Mississauga Board of Trade
The Honourable Kirsty Duncan, PC, MP
Minister of Science
May 5, 2017
Distinguished guests, honoured colleagues and friends.
Good morning, everyone.
It’s a pleasure to be here with you today.
Thank you, Neil [Maresk, VP Scientific Affairs, Astra Zeneca], for your kind introduction.
I'd also like to thank David Wojcik, President and CEO of the Mississauga Board of Trade, as well as your entire team and sponsors, for the generous invitation to speak this morning.
It is an honour and a privilege to be here.
I’d like to speak with you this morning about science and why science matters—why it matters to universities and colleges, why it matters to business and why it matters to Canadians.
I was appointed science minister in 2015 as part of Canada’s first gender-balanced cabinet. As a scientist myself, I like to say I walk the walk and talk the talk.
As you may know, I taught health, corporate citizenship and environment at the University of Toronto, the Rotman School of Management and the University of Windsor, respectively.
But you may not know that in 1996, I led a scientific expedition with a team of 17 world-renowned scientists and experts—all men—to Svalbard, Norway, 500 miles from the North Pole. I was 26 years of age when I started. I was working in largely a man’s world and I was leading this expedition with 17 men.
It was quite the trip.
Our mission was to find the cause of the 1918 Spanish flu, which killed upwards of 50 million people around the world—more than the Black Death of the Middle Ages and more than all the fighting in the First World War.
And half of those people were aged 20 to 40 years of age—healthy adults.
I wanted to know why.
I wanted to find the virus to make a better flu vaccine and to test our drugs against history’s deadliest disease.
Given the strong presence of pharmaceutical companies in Mississauga, I’m sure you can appreciate the importance of such an expedition.
Our best chance of finding the virus was to exhume the bodies of six young men who were believed to have died of the Spanish flu on their way from mainland Norway to Svalbard to take up jobs as coal miners.
You can only imagine the barriers we faced: raising the money to carry out this expedition, seeking government approvals to conduct the exhumations, developing the safety protocols to protect everyone involved, and transporting two tonnes of medical supplies to the Arctic.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get the answers we were looking for.
However, I am proud to say that our research was recognized for the biosafety standards we set for keeping our team and the nearby community safe.
And that brings me to the message I would like to deliver to you about the importance of science and what our government is doing on this front.
Throughout history, some of the most successful societies were built on great science.
Scientific discoveries and inventions have often led to new and unexpected industries.
Think about Canadian surgeons Dr. Wilfred Bigelow and Dr. John Callaghan, who were exploring open heart surgery techniques at the University of Toronto’s Banting and Best Institute in the late 1940s.
They observed that pulses from an electrical probe could restart the heart of a dog undergoing surgery.
What they did not know at the time was that this observation would lead, with help from National Research Council engineer John Hopps, to the development of the pacemaker and the establishment of a whole new field—biomedical engineering.
It is generally agreed that innovation is a main driver of sustained economic growth.
Innovation leads to new markets, new possibilities, new technologies and new health practices and drug therapies.
But innovation does not occur in a vacuum.
It emerges from a base of knowledge and ideas—a ground-level understanding of how things work. And this comes from science and the people who do it.
The path isn’t linear. It isn’t always straightforward.
Our government takes science very seriously because we believe evidence-based decision making is key to making sound policy decisions, growing the economy and creating good jobs. This approach leads to new jobs, services, opportunities and an overall stronger middle class.
Let me tell you a little about what our government is doing on the science front in Canada.
The first act of our government was to reinstate the long-form census. That’s going to give us the evidence we need for better planning our cities, our transit systems and our housing needs, to mention a few. And that benefits business and Canadians.
The second act was to encourage scientists to speak freely about their work. This means Canadians hear first-hand from researchers about their latest discoveries and learn how they can best protect their families from disease and environmental hazards.
We have also made significant investments in science.
In Budget 2016, we invested $2 billion in research and innovation spaces on university and college campuses across Canada, many right here in your back yard. These are the places where science actually happens—to better prepare grads with the job-ready experiences they’re looking for.
This includes major investments in local institutions such as Sheridan and Humber colleges and, of course, the University of Toronto.
Through the Canada First Research Excellence Fund we invested $900 million in Canadian research teams taking on grand initiatives like quantum computing, stem cell research and neuroscience.
