Innovation, the source of most of Canada’s future growth, needs to be nurtured and supported if Canada is to thrive in the coming years of financial uncertainty.
I write to ask you to use your influence to help ensure the continuation and enhancement of federal government support of publicly-funded research, a key part of innovation, both in universities through the Granting Councils and within the government’s own departments.
Publicly-funded research in the natural, medical, and social sciences, and in the humanities and engineering, plays an essential role in Canadian innovation. Canada, and many of its industries, relies on publicly-funded researchers. Even in times of stringency, continued commitment to publicly-funded research is essential to grow Canada out of austerity. Decreased funding for research would cause damage to Canada’s innovation system that could take decades to repair.
Basic research, in a wide variety of fields, is the cornerstone of innovation, often leading to the biggest breakthroughs. By producing new knowledge, often in universities, it provides opportunities upon which a country’s downstream, more targeted, innovations rely. It plays a key role in producing vibrant, creative cities such as Waterloo, Ontario. It ensures Canadian access to the international networks by which much foreign technology, know-how, and ideas are transferred. It plays a critical role in educating and inspiring the next generation of researchers and other thought leaders, and in attracting foreign students to Canada (who alone contribute $6.5B p.a. to our economy). Further, basic research leads academics and their students to create world-class spin-off companies. A recent multi-decade study estimated that the Canadian economic impacts of companies that flowed directly from Canadian university research, in the natural sciences and engineering, were 3-4 times the total federal/provincial government research funding in these fields, both direct and indirect, over the same period, even after allowing for inflation.
When it comes to protecting Canadians’ health and welfare and contributing to economic prosperity, government departments’ own research also plays a unique and indispensable role, quite different from universities or industry. Government research has been responsible for many of Canada’s greatest scientific and technological achievements, with major social and economic impacts and of direct relevance to the problems and questions that government must address in the service of its citizenry. As just one example, Canola, developed by the National Research Council and Agriculture Canada, has been critically important to the success of western Canada.
Publicly-funded investments in health research empower us to address the health needs of Canadians, both upstream in terms of prevention and downstream when illness occurs.
As the Social Science and Humanities Research Council reminds us, study and research in the social sciences and humanities equips tomorrow’s workers and leaders with the capacity for critical and creative thinking that are essential to successful innovation and to meeting the challenges of the 21st century.
Not long ago, The Economist, one of the world’s most prestigious economic publications, called on the world’s governments to adopt a small number of policies to secure the jobs of the future; one was to invest in basic research. Other authorities, from Industry Canada’s business-based Expert Panel on Commercialization to the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee, agree. In the UK, there is strong recent evidence of high returns to the broad economy from Granting Council spending, in as short a time span as a couple of years. These returns are much higher than those from R&D tax credits for the private sector.
Canada’s success depends on the knowledge and skills that make innovation possible. Investments in publicly-funded research and higher education are the cornerstone of Canada’s economic and social future. Canada’s researchers are poised to meet the challenges of Canada’s future. We, and all Canadians, count on your continued support.
c: The Honourable James M. Flaherty, P.C., M.P., Minister of Finance
The Honourable Christian Paradis, P.C., M.P., Minister of Industry
The Honourable Gary Goodyear, P.C., M.P., Minister of State (Science and Technology)