Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good morning, everyone.
Thank you for the invitation to appear before the committee today. It's wonderful to be here all together in person.
My name is Paul Davidson and I am president of Universities Canada, a membership organization representing 97 universities across the country.
Before I get into the subject today, I just want to say a big thank you for the creation of this committee and for the way this committee is working. It is working in a non-partisan context, driving to consensus. This is exceptionally rare and exceptionally valuable. It's something we've called for for years, and it models other nations that have found cross-party support for investing in research.
Investing in research is investing in the future. Strong research capacity is essential for Canada and essential for economic growth, fighting climate change, building an equitable society, preparing ourselves for emergencies and building a strong health care system for Canadians.
Let me make this real. Last night I was at an event honouring Pieter Cullis, a researcher from UBC. I want every member of Parliament to know Pieter Cullis, and I want every schoolchild in this country to know him. Why? It's because his groundbreaking, discovery research done in the 1970s and 1980s saved 10 million lives through the pandemic. He is a Canadian hero. When people in your caucus ask you what research is all about, how about saying 10 million saved lives? How about shortening the pandemic by six to 12 months? That's just one example.
If UBC is too far away, look at the University of Ottawa, just down the street, where researchers set the global standard for waste-water analysis. Think of what that has meant to your communities in shortening the pandemic and focusing the problem. That's what research is about in Canada.
My great fear is that Canada is actually heading in the wrong direction on research. The government's own advisory panel on Canada's research ecosystem, in the Bouchard report, concluded that Canada has been losing ground when it comes to investing in research. Over the past 20 years, Canada's investments in research and development have declined significantly.
I have some stats that I'll share with the clerk and the analysts. Currently, Canada spends about 1.8% of GDP on research and development. The OECD average is 2.1%. The U.S. is at 3.4%. Germany is on track to reaching 3.5%. You may say, those are big countries; we can't possibly compete with that. Finland has made an all-party commitment to get to 4% of GDP. Where are we? We are at 1.8%. That is the stake of international competition and investment in research.
At the same time, while the overall spending is declining, support for graduate students has been static. The number and value of awards have not changed in over 20 years. Think about living on a budget from 20 years ago. Think about that when you have choices around the world.
The U.S. is doubling down on science. I'm very proud of the government's investments to respond to the CHIPS and Science Act and the IRA. That addresses some of the business needs, but keep in mind that the U.S. has increased its investment in fundamental research by $200 billion. If you're a younger person wondering where your future is, what does that signal tell you?
The United Kingdom, even through three prime ministers in the last 18 months, has made investment in discovery research a pillar of their economic growth strategy—not an appendix, not an afterthought, and not a backwards glance on what some people did in 2018 or 2012. They're not saying, “We will thoughtfully consider someday maybe getting around to it.” They are investing now. That's a signal to Canada's graduate students.
The situation is urgent. Our competitors recognize and understand that the investments in research they make will play a vital role in determining where their countries will be in 10, 20 and 30 years.
When I started this job 14 years ago, the then clerk of the Privy Council said, “Paul, we've been investing for five to 10 years. Where are the results?” I said, “Listen, give this time. These are transformative, long-term investments.” Why are we leading in AI? Why are we leading in quantum? Why are we leading in EV battery production? It is because of the environment the previous governments created to attract the talent and to retain the talent. We are in a global competition to retain that talent.
In a very discouraging, polarizing and polarized world, there is broad public support for research. You're on the doorsteps. I ask you to invoke the name of Pieter Cullis. I ask you to talk about the waste-water analysis. When people ask, “What does research do?”, think of what it has done in your own communities—in Huron around the agricultural community and right across the country. I could talk about how the agricultural community in the south shore of Nova Scotia has been transformed by Acadia. This is research that matters to Canadians.
The data shows that 90% of Canadians think the Government of Canada should make investments in research at internationally competitive levels.