Universities Canada

Speech

Speaking Points

The Honourable Kirsty Duncan, PC, MP
Minister of Science

Montréal, Quebec
April 26, 2017

Check Against Delivery

Good afternoon.

Thank you, Elizabeth [Elizabeth Cannon, President, University of Calgary], for that kind introduction and for your tremendous accomplishments as Chair of Universities Canada.

It’s an honour to be here with you today and to see so many familiar faces.

I am so pleased to meet many of you once again.

I have had the privilege of meeting many of you since being appointed Minister of Science in the fall of 2015.

I visited many of your campuses and spent time with you, with your staff and, most importantly, with your researchers and students.

Every encounter, whether it was a one-on-one conversation, a round-table discussion or a tour of one of your remarkable facilities, has left me humbled and inspired.

Thank you.

I am proud to serve a government that understands the role universities play in providing us with the evidence we need to make sound policy decisions—decisions about our climate, environment, economy, health and communities.

We are committed to science and to hard-working scientists.

And we are committed to making sure science helps us build a better future for all Canadians.

Today, I want to talk to you about what I believe universities can do to help us work toward that bright future.

I want to share what I think universities can do to build a better future for all Canadians.

Let’s begin with the Science Review and how the review will inform the future of Canadian research and scholarship.

As you know, a broad external review of the federal agencies had not been done since the 1970s.

More than 40 years had passed and we needed to ask, “is the funding system working optimally and is it meeting the needs of the research community and Canadians?”

It was one of the first questions I asked upon being appointed by the Prime Minister.

It quickly became a priority for me to launch an independent review to assess the strengths and weaknesses, gaps and opportunities and to determine how the system could be improved for researchers.

We needed to ensure that our investment of taxpayer dollars is strategic and effective and meets the needs of scientists, scholars and researchers.

I am profoundly grateful to all the distinguished panel members, including the Chair, Dr. David Naylor, for their service.

I am grateful for the panel’s hard work and commitment to science.

The comprehensive and rigorous nature of their advice is what makes this report such an authoritative contribution to science policy.

It’s worth noting that the response to the review was overwhelming.

Your contributions and those of the researchers at your institutions were truly invaluable.

The fact that this report reflects such a high level of engagement from the university sector and Canadians—1,275 submissions in total—gives it a status it would not otherwise have.

For that, I cannot thank you enough.

I want to thank you all for supporting and contributing to the review.

The Science Review report was officially delivered earlier this month.

I am taking the time to consider it in full.

But I can say we now have a baseline from which to begin the real work of strengthening fundamental science.

I will not address all 35 recommendations in the report in detail for you today.

However, I’d like to give you an overall sense of some of the key themes and priorities that have stayed with me since receiving the report:

  • Governance and coordination
  • Diversity and equity
  • Early-career researchers
  • And the ability to quickly respond to new opportunities and challenges – in other words, speed

First, allow me to reflect on the idea of governance and coordination.

The report offered a thorough account of the functioning of the three granting councils—the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council [NSERC], the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council [SSHRC] and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research [CIHR]—as well as the Canada Foundation for Innovation [CFI].

Broadly speaking, the panel described these organizations as professional and effective.

They were not described as a broken system.

That’s good news.

What I did hear, though, is that the system needs to be much better coordinated across agencies and have more transparent and accountable governance structures.

Consistent and coordinated policies and mandates will ensure we are all pulling in the same direction—as opposed to “pulling at the blanket” as Dr. Naylor described.

I am reviewing the panel’s coordination and governance recommendations now and will begin mapping out what can be done to harmonize and better coordinate the system.

The panel also made a strong case for greater resourcing for this system.

Obviously, I am sympathetic to their arguments.

But we all need to recognize that these needs represent one among many priorities for our government—and one that I believe is less understood than it should be.

It is our shared responsibility to explain how investments in research and scholarship, through the granting councils and the CFI, serves science and the greater public good.

We know we have an interested audience.

Canadians understand the value of the post-secondary institutions in their back yard.

They understand why a cure for cancer or a neurodegenerative disease is a good thing.

They understand that science inspires our children and helps our elders live better and more independent lives.

They believe the science of climate change and can make the connection between a changing climate and the food we eat, the air we breathe, the weather we wake up to every day and the communities we’re trying to build.

Science matters to Canadians.

Canadians care about science.

If that weren’t the case, we wouldn’t have seen so many of them participate in the March for Science this past weekend.

The challenge now is to connect the dots between the billions of dollars that go to the granting councils and the things Canadians care about—their health and safety, the environment, their businesses and communities, and jobs and opportunities for them and their families.

Those are their priorities.

You must be realistic about what your top priorities are and make the case about how investing in those priorities will support what matters most to Canadians.

The second theme that stood out for me was diversity and equity.

These are two core values that have informed many of our government’s actions, from appointing the first gender-balanced Cabinet to using gender-based analysis to review our most recent budget.

We must improve access to opportunities so that everyone has a shot at contributing to the future of our country.

