Advancing research in uncertain times
Can Canada break the glass ceiling in battling its productivity shortfall?
Innovation experts are cautiously optimistic it can.
By Debbie Lawes

There's nothing like a pandemic and a looming recession to force governments to admit when they have a problem. That's what happened last April when Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland conceded in her 2022 Budget speech that Canada's chronic productivity shortage is "a well-known problem and an insidious one. It is time for Canada to tackle it."

It was the first time, perhaps ever, that a government has used such blunt and honest language to describe this country's poor innovation performance. The numbers are stark. In 1996, Canada was ranked #1 compared to its peer countries in the United Nations Human Development Index which measures three dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, being knowledgeable and having a decent standard of living. Today we sit at #16, despite being one of the top countries globally for K-12 and higher education.

"I was very optimistic after that budget because I thought we took the first important step which is to admit we have a problem," said Prof. Dan Breznitz, Co-Director of the Innovation Policy Lab at the University of Toronto.

That problem, according to Breznitz, is partly a policy one. While he credits Canada with doing well when it comes to national policies for science and technology, "where we have a complete failure is transferring any of this success into innovation or having a coherent, strategic, long-term innovation policy that is separate from research and development (R&D)".

"We're achieving that vision of a highly educated, democratic society and our science is world-class," said Breznitz. "But we also want growth, productivity, higher wages and a greener economy which all depend on the business sector's utilization of that knowledge."

The 2022 budget included two big ticket measures to drive more investment in business R&D. The $15-billion Canada Growth Fund is designed to attract $45 billion in private capital to help Canadian businesses accelerate the adoption of green technologies.

Then there's the "operationally independent and market-oriented" $1-billion Canadian Innovation and Investment Agency (CIIA). This yet-to-be-launched agency will reportedly have the flexibility to pilot new approaches to find out what works and what doesn't when it comes to incenting entrepreneurs to innovate.
Policy change is not enough if there is not a deep change in the ways Canadian businesses engage with knowledge and embrace innovation as their core global competitive strategy.
Prof. Dan Breznitz
Co-Director, Innovation Policy Lab, University of Toronto
Breznitz, who advised Ottawa on the design of the CIIA, said there's "real promise" the new program will have the right personnel, budget and mission to experiment with new policies that can fix business innovation bottlenecks.

"It looks good on paper, but the real proof will be in the pudding and right now we're still waiting for the pudding."

But Breznitz cautioned that these new policies will have little effect unless companies change their behaviour.

"Policy change is not enough if there is not a deep change in the ways Canadian businesses engage with knowledge and embrace innovation as their core global competitive strategy. Innovation happens in the marketplace, which is where companies operate, not government."

Safeguarding Canadian IP

Breznitz's cautious optimism is shared by the Council of Canadian Innovators, which points to other promising signs of a shift to more innovation-friendly policies.

CCI President Benjamin Bergen said he's encouraged by the government's promise to review the scientific research and experimental development (SRED) tax credit, with an eye to streamlining and simplifying the program and helping Canadian companies generate and protect intellectual property (IP).

In particular, his business advocacy group wants an R&D tax credit that favours Canadian firms over foreign ultinationals.

"About 50% of SRED goes to about 20 firms - the Ciscos and the IBMs here in Canada," he said. "That means the IP and wealth they generate ultimately flows out of the country." Instead, he said those tax credits should prioritize building homegrown companies that can compete globally and generate wealth and prosperity for Canada.

SRED's criteria were developed 37 years ago when companies invested in heavy machinery, not intangible assets like algorithms and software - the bedrocks of modern economies. As a result, Bergen said small companies are forced to hire expensive consultants to figure out how their R&D can qualify.

"It's estimated that about 20% of every SRED dollar goes to a consultant fee - 20% is a lot of money for a $3.5-billion program," said Bergen.

The government did fulfill a key CCI wish with the Global Skills Strategy which allows employers to process work permits for prospective international employees in as little as two weeks.

