving research ecosystem is foundational for talent development and discovery. It also enables the development of mission-focused R&D in priority sectors for our country, whether they be health, agriculture, energy or secure communications.

In summary, reaffirming our research prominence will result in socio-economic benefits for all Canadians. Science leadership will provide us the tools to strengthen our international standing in an increasingly complex world. We need to bring science and technology innovation to the mainstream of our economic policies, and we need to enshrine scientific advice in our decision-making processes.

I look forward to assisting the committee in its important work. Thank you.