And we are making a huge investment—$950 million—to support a small number of business-led innovation superclusters.
In Budget 2017, we invested $221 million in Mitacs, a not-for-profit organization that connects business and students to solve industry problems while allowing students to gain real work experience. That money will create up to 10,000 new work-integrated learning opportunities per year through research internships.
We invested $125 million to bolster our expertise in artificial intelligence, one of the most cutting-edge technologies of our times.
We’re investing $10 million in the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo, we’re investing in stem cell research, we’re teaching grade school students to code—and the list goes on.
Why are we doing this? We’re doing this because our government believes in people—in nurturing their talent, from the very earliest age, through their education and their careers.
I could go on, but the bottom line is this: we are investing in the people who will be your next best hires.
And that leads me to one of my highest priorities: increasing the representation of women, Indigenous peoples, disabled people and other under-represented groups in science, technology, engineering and mathematics—STEM for short.
Did you know that corporations that have more women on boards of directors perform better and make more money than those that have few or no women? It’s true.
Fortune 500 companies with the highest representation of women board directors attained significantly higher financial performance on average than those with the lowest representation of women board directors. This is according to Catalyst, a leading international non-profit organization that works toward building inclusion in the workplace.
Women bring a new dimension and a new perspective to the table. They ask different questions and they offer different skills.
This is the same for women in science.
In fact, just yesterday, our government set new equity and diversity requirements for our universities in order to take advantage of one of Canada’s most prestigious research programs—the Canada Research Chairs. We have toughened the rules so that there will be financial consequences for those universities that fail to meet their own equity and diversity targets.
On top of all these investments our government has made, I commissioned an extensive review last year of how we fund science in Canada—the first in about 40 years. Our country spends billions annually on science research and facilities, but no one since the 1970s had bothered to take a comprehensive look to ensure our investments are strategic and effective and that they meet the needs of our research community and all Canadians.
Dr. David Naylor, former president of U of T, conducted that review along with a blue ribbon panel of experts. This study will inform our decisions on the future of Canadian science and scholarship.
It was submitted to me last month, and I will be responding to it in due course.
I will also announce the appointment of a Chief Science Advisor in the coming months.
He or she will provide advice that ensures our government is on the right track when it comes to investing in science and new technologies that benefit our economy, our companies and our communities.
As I hope I’ve shown, we are investing strategically to make the most of our homegrown talent, but we also need to make sure we are attracting the best international researchers to Canada.
That’s why, in honour of Canada’s 150th anniversary, I have announced a new type of Canada Research Chair to attract top-tier scientists and scholars from around the world.
And we’re working to implement this quickly so that universities can get these talented women and men to Canada as soon as possible.
I know there are some people representing Mississauga’s thriving life sciences sector here today.
I’d like to share with you a little about what I heard this past week during my visit to Washington, D.C. I was in the U.S. capital to talk about our desire to bring talented researchers from around the world to Canada.
In these uncertain times, I also took the opportunity to remind our American counterparts of the close friendship and working relations our two countries have shared for many, many generations.
And I couldn’t have been more honoured by the warm welcome I received from my science counterparts. Let me tell you, our American neighbours take significant pride in the relationships they have with our country—with our businesses, our universities, our researchers and our communities.
I had the honour of meeting with our American partners at NASA, the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. Did you know that there are more than 1,000 research projects between Canada and the U.S. being funded through the National Science Foundation alone?
But our government takes nothing for granted. We will continue to nurture our most important international relationship, and I will continue to foster science collaboration with our most important ally.
This brings me back to the importance of the research community and businesses working together more closely in Canada.
We know that scientists want to make a difference in the world.
They’re doing that already in their labs by training new generations of students and making new discoveries.
But many researchers would like to see their hard work pay off in the business world.
They want to work with industry partners who can help take their discoveries and make them into new products or services that protect the health and safety of our communities.
As a government, we are working hard to encourage more successful partnerships between science and business here in Canada.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have shown you what we are doing and will continue to do as a government.
It is a message I’m sharing with entrepreneurs, researchers and scholars, young people and women’s groups—to everyone with whom I speak.
We know we have a lot of work to do to achieve our goal of a bolder, brighter and more prosperous future for all Canadians.
Science is everybody’s business—and good science is good for business.
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