"About 40,000 highly skilled workers have moved to Canada under that program since 2018," said Bergen. "That's one good check mark for the government in fueling R&D." Budget 2021 responded to another CCI recommendation with a $90-million investment in ElevateIP, a national program to help Canadian companies - especially startups - generate, manage, protect and hold their IP. Canada still isn't in the top 10 club for most innovative countries, but it shines in patent generation, ranking in the top five, according to the Bloomberg Innovation Index.
About 40,000 highly skilled workers have moved to Canada under [the Global Skills Strategy] since 2018. That’s one good check mark for the government in fueling R&D.
Benjamin Bergen
President, Council of Canadian Innovators
While ElevateIP is a good first step, Bergen said more needs to be done to ensure IP made in Canada stays in Canada, including a clear mandate for CIIA that treats data and IP as valuable strategic assets. He also wants our government to take a tougher stand in defending the IP of Canadian companies when they compete globally.

"A company like Samsung in South Korea is formidable because it has an entire state apparatus which helps protect that IP and defend it globally. You see the same thing in other countries," said Bergen.

Turning Manufacturers into Tech Companies

The shift from physical equipment to intangible assets such as data is driving transformations across many sectors. But the transition has been slow and difficult for a sector that generates 10% of Canada's GDP.

Manufacturers are operating in "volatile, uncertain, complex and ambitious times" driven by several megatrends affecting production, said Jayson Myers, CEO of Next Generation Manufacturing Canada (NGen), a not-for-profit organization funded under Canada's Global Innovation Clusters program.

These trends include sustainability, disruptive technologies such as electrification, more personalized products, the shift from global to local supply chains, labour and skills shortages, and digitalization, "It's no longer about getting a product out the door. It's about providing a solution for your customers, which means using data to create higher value products and services," he explained. "How you use that data is what's resulting in manufacturers becoming more like tech companies and service companies."

NGen has recruited over 5,000 members to help build a national ecosystem that matches the needs of manufacturing companies with technologies being developed by universities, researchers, startups and other private sector organizations.

Myers said the sector's will to change is strong. Of the $234 million NGen has invested in 167 projects, industry partners have contributed another $371 million.

One beneficiary of that support has been Aspire Food Group, which has launched the world's largest, fully automated insect protein manufacturing plant. The London, ON company is a world leader in the commercial production and processing of crickets into nutritional ingredients for people, pets, and plants.

Aspire needed outside expertise to build its next-generation precision agricultural facility. To help, NGen approached DarwinAI, an innovative artificial intelligence (AI) company founded by four University of Waterloo engineering alumni. That introduction led to NGen contributing $17 million towards a $73-million project that saw DarwinAI deploy its deep learning technology as an automated control system that analyzes data in real time from more than 5,000 sensors and other industrial Internet of IOT (Internet of Things) devices. The system provides around-the-clock, high-throughput agricultural production that would not be possible with human operators.

"That project was later recognized by the United Nations as one of the top 10 AI applications in the world to advance the UN's Sustainable Development Goals," said Myers.

Decarbonizing Heavy Industry

There is no one solution to decarbonizing heavy emitting industries such as cement, steel aluminum, and mining. Yet that's what is needed for Canada to meet its ambitious commitment to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by at least 40-45% below 2005 levels by 2030, and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

The intergovernmental International Energy Agency has made clear that these net-zero goals will become virtually impossible to meet without carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS).

The federal government and the Cement Association of Canada recently released a roadmap detailing how Canada can eliminate 15 megatonnes of CO2 by 2030 by adopting CCUS technologies.

CarbonCure Technologies is one of the companies helping Canada meet that target. The Dartmouth, NS firm received support from the National Research Council of Canada's Industrial Research Assistance Program more than a decade ago to scale up a technology capable of mineralizing and storing carbon dioxide in ready mixed or manufactured concrete. Its technologies are being used in hundreds of concrete production plants across 30 countries, generating over 230,000 tons of CO2 savings to date.

"They are able to reduce emissions in the cement sector, capture the CO2 and put it back into the cement itself to make it stronger," said Catherine Stewart, Canada's Ambassador for Climate Change.
Our first applied research centres were created 40 years ago because there was a need for research close to where [small- and medium-sized enterprises] were located.
Marie Gagné
CEO, Synchronex College Centres for the Transfer of Technology (CCTT) Network, Quebec
Similar advances are happening to eliminate GHGs from aluminum production.

"Alcoa and Rio Tinto Alcan, for example, are working hard on that, supported by the governments of Canada and Quebec. Those are sectors where low carbon innovation is already happening and it's just giving some funding to help support that," she said.

