By Tarik Möröy and Katalin Tóth — published in National Newswatch — Oct 25 2019
During Election 2019, the issue of poorly funded scientific research in Canada was not addressed by the major Parties and their leaders. Now, scientists across the country are concerned that they will not have the needed Federal support to make groundbreaking discoveries that move Canada and the world forward.
Investing in scientific research isn’t just important for scientists, it impacts the daily lives of all Canadians. From innovative treatments to cure diseases that affect millions of Canadians, to new technologies that can help us address the global climate crisis, scientific research is essential to confronting the issues that we face today and that our children will meet in the future. These investments are not simply expenses; they contribute significantly to the prosperity of our country, which gains from the work of highly-trained scientists, and the knowledge they generate, to drive today’s innovation-based economy.
Unfortunately, Canada’s competitors, with their research-driven economies, are beginning to leave us behind. Canada’s investment in research and development has steadily declined over the past 10 years, making us the only G7 nation to hold this dubious distinction. In fact, Canada is spending only 1.5% of its GDP on research and development, meaning that we’re no longer even in the top 30 countries in terms of total research intensity. We need real political commitment to reclaim our standing as a world-leader in scientific research and discovery.
So, with Election 2019 now over, how can our new and returning Parliamentarians help put Canada back on track? The answer already exists. In 2017, the Fundamental Science Review – known as the Naylor Report – laid out the urgent need for the Federal government to implement a multi-year strategy for major investments in research-related activities in Canada. The report, a product of extensive consultations with scientists and stakeholders across the country, provided a path to ensure that Canada doesn’t continue to trail in the race for new discoveries in all areas of scientific research.
The Federal government’s adoption of the Report’s recommendations has been piecemeal, and quite frankly not good enough. Much remains to be done, and the Naylor Report provides a clear pathway forward. Specifically, three of the Report’s recommendations require immediate action.
First, the Federal government must significantly increase investment in science and discovery research. That investment would address the steady decline in research funding in Canada and promote greater international collaboration, multidisciplinary work, and high-risk ventures to prepare our country for the challenges ahead.
Second, the Government must increase investment in the training of the next generation of scientists. This is essential if Canada is to leverage its talent and drive innovation and discovery. Without a commitment to the young researchers of tomorrow, Canada risks seeing its best and brightest be trained elsewhere around the world.
Finally, the Government must increase investment in the Research Support Fund to help institutions across Canada support their researchers as effectively and efficiently as possible. Cutting-edge research happens in universities, hospitals, and research institutes across the country, and their infrastructure is increasingly in need of upgrades and repairs. Our researchers need state of the art infrastructure to continue to do the outstanding work that they do.
Maintaining and improving the standard of living of Canadians and growing an innovative economy depend on the generation of new knowledge and the search for novel applications of existing knowledge. Therefore, basic scientific research must become a national priority.
Canadians have a lot to gain from strong Federal government support for basic science – it is in everybody’s best interest, both now and tomorrow – and it is time to act.
Tarik Möröy is a Professor at Université de Montréal and President of the Canadian Society for Molecular Biosciences.
Katalin Tóth is a Professor at Université Laval and President of the Canadian Association for Neuroscience.