Evidence of meeting #165 for Industry, Science and Technology in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was scientists.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

David McGovern  Associate Deputy Minister, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, Department of Industry

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Dane Lloyd Conservative Sturgeon River—Parkland, AB

Thank you, Minister.

That is a separate matter. It is related. However, this is about an NSERC process for deciding who gets to sit on a site advisory committee related to Huawei's co-investment with the University of Laval. In the application process, people were asked if they had political views about Huawei. If they had political views, they would be excluded from this process.

When asked about this, Huawei stated that they did not request this screening process and do not expect a screening process for this application, so why is NSERC, a federal agency under your control, proactively going in and screening people out for their political views?

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

I'm going to turn this over to my deputy minister.

9:30 a.m.

David McGovern Associate Deputy Minister, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, Department of Industry

Thanks very much.

Let me preface my comments by telling you that, before I started with ISED, I was the deputy national security adviser to former prime minister Harper and then to Prime Minister Trudeau.

When these issues first emerged on our radar screen, Minister Duncan, as she's told you throughout, asked us to put together the data, to put together the fact base. We reached out to our granting councils, to the U15, which are the 15 most research intensive universities, to Universities Canada. We covered the whole spectrum. We just wanted to get a sense of what the issue of foreign investment in research in our academic institutions looked like. In the specific case that you're talking about, our granting councils want to ensure there's no bias in any of the people who do peer review. The way this story was portrayed in the newspaper suggests that it was focused on a single entity, single company, single country. But the notion of having no bias by the people who do the peer review, it applies to every grant application.

What we've been doing recently for Minister Duncan is trying to look at the broader issue of foreign investment in research at our universities. We're working with the universities. We brought in the national security community. We've reached out to foreign countries. We're putting together sort of the fact base, but we're also raising awareness on the part of all of the participants.

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Dane Lloyd Conservative Sturgeon River—Parkland, AB

I have only 30 seconds left, and I do thank you for that thorough technical response.

I understand that we need to have strong protections from conflict of interest in these cases, and I do support that matter. However, when Canadians see that government granting agencies are asking people for their personal political viewpoints before they can apply for a process, I think that is crossing a line, and I think Canadians have a lot of concerns when that is a factor.

I only have four seconds left, so I just want to thank both of you again for appearing today.

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Dan Ruimy

Thank you very much.

We're going to Mr. Oliver.

You have five minutes.

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

John Oliver Liberal Oakville, ON

Thank you. I'll be sharing my time with Mr. Jowhari.

We're spending a lot of time talking about science. I did want to thank you for your leadership on the sports file as well, the great work you've been doing across Canada to promote sports, inclusive sports, in particular.

I want to harken back to the conversation you had with Mr. Chong. I think it was Samuel Clemens who said there are lies, damned lies and statistics, which is basically the use of statistics to bolster weak arguments. I just wanted to reflect on that, because in this case, there were statistics being used that weren't relevant to the time period that was reflective of the work you've done as minister.

Here's the quick reality story. In my previous life, I chaired a peer review committee for CIHR, and over the previous government span we watched our allocation actually just dry up. We had people with Ph.D.s leaving Canada. Worst of all, we couldn't bring new students in to bring them up to Ph.D. level. There was a paucity of funds.

I've stayed in touch with the science officers and the others who are involved in it. They are all reporting incredible interest back into.... This is health research, which I know isn't NSERC or SSHRC, but it's been a phenomenal change and we're seeing now robust academic programs. We're seeing good Ph.D.-calibre people back in our universities, and we're seeing training happening across Canada. I just wanted to reflect that. As he said, there's reality and there's rhetoric. This is the reality. The rest is rhetoric.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

John, thank you for highlighting it. Yes, it was disappointing to provide stats only to 2017, knowing the historic budget was in 2018.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

John Oliver Liberal Oakville, ON

It's very obfuscating on his part, I think.

I did want to ask you a question, though. Part of what you've been working on is the Canada research chairs program, which I think has been a phenomenal statement about our commitment as a government to research and bringing long-lasting leadership—not just funding, but leadership positions—to make sure we keep research strong across Canada.

