Canadian Science Policy Conference 2017


Speaking Points

The Honourable Kirsty Duncan, PC, MP
Minister of Science

Ottawa, Ontario
November 2, 2017

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Good evening. It is a great honour and pleasure to be here.

Distinguished guests, honoured colleagues and friends, our science policy family.

I’d like to offer a warm welcome to the researchers and students here tonight. You are the scientists, engineers, astronauts, health experts, social scientists and humanities researchers who work to build a better future for all of us.

Our public servants who work tirelessly on behalf of Canadians and Canada, I am deeply humbled by all of the work you do to promote science, inspire the next generation and share your stories of success. Thank you for your tremendous contributions.

I’d like to also thank Mehrdad Hariri and the CSPC Board of Directors for the opportunity to take part in this important event.

It is a great honour to be here—the third time I’ve had the pleasure of attending this conference.

I want you to know I’m sincerely thankful for the invitation and for the support you’ve shown me these past few years. Thank you.

We have much to cover over the next hour, and I look forward to your questions afterwards.

But let me begin by addressing what might be on your minds: the call for more funding for science.

This has been and will continue to be a priority for me.

I understand the importance of investing in investigator-led research, along with the labs and tools that are necessary to do excellent research.

That’s why I commissioned an independent review of federal funding for fundamental science.

I will come back to that review shortly.

But first, I’d like to share what’s on my mind.

It is a vision that sees Canadian science as a re-energized, forward-looking and bold global pursuit.

We are at a unique moment in history where Canada is viewed as, and I quote, “a beacon” for science.

We should all be proud of the fact that we rely on the evidence produced by researchers to address some of the world’s greatest challenges.

My friends, I believe we have an opportunity to seize the moment and fulfill a vision that promotes Canada as an internationally recognized champion of science and scientists.

To achieve this vision, my priorities can be summed up in three points:

  • to strengthen science
  • to strengthen evidence-based decision making
  • to strengthen our culture of curiosity

Right now, Canada is seen around the world as a progressive country empowering its scientists to make breakthroughs that could change the way we understand ourselves and the world around us.

We rely on facts, science and evidence-based decision making.

We have reinstated the long-form census because we know that data matters.

We unmuzzled scientists.

We acted on scientists’ advice, banning asbestos to protect the health and safety of Canadians.

I brought back UCASS, the University and College Academic Staff System survey, so that we could better understand the demographics of the faculty on university campuses.

That was one of the first steps I took in a chain reaction designed to address the chronic lack of equity and diversity in the sciences.

Other measures include instituting new equity requirements in the Canada Excellence Research Chairs and Canada Research Chairs programs.

I gave universities a deadline of this December to submit an action plan to meet their equity targets in the CRC program or risk having their new funding under this program pulled.

I’ll have more to say on the issue of equity and diversity in a moment, but let me first speak to one of my greatest efforts to strengthen fundamental science.

As mentioned earlier, I commissioned the Fundamental Science Review, the first of its kind in over 40 years.

Thank you to the nine members of the review panel for their excellent work.

The independent panel gave me more than 200 pages and 35 recommendations to consider.

I agree with the majority of their recommendations and am taking action to implement many of them.

For example, I launched a Networks of Centres of Excellence competition this summer that puts a premium on bold multidisciplinary and multinational research initiatives.

I expressed my support for replacing the Science, Technology and Innovation Council with a more nimble, public-facing advisory body.

In the coming months, I will move forward with a new, more open and transparent science and innovation council so that government can benefit from independent experts working in these fields.

I will be working with the Minister of Health to revise the Canadian Institutes of Health Research legislation to separate the function of the President and the Chair of the Governing Council.

Last week, I launched the Canada Research Coordinating Committee, known as the CRCC.

The CRCC is expected to harmonize the programs and policies of the granting councils and the Canada Foundation for Innovation, benefiting the researchers they support.

I’ve asked the members of the committee, which include the presidents of the three granting council and of the CFI, to submit a work plan in the next two months to map out how they will address issues such as:

  • how Canada can increase its capacity to support international, multidisciplinary, risky and rapid-response research;
  • how we can collectively advance our efforts to support Canada’s strengths in strategic research areas; and
  • what more can be done to increase equity and diversity and improve support for early-career researchers.

I have been clear with the committee that I expect results and changes that will facilitate the work of Canadian researchers.

Earlier today, I capped the renewal of Tier 1 Canada Research Chairs—one of the most prestigious research programs in our country.

While there will be special considerations given in rare circumstances, this cap will ensure more mid-career researchers have the opportunity to hold one of these prestigious positions.

The cap will also ensure greater diversity in research chair positions. That means more women, Indigenous peoples, visible minorities and persons with disabilities working in the sciences will have a shot at holding one of these chairs.

On that note, I’d like to spend a moment reflecting on the importance of encouraging greater representation in the sciences.

I don’t think I need to make the case to this group that when our research community includes people from diverse backgrounds with unique experiences, knowledge and perspectives, we are all one step closer to the next breakthrough idea or discovery.

Broad perspectives breed great science.

This issue has a deep personal significance to me as someone who spent the bulk of her career as a woman in science.

During my science career, I was told the reason I was getting paid in the bottom 10th percentile was because I was a woman.

I was asked by a fellow faculty member during a staff meeting when I planned on getting pregnant.

I was asked to choose how I wanted to be treated: as a woman or as a scientist.

My travels across Canada have made it very clear to me that addressing the inequities in the research community must remain a top priority for all of us.

