G7 meetings show benefits of Canada’s support for research as a public good

Chad Gaffield
Royal Society of Canada

A half-century ago, Canada’s centennial events celebrated political independence amidst growing concern about continued intellectual and cultural dependence on other countries. Today, scientists and scholars in Canada have graduated from world-class domestic as well as international universities; they include leaders in many fields and teach students using up-to-date and relevant curricula.

This dramatic colonial-to-world-class university transformation has been primarily enabled since the 1960s by federal government leadership in cultivating research excellence as a public good at home and abroad. This year’s federal budget enthusiastically strengthened this leadership at an ideal time for Canada’s hosting of the G7 countries. The message was clear: Canada can help lead global efforts to use evidence-based insights for societal benefit at this time of tremendous change, challenge and opportunity.

As host for the G7 Science Academies, Canada’s national representative, the Royal Society of Canada (RSC), seized this opportunity with its partners by selecting two topics for specific attention: (1) The Global Arctic: the sustainability of northern communities in the context of changing ocean systems; and (2) Our digital future and its impact on knowledge, industry and the workforce.

The first step was the development of formal G7 Science Academy statements to support political deliberations on major global topics. These statements draw upon current science around the world to identify key challenges, recommendations and principles for action. Thanks to the support of Minister of Science, Kirsty Duncan, and Canada’s G7 Sherpa, Peter Boehm (now Senator), many of the Academy recommendations on Our Digital Future and the Global Arctic were reflected in the G7 Summit Communiqué as well as the seven Charlevoix commitments. These documents included, for example, our recommendations on ensuring ethical and human-centered approaches to AI, promoting lifelong learning and digital literacy and promoting research and development in ocean science.

In addition, the G7 Academy statements have provided the framework for successive G7 Research Summits since last Spring. Together with federal, provincial and international partners, the RSC developed these Summits to bring together leaders from across Canada and around the world to share knowledge and insights across fields and sectors, and to recommend next steps both domestically and internationally. In turn, this year’s initiative will lead into next year’s thematic program as the RSC continues to address concern about a growing science-society disconnect by tackling complex and urgent issues in support of optimal decisions in the immediate and longer terms.

We are just beginning to truly confront the global challenges of our era. For both domestic and international reasons, Canada is now playing a major role in helping connect the latest research to urgent global issues. In keeping with Canada’s federal leadership of research excellence as a public good, we must continue to act boldly and collaboratively to help make a better a future.