I was wondering if you could give us an update on how that's working, the early-career researchers and the work they're doing to retain very accomplished Ph.D.s and promote new researchers coming in.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

I'll give you a very specific example. Last week we announced the discovery grants, which are a large NSERC program. We made the largest investment in discovery grants in Canadian history. Some $588 million went to 5,000 researchers across Canada. What is particularly exciting is that 500 of those grants went to early-career researchers. There was an increase. They got an increase in the funding. They got a stipend as well as 1,700 scholarships for postgrads.

What we hear from the researchers is that they are feeling the difference. They understand that under the previous government, funds stagnated. No one was talking to the research community. It really was a broken relationship that needed repairing. When you stagnate funds it means there are small pools. The previous government added to the challenge by concentrating funds in a few hands.

The last thing they did was to tie research funding. For example, if you wanted a SSHRC grant, it had to have a business outcome. That's not how research works. We are saying the lifeblood of the research ecosystem is our researchers.

My goal is to put our researchers and our students at the centre of everything we do and to ensure that they have their funding, their labs and tools and digital tools.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

John Oliver Liberal Oakville, ON

Sorry, Majid.

May 30th, 2019 / 9:35 a.m.

Liberal

Majid Jowhari Liberal Richmond Hill, ON

No worries. With 45 seconds, I will say welcome.

Minister, there has been much talk about institutions, our educational institutions and our private sector when it comes to supporting research. However, I understand that the Government of Canada is also supporting a lot of researchers within the government.

With 30 seconds left, can you shed some light on the research that we are doing? What kind of researchers are we hiring?

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Majid, thank you for highlighting our government scientists.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Dan Ruimy

You have about 20 seconds for that one.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Okay.

We've given $2.8 billion for these new labs. I want to highlight the increase in our scientists and our technical experts since we have come into government. In 2015-16 to this time period there's been an increase of 2,000. That comes on top of the 2,500 that the previous—

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

Majid Jowhari Liberal Richmond Hill, ON

That's 2,000 that we have hired within the government?

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

That's 2,000 scientists and technical experts. That's April StatsCan data.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Dan Ruimy

Thanks very much.

We're going to move to Mr. Chong for five minutes.

We are going to go over by a couple of minutes. I just want to make sure that everybody keeps their time on track. The minister does have to go. We're going to try to finish off everything.

You have five minutes.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I just want to respond to what Mr. Oliver said.

I use accurate statistics. We pulled out the latest OECD statistics. The reason I used 2017 is that's the latest year for which data was available from the OECD on the higher education research and development measures. That's why I used the 2017 figures and not those for 2018. I will put to the committee that I expect the 2018 figures will not be that far off from those for 2017 and previous years.

All of that is to say while I acknowledge that the current government has increased funding levels for the four granting councils, there has not been a sea change in funding levels relative to history and relative to the rest of the world. That's borne out by the facts. The facts are this: The four granting councils together in the estimates this year will receive approximately just under $4 billion. The National Institutes of Health in the United States will receive $49 billion Canadian alone for research. On a pro rata basis, that dwarfs what we're doing. So to suggest, as the minister has, that Canada is a world leader in funding levels simply is not true. While we are in the top 10 for HERD measures, we are not number one. That's clear on a variety of different measures.

I want to go to a specific question from the Naylor report. The Naylor report recommended that the government form a national advisory council on research and innovation. One of the concerns I've heard from the research community is that they fear that the board, which the report recommended be made up of 12 to 15 members, will be highly politicized. What they are looking for is to have framework legislation adopted by Parliament that would depoliticize the appointment process to ensure that this board and this advisory council are at arm's length from politics and serve their function.

Does the government have any plans to do that?

9:40 a.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

I, too, am going to respond to you regarding funding.

We have absolutely changed—

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Chair, with respect, I asked a question about—

9:40 a.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

—the trajectory of funding.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

—the advisory council.

9:40 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Dan Ruimy

You prefaced with a comment. It's only fair that the minister respond to that comment in the process of answering your question.

9:40 a.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

We've absolutely changed the trajectory of funding in this country from stagnation to investment. First year, $2 billion.... I'll just give the example. In the first year, $95 million—

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

With respect, Minister, it's not to the levels recommended in the Naylor report.