October 21, 2022
Chair, panel members, thank you for the opportunity to meet with you today to discuss the important work you have been tasked with: advising the federal government on modernizing the federal system supporting research.
My name is Paul-Émile Cloutier, and I am the president and CEO of HealthCareCAN, the national voice for health research institutes, hospitals, and healthcare organizations across Canada. I am joined today by some of our member vice-presidents of research:
Dr. David Hill, Integrated Vice President, Research & Scientific Director, Lawson Health Research Institute, St. Joseph’s Health Care & London Health Sciences Centre and a HealthCareCAN Board member and a co-chair of our Vice Presidents of Health Research Committee.
Dr. Michael Czubryt, Executive Director, Research, St. Boniface Hospital
HealthCareCAN members are part of the more than 1,200 healthcare facilities that support over two million direct and indirect jobs, account for nearly 12% of Canada’s GDP, and stimulate local economies through research and development, commercialization of discoveries, and infrastructure projects. HealthCareCAN membership is diverse and made up of a variety of institutions, including research institutes, hospitals, long-term care and home care providers, health authorities and health sector associations. These organizations are crucial in furthering our understanding of diseases, developing treatment solutions for patients, delivering high-quality care, and contributing to addressing the most pressing issues facing Canada.
In preparation for this meeting, we convened our Vice Presidents of Health Research Committee to discuss the message we should bring to this panel today. Three key threads emerged from our discussion: Opportunity. Ambition. Urgency.
Canada is home to top research institutes and research talent, and punches above its weight; however, we have yet to realize the true potential of Canada’s research sector, primarily due to the limited investment in research in the last decades as well as the lack of strategic thinking about the future of health research in Canada.
Funding issues – both in terms of the level of funding and the way federal bodies and programs administer funding – are at the foundation of the many challenges our sector is facing because difficulty accessing funding deeply affects the whole research ecosystem. If researchers cannot access funding to conduct promising research, to cover the full costs of research, to pay competitive salaries of laboratory staff and trainees that make research possible, or to purchase and maintain equipment, then talented researchers will leave Canada or will choose not to enter the field. Consequently, there are fewer opportunities for students, trainees, post-doctoral fellows, and early career researchers to gain experience and sharpen their skills. This in turn impacts Canada’s talent pipeline and future research endeavours.
Furthermore, we cannot commercialize what we do not create. When researchers leave to pursue their work in another country, Canada loses out on the innovative and economic benefits of their research.
The issue that the panel will be dealing with concerns machinery of government, and I do not profess to be an expert in this area. However, this review of the federal research support system provides an opportunity to address the structural challenges that impede access to funding, and to make changes to the existing framework that will maximize the impact of Canadian scientific priorities and research dollars. It is an opportunity to break down barriers between the public sector, the private sector, and academia that make it difficult to foster partnerships and innovate together. It is an opportunity to strengthen the structures that already exist, such as the Tri-Council, and infuse greater accountability, collaboration, and governance into the federal research support system.
But simply restructuring the federal support system will not be enough. Canada must be ambitious and meet the moment. Countries around the world are drastically expanding their commitment to research, recognizing that it will be central to the knowledge-based economy of today and tomorrow. Canada needs to do the same. This involves boosting our level of investment and establishing long-term, sustainable funding, but also being more strategic in our pursuit of science, including creating a more cohesive, complementary, and coordinated federal support system for research. Canada has taken a fragmented and continuously evolving approach to strategic research that has not always been effective. Canada should have a harmonized approach to support strategic science in ways that can address essential societal issues, engage and support industry-led research and create research structures that maximize the impact of Canadian scientific priorities. More effective governance and accountability is needed in tandem with an effort to better leverage investigator-initiated discovery research. While this panel has a short timeline in which to complete its work, your work is a chance to start to articulate a longer-term, ambitious vision for research in Canada.
Finally, I would like to focus in on health research to illustrate the urgency with which we need to act. As I noted, our global peers are significantly restructuring and strengthening their health research support systems to better position themselves for the future and to compete internationally for talent and investment. To date, Canada has not done the same.
While the US and UK have clearly outlined their desired goals and consequently enhanced investments in health research in the last few years, Canada in its most recent budget did not provide an annual increase to CIHR’s budget. This is especially concerning since insufficient funding is directed to investigator-led research in Canada, affecting our ability to compete with our international peers. Even in strategic priority areas identified by the federal government and where funding commitments have been made, Canadian investment lags our peer countries. If Canada does not act soon, we will fall even further behind.
It is vital that the federal support system for research aligns with the needs of the research ecosystem of today, and Canada’s goals and ambitions for the future. We are not proposing a revolution but rather evolution. We need to simplify our scientific structures to focus on investigator-led research and strategic science. We are hopeful that this panel is starting Canada down this path, and HealthCareCAN looks forward to helping you shape the journey ahead.
HealthCareCAN presented to the Advisory Panel on the Federal Research Support System alongside Deborah Gordon Gordon-El-Bihbety, President and CEO of Research Canada and Dr. Rose Goldstein, Chair of Research Canada. To read their remarks, click here.
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