The bigger picture: Canada’s commitment to science and innovation

Eric M. Meslin
President and CEO
Council of Canadian Academies (CCA)

Canada has been stepping up its science and innovation game. The 2018 Global Innovation Index ranks Canada #18 out of 126 countries, up one spot from last year. With historic investments in research and infrastructure, an Innovation and Skills Plan, the Innovation Superclusters Initiative, and the appointment of a Chief Science Advisor, the Government of Canada is starting to paint the outlines of a future self-portrait of our country – one in which knowledge becomes a resource every bit as valuable as the natural resources that helped build Canada.

Many can point to these policy and financial investments as particularly impressive pieces of that painting: without basic research we might not know a world where insulin, the pacemaker, or the Canadarm exist, nor would we know some of the secrets of the cosmos. Just as a painter needs brushes, oils and palettes, the Government of Canada is providing researchers with the tools they need. As the Council of Canadian Academies’ (CCA) recent report on the state of Canada’s performance in S&T and IR&D showed, Canada’s researchers compare most favorably on the world stage. We have leading scientists producing research of high impact, and the highest levels of educational attainment compared to our peers. Yet as CCA and others have noted, Canada still has a scale-up and prosperity problem that money alone will not fix.

Investment decisions in S&T, the economy, or health also offer a glimpse into the type of society we want to live in. The metaphor of a self-portrait breaks down if we believe that only one person paints it from their perspective. Canada is now collectively painting its science, technology, and innovation future: bench scientists and social scientists; clinical researchers and bioengineers; computer programmers and linguists; granting councils and small start-ups; provinces and territories each fill in pieces of the picture, and the many publics hold a brush.

What might we expect the finished portrait look like? Time will tell.