The public side of that funding is from programs such as the $2-billion Low Carbon Economy Fund, and the $8-billion Net-Zero Accelerator which aims to help large emitters reduce their emissions, as well as a new investment tax credit for CCUS projects announced in the Fall 2022 Economic Statement.

The government has also developed a Federal GHG Offset System, which includes measures to make it easier for Indigenous communities to develop nature-based offset projects that reduce or remove GHGs from the atmosphere. Indigenous Natural Resource Partnerships is another federal program supporting Indigenous communities in transitioning to a clean energy future.

The program provided $4.5 million toward building an Indigenous-owned 2.2-megawatt solar energy and energy storage project in Fort Chipewyan, northern Alberta. It will produce 20% of the community's electricity.

"It's the largest solar off-grid project in Canada," said Stewart, "and an example of a project which directly has the participation of the Indigenous communities and organizations."

The Innovation-Boosting Power Of Colleges

Many companies, especially small ones, don't have the time, resources and money to conduct R&D that helps them improve their processes, products or practices. It's why a growing number of firms are partnering with local colleges, including the College Centres for the Transfer of Technology (CCTT) in Quebec, the innovation centres of CÉGEPs and colleges.

Micro Thermo Technologies was one of the first. It partnered with the Centre for Innovation in Microelectronics of Quebec (CIMEQ) more than 30 years ago when it was just a three employee microbusiness specializing in energy control systems for supermarket freezers.

CIMEQ worked with the company to establish a network of distributed intelligence that served not only the freezer sensors, but electrical equipment of any kind. Micro Thermo eventually grew to have a full R&D department, helping large clients like Costco be more efficient with their energy management.

"Quebec was the first province to use colleges to work with companies, mainly small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Our first applied research centres were created 40 years ago because there was a need for research close to where the SMEs were located," said Marie Gagné, CEO of the Synchronex CCTT Network.

The 59 CCTTs draw on a province-wide network of some 2,400 experts in innovation and applied research to collaborate with about 6,000 companies, mostly SMEs, on more than 11,000 projects each year.

"They may want to increase productivity or develop a new product or have a problem with a manufacturing process, so they call the CCTT. That's usually how a relationship between a CCTT and a company starts, and in many cases those relationships become long-term," said Gagné.

Companies often work with multiple centres that specialize in a certain field, such as energy management and agriculture. In September, Synchronex unveiled a new platform - Mon succès numérique (My Digital Success) - which brings together experts from AI, cybersecurity, data science, robotics and other fields from 14 CCTTs to guide companies through a successful digital transition.

The new service, which Gagné describes as "easily accessible and very fast", matches company needs with the right technology centre or centres.

Another 11 CCTTs specialize in the transfer of innovative social practices.

"This includes looking at how we can better integrate immigrants or people who have disabilities into our workforce," she added, "or how we address the social side of agriculture or the social side of sustainable development."

Matching Companies with Academic Expertise

Too few small companies do the R&D that's essential to their survival and growth. An Ontario-funded consortium of 53 colleges, universities and Indigenous institutes is working to change that by helping SMEs become more productive and competitive through the adoption of new technologies like AI, machine learning and automation.

eCampusOntario was created in 2015 as a portal for learners, including entrepreneurs, with a mandate to support innovation, collaboration and education excellence. Access is provided to thousands of online courses and programs offered by anybody in Ontario in the publicly funded postsecondary sector.

"We provide the largest open library of educational resources for people to use. Reusing open educational resources is one way to reduce costs for learners to engage in collaborative creation of content," said Robert Luke, CEO, eCampus Ontario.

The consortium is also responding to a growing demand for micro-credentials, which are available online "to anybody who wants to take them, any learner, any company, anyone," he added. "Companies, for example, can get access to just-in-time workforce training their employees might need."

eCampusOntario's newest initiative launched in December. The Ontario Collaborative Innovation Platform (OCIP) received $4 million in provincial funding to scale up an online portal that matches industry professionals with a research expert, facilities and funding.

Initiatives supported through the pilot stage focused on urgent needs related to the pandemic, including the development of a low-cost decontamination process for disposable N95 masks and studying the impacts of telework on both the environment and employee performance.