Equality is protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which was enshrined in the Constitution of Canada 35 years ago this year.

I know universities are great upholders of the Charter, and we all recognize the importance of equitable treatment for all.

However, the report asserts that there is a lot more work to be done in this area, and the academic community needs to roll up its sleeves.

The bottom line is we’re not where we need to be on diversity and equity.

The panel is advising me to consider more coercive measures if voluntary approaches that are in place do not yield results.

I've given you some tools—including action to reinstate the University and College Academic Staff System survey, or UCASS as we call it.

The first results of the survey were released on Tuesday of this week, and I’m pleased to report that Statistics Canada received an unprecedented response—75 out of 112 universities responded in this preliminary release survey.  

Thank you for your cooperation and enthusiasm.

The full data set, to be released later this fall, will give us information on gender, age, academic rank, salary and many other data points about full-time academic staff on campuses across the country.

This evidence may then inform our policies and practices so that they are that much more equitable.

Bringing UCASS back was one of our government’s major equity and diversity achievements.

Changes to the Canada Excellence Research Chairs—or CERCs—was another.

We instituted new equity requirements in the CERC competition—and we are expecting results from you.

Our government will not be excited about approving funding for the results of the competition under way if it does not make improvements over the current ratio: there are currently 27 active CERCs, 26 of which are men.

There is only one active female CERC.

We can do better.

It is my expectation this will happen. No excuses.

That’s just a start.

I will continue to explore measures to encourage more diversity and equity in the research experience.

If Canada is to achieve its greatest potential in science and scholarship, we need all people to know they are welcomed in the lab, the field or the classroom.  

The key word is people.

Our actions to improve equity and diversity in research are not only about doing what is right or fair.

Our actions are about people—about giving people the opportunity to get the skills and knowledge they need to succeed, regardless of their race, gender or background.

We also need to provide more opportunities for Indigenous Peoples.

Two weeks ago, I was in Thunder Bay at the Health Research Centre and had the opportunity to talk to Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day.

He made it clear to me that as we work through this report and on science policy, we need Indigenous Peoples as full participants.

He told me in no uncertain terms that their communities have no intention of being specimens, spectators or token participants as we move forward on science policy in Canada.

Chief Day’s comments are consistent with the feedback I’ve received from other Indigenous groups.

The report also has some advice on Indigenous research.

I think we need to consider that carefully and act in a way that is fair, inclusive and in full partnership with Indigenous Peoples.

And these efforts will need to take into account not only equity and diversity, but also appropriate support for emerging and early-career researchers—the next theme I want to address.

The Science Review brought into sharp focus the challenges facing our early-career researchers.

These researchers are vital for scientific progress.

They come with fresh insights and new ways to solve old problems.

Take James Watson, Francis Crick and Rosalind Franklin.

Their ages were 24, 36 and 32, respectively, when their work led to the discovery of the DNA double helix in 1953.

There is so much potential among researchers at the start of their careers.

But all too often they face incredible obstacles that prevent them from achieving their ambitions.

They have to chase grants, teach classes and develop new networks, usually with very little funding support.

And today, there is less time, money and security to do all of that.

The panel suggested that we need a more robust support network around our early-career researchers.

They should not be getting their first grants after age 40.

The stories I hear, particularly from women, are troubling.

On top of the inherent struggles that women in science already have to deal with, they face added roadblocks if they want to start a family.

I’ve even known women who wear large lab coats to hide their pregnancy.

That’s not right.

There is much work to do.

I expect you to come together as a community to reduce the odds stacked against young researchers.

The fourth theme I want to address before we get to the discussion is speed.

It’s about being able to act quickly to take advantage of opportunities and keep pace with developments beyond our borders.

I mentioned before the importance of being ready to address grand challenges by overcoming barriers to interdisciplinary and multi-national research.

We must also be less risk-averse in our decisions to fund cutting-edge research so that we have a system that is nimble and responsive to rapidly emerging opportunities.

I'll give you an example.

Today, there is a confluence of factors around the world making Canada the place to do cutting-edge research.

We are putting the Canada 150 Research Chairs into place to attract those bright international stars.

We will streamline the process to get those researchers into those chairs as quickly as possible.

And, as always, I will be relying on you to help identify the most talented researchers we can recruit to further our competitive advantage in science and research.

Speed.

Early-career researchers.

Diversity and equity.

Coordination and governance.

These are the four themes resonating with me since receiving the Science Review report.

After mapping out what is possible, I will begin to implement short-, medium- and long-term solutions that will address these themes and more.

While I anticipate there will be plenty of conversation and plenty of give and take, I am confident that we are united in working toward a singular goal: to create a bold, vibrant and equitable research culture in Canada.

My friends, you have no greater champion than me and our government.

I am a great believer in the power of science.

Our government values and supports basic science.

We believe in the hard work of scientists.

And we know that universities play an important role in their communities, in our economy and in our future.

We are ready to make bold changes that will help us build that brighter future where every person has the chance to succeed.

The question is, are you ready to join us?

Thank you.


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