We must work together to right the gender, equity and diversity scales in the sciences.

And when we do, science will be that much stronger for it.

In addition to the people powering science, our government has made good on its promise to invest in ways that strengthen our capacity for world-class research.

For example, the $900-million Canada First Research Excellence Fund supports Canadian researchers who are taking on grand initiatives such as quantum computing, stem cell research and brain science.

And this year’s budget allocated $125 million to enhance Canada’s international reputation for excellence in artificial intelligence.

I want to highlight the important lesson this investment offers.

Canada’s strength in artificial intelligence is a direct result of investments in investigator-led fundamental research made some 30 years ago.

At the time, many thought machine learning was the stuff of science fiction. Blade Runner had just come out in theatres.

That skepticism did not deter scientists like Geoffrey Hinton from seeking funding to pursue his interest in artificial intelligence.

It was the leaders at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research—CIFAR—who saw the potential of Hinton’s early work.

They brought him to Canada, created a global research program under his leadership and made sure he had the funds to conduct his work in machine learning.

That we are now realizing the returns on those early investments shows the wisdom of investing in discovery research across the board.

The government is also providing $2 billion for new and renewed research and innovation infrastructure on university and college campuses across the country.

But we know that buildings don’t do research, people do.

That’s why we have invested, and will continue to invest, in our researchers.

Budget 2016 provided a boost to our three federal granting councils, so researchers and trainees now have access to increased, ongoing and permanent research funding.

And that’s unfettered funding—no strings attached.

This was the highest amount of new annual funding for discovery research in more than a decade.

It is in these and many other ways that we are strengthening science in Canada.

On to the second point in my vision for science: strengthening evidence-based decision making.

It is a core value of our government and one that we rely on as we make decisions about everything from the Arctic to agriculture and from environmental assessment to the health and safety of Canadians.

Science and evidence underpin everything.

As you know, I fulfilled my top mandate commitment by naming Dr. Mona Nemer as Canada’s new Chief Science Advisor.

Dr. Nemer is a highly accomplished medical researcher, a former university executive and an award-winning scholar who is recognized internationally for her contributions to academia.

As our Chief Science Advisor, her job is to provide our government with independent scientific advice about matters that could range from Arctic and ocean science to precision medicine to emerging or re-emerging diseases such as Ebola or Zika.

It is my expectation that our Chief Science Advisor will gather the most cutting-edge science and present her impartial advice to me, the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

It is then my job, as Minister of Science, to incorporate her findings into decisions made at the Cabinet table—decisions that affect the lives of Canadians.

Science, in other words, is part of the mix of economic, social, regional, health, gender and diversity advice put forward by other members of Cabinet.

I’ve asked Dr. Nemer to assess the merits of creating a network of departmental chief scientists who will provide independent advice drawn from their own science portfolios.

The work to build these bridges has already begun.

I brought the deputy ministers of all the science-based departments together to discuss how we can break down the barriers and take a whole-of-government, multidisciplinary approach on issues such as Arctic research, artificial intelligence and climate change.

We want to do this because we know science never follows a straight line.

The best science is messy science—research that moves back and forth among disciplines as it evolves.

The result? Stronger evidence that supports better decision making.

I’ve talked about how we’re strengthening science.

I’ve outlined the path forward to strengthening evidence-based decision making.

I’d now like to reflect on my third goal: strengthening the culture of curiosity in Canada.

I have had the privilege of visiting labs from coast to coast to coast and seeing the work of our outstanding researchers and students first-hand.

I am awed and humbled by their efforts.

And I will continue encouraging youth to be curious and pursue their ambitions.
That’s why I launched the Choose Science campaign to help more young people see—and their parents, relatives, teachers and mentors to encourage them to see—a future career in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, the arts and design.

I am a strong supporter of programs and events such as PromoScience, Let’s Talk Science and Science Odyssey, all of which engage young people in the wonders of STEM.

Most recently, we hosted our very first Prime Minister’s Science Fair here in Ottawa.

Why? Because we wanted young people to know that their scientific achievements are recognized and have a home on Parliament Hill.

The curiosity that drives them will take them far, and I have great hope for our country and for the entire world.

We must never doubt the talents of today’s youth.

I have always believed in the power of youth. They ask questions we’ve never even thought of before and are eager to answer those questions.

Our job is to simply get out of their way.

We must stand on the sidelines and cheer them on as they engage in and strengthen Canada’s culture of curiosity.

I ask that you help me by encouraging the young people in your life to ask bold questions, challenge assumptions and find a way around any obstacle that may lie in their path.

Colleagues, we know that science touches all aspects of our lives and that research will be the key to our future.

That’s why our government places such value on it and on the policies that strengthen our research community and our culture of science.

We know that, when it comes to science in this country, a culture change will not happen overnight.

Still, look how far we’ve already come in two short years.

You can be confident that I will continue working hard to strengthen science, strengthen evidence-based decision making and strengthen our culture of curiosity in Canada.

What I ask of you is this: Tell the story of how science helps us build a better world.

Show the people in your communities how science leads to new cancer treatments, advanced therapies for dementia, new technologies that fit in the palm of your hand and new horizons that have yet to be explored.

If we work together, I am certain we will achieve our goals: a better society, a cleaner environment, a strong middle class and a better quality of life for everyone.

So let’s keep pulling in the same direction.

We’re in this together, and we’re that much stronger when we are united in our effort to make a difference through science.

Thank you.

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