"OCIP is a matchmaking platform," said Luke. "It uses AI machine learning to make it easier and faster to find the right match for the right company at the right stage of a project."

The goal is to encourage more companies to do R&D. "We de-risk those opportunities by exposing them to the potential for partnerships in the public sector which will fast-track them into R&D."

For example, OCIP connected Cheelcare a Richmond Hill medical device startup with OCAD University to learn how to access funding, stickhandle logistics around user testing, and secure affordable industrial real-estate in the Greater Toronto Area for its production of assistive mobility devices, including a robotic power wheelchair.

"Cheelcare also wanted help navigating regulatory compliance and certification which enabled them to begin production and marketing. They were then referred to Loyalist College to do the prototyping," said Luke.

Students also benefit from these R&D collaborations. "They gain innovation literacy and valuable work-integrated learning experience," he added. "In many cases, they even get hired by the company they're working with, which builds that company's capacity to do even more innovation."

Making New Drugs Available Faster

Governments and companies have demonstrated that they can come up with innovative solutions in times of crisis - and faster than thought possible.

It took top scientists less than a year to develop a COVID-19 vaccine that is safe and effective, and just another three months to move that vaccine from lab to jab.

The federal government is now exploring how the temporary expedited approval process for COVID-19 products, known as 'agile licensing', could apply to other drugs and therapies.
The COVID-19 pandemic underscored the value of timely access to vaccines and treatments for Canadians, but also exposed vulnerability in our biomanufacturing capabilities.
Pamela Fralick
President, Innovative Medicines Canada
"While there are many details to discuss, this is an encouraging signal that the government is open to looking at ways to quickly and safely adopt new treatments for the benefit of Canadians," said Pamela Fralick, President of Innovative Medicines Canada, the advocacy group for Canada's research-based pharmaceutical companies.

IMC is pushing on several fronts to ensure faster access to new drugs. Currently, just 18% of new medicines launched globally are available to Canadians served by public drug plans. Of the medicines that are available through those plans, patients wait an average of two years to get access.

"The COVID-19 pandemic underscored the value of timely access to vaccines and treatments for Canadians, but also exposed vulnerability in our biomanufacturing capabilities and the need to grow and foster Canada's pharmaceutical sector," said Fralick.

The Biomanufacturing and Life Sciences Strategy and the National Strategy for Drugs for Rare Diseases are good first steps towards improving that capacity and agility, she added, as long as a whole-of-government approach is taken to ensure that well-intentioned initiatives "aren't undermined by decisions made elsewhere in the regulatory or policy environment".

The world was able to fast-track the development of COVID-19 vaccines by building on years of previous research on related viruses, including SARS-CoV-2. That's why continued public investments in talent, academic institutions and leading research organizations are essential, added Fralick.

"The COVID-19 pandemic showed us what we can accomplish when we all work together towards a common goal. The collaboration between governments, industry, health stakeholders, and patients during the COVID-19 pandemic was unprecedented and, as a result, we were able to collectively come up with solutions to get Canadians fast access to COVID-19 vaccines and treatments."

Harnessing the World's Top Minds

How successful countries are at advancing research in times of uncertainty largely depends on investments in fundamental research that have taken place over decades.

That's the case with CIFAR, a research organization based in Canada that supports some 20 Nobel laureates and more than 400 top scientists from over 20 countries. Founded 40 years ago, CIFAR takes the long view when it comes to investing in collaborative and interdisciplinary research to better understand the physical, biological and social world around us.

For example, CIFAR began investing in AI four decades ago, well before AI was cool. In recognition of that expertise, the federal government tasked CIFAR to deliver its $125-million Pan-Canadian AI Strategy.

"AI was our very first program, but we didn't know at the time how important AI would become," said CIFAR President Dr. Stephen Toope.

Though still firmly rooted in discovery science, a new and younger generation of CIFAR researchers are looking for ways to have an even greater impact.

"People often talk about the next couple of generations being even more purpose-driven than previous generations and we're seeing that play out in the research community as well," said Toope.

One project with real-world impacts is being led by Dr. Leah Cowen. The University of Toronto molecular biologist is studying often overlooked fungi, from new opportunities for environmental remediation, to future risks to global health, agriculture and biodiversity. Her new startup, Bright Angel Therapeutics, is developing novel therapeutics for the treatment of drug-resistant and life-threatening fungal infections.

