[through the Post-Secondary Institutions Strategic Investment Fund], and
that really will be a $4-billion investment in our universities and colleges
and polytechnics through matching funding. And, we are trying to hit
the ground running, which is why the closing date was May 9, so that
we can take advantage of the summer construction season. We also had
the largest investment in the granting councils in a decade. I was really
pleased by that.
I hope that the community sees that we were listening and that we’re
going to continue with that. We’re scientists, we work in collaboration and
I have an open-door policy. My job is to serve you, to serve the community,
and I hope they understand that we’ve got to do this as a partnership and
get it right because it’s far too important.
UA: Among your many tasks as science minister will be to create the position of chief science officer. What can you tell me about that?
Dr. Duncan: We are in listening mode. The first thing we did was we wrote
to all our major stakeholders and said, “We want your ideas, what should
this chief science officer look like?” I talked to the chief science advisers
in New Zealand, Israel, the U.K., the U.S., and in Quebec with Dr. [Rémi]
Quirion. What best practices can we borrow? And, I wrote to all Parliamentarians, and I can tell you in seven-and-a-half years of being here, no
one ever asked me for my ideas before now. One party does not have all
So we’ve got all that feedback and we’ve just finished the analysis.
And, I don’t use that term lightly; we did run statistics – we are after all a
ministry of science. Hopefully, in the next few months, we will be able to
announce the new position.
UA: The 2016 budget announced that the minister of science will undertake a comprehensive review of all elements of federal support for fundamental science over the coming year. What are you trying to achieve
Dr. Duncan: That really came out of that listening piece. We heard it’s time
for a review. I want to know where the gaps, the challenges, are. How can we
do better by the research community? One example I’ll give you is young
With my work on climate change, there
was this sort of the realization that
I can’t stay on the sidelines anymore.
I saw science being eroded.
scientists. It’s not OK that young researchers, for CIHR for example, are
getting that first grant primarily between the ages of 41 and 43.
There will be two parts to this [review], and one will be coming very
soon, which is the announcement of a review panel.* It will probably be
six months for them to report back their findings: Where are the gaps?
Where are the holes? Have we got the best systems to support researchers? What changes need to be made? That discussion will also be opened
up. We’ll create a website where researchers from across the country will
be able to give their feedback.
UA: Looking ahead, where would you like Canada to be in terms of research
in five to 10 years?
Dr. Duncan: Well, I’ll tell you, it breaks my heart that in a 10-year period
we fell from third to eighth place among OECD countries in terms of
HERD [government expenditures on higher education research and development as a percentage of gross domestic product]. That should never
have happened. That’s why it was so important for me to get that big
investment in the granting councils.
Do we have a strong vision for science? Do we have the support of
the research community? Do we have the funding systems that allow our
world-class researchers to do the work they want do to? And, with the
chief science officer, are we building a system where we have the evidence to inform decision-making? My job is to support research and to
make sure evidence makes its way to the cabinet table.
*Editor’s note: The nine-member review panel was announced on June
13. The panel is headed by David Naylor, former president of U of T. The
other members are Robert Birgeneau, former chancellor of the University
of California Berkeley; Martha Crago, vice-president, research, at Dalhousie University; Claudia Malacrida, associate vice-president, research,
at the University of Lethbridge; Martha Piper, former president of the
University of British Columbia; Quebec’s chief scientist, Dr. Quirion;
Anne Wilson, a professor of psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University;
Mike Lazaridis, co-founder of Research in Motion; and Nobel Prize-winning Canadian physicist Art McDonald.