"Many people think the next global pandemic could be a fungal pandemic," said Toope, "so the work Leah is doing with this startup could prove to be essential if we confront a fungal pandemic in the next few years."

Solving complex and immediate global problems like climate change, biodiversity and food security have become bigger priorities for CIFAR, where the translation of science into practical solutions is more on their radar.

"We're not going to be commercializers of research or a public policy think tank," said Toope, "but I think it's important to engage more with government, industry and civil society to understand the big challenges going forward."

CIFAR research also extends into policy, with four CIFAR researchers working on secondment with their home governments in Canada, Israel, the U.S. and South Korea, to develop national science and tech policies. CIFAR Fellow Dan Breznitz just wrapped up his term as the Clifford Clark Visiting Economist at Finance Canada.

Making Government More Science-Savvy

Building better science advice capacity within government was one of the first priorities Dr. Mona Nemer embarked on when she was appointed Canada's inaugural Chief Science Advisor in 2017.

She has worked with federal departments and agencies to establish a network of departmental science advisors, usually university researchers, who assist bureaucrats in integrating scientific considerations into federal policies and programs. Eight have been appointed to date.

"Scientific research can help policymakers understand the potential environmental impacts of a proposed policy, the likely economic outcomes, and the possible health effects," said Nemer. "In addition, scientists can help policymakers identify potential solutions to complex problems."

The need for credible, rapid and up-to-the-minute scientific information became critical during the COVID-19 outbreak. Nemer's office moved quickly to establish the COVID-19 Expert Panel, one of several such groups her office has convened. The panel held its first meeting on March 10, 2020, one day before the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic.

"Experts across the country and from many fields of research responded with overwhelming commitment, and throughout the pandemic, they provided me with multidisciplinary advice that I was able to convey to government and release publicly through six formal reports," said Nemer. "Having these established networks helped us immensely and will continue to ensure better emergency preparedness and better communication of advice."
Scientific research can help policymakers understand the potential environmental impacts of a proposed policy, the likely economic outcomes, and the possible health effects … [and] identify potential solutions to complex problems.
Dr. Mona Nemer
Chief Science Advisor of Canada
Of course, even the best scientific advice will have little impact if it's not seen as credible by politicians or the public. Mis- and disinformation can have devastating consequences when it comes to making good decisions that affect people's lives and livelihoods.

An important step to building that trust is allowing scientists to communicate their work with the public, she said.

"One of the first major projects my office undertook was to establish a model policy on scientific integrity for federal departments and agencies. It provides guidelines for ensuring that government scientists are free to share their work publicly and provides guidance on best practices for the ethical conduct of research."

Her office also worked with government and international colleagues to establish a framework for making publicly funded research open and accessible to all.

"We promote transparency in our work by making available all of our formal reports and recommendations to government," said Nemer, "as well as by maintaining regular public outreach through media engagements and on social media."

All Levels of Government Need Science Advice

Compared to other developed countries, Canada is still playing catch up when it comes to establishing science advisors that report to government. Quebec is the only province to appoint its own chief scientist, a position it established in 2011. Ontario dismissed its first - and so far only - chief scientist after just a few months on the job when the Progressive Conservative government came to power in 2018.

Quebec's Chief Scientist Dr. Rémi Quirion supports having chief scientists at the provincial level. In Quebec, he said more ministries are seeking advice on the development of new rules, regulations and laws. For example, the Minister of the Environment asked Quirion's office to develop a course for MPPs on what the most recent climate change report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change means for Quebec.

"I also just had a request from the Minister of Finance to organize a session with scientists from Quebec in the context of the new provincial budget, addressing issues like AI, access to data and rare minerals."

Having a science advice structure in place before an emergency strikes is particularly important. When the pandemic started in early 2020, Quirion's office already had strong links with the province's ministry of health, "so the trust was there and we were able to work very closely together".

"Developing trust takes time. You can't do it in times of crisis, like a forest fire or a flood, when everyone is stressed and busy responding to the crisis."

The need for timely and trusted scientific advice has become a bigger issue for municipalities as well. They are where policy and theory intersect directly with people's lives, Quirion said.

In January, Victoriaville became the first municipality in Quebec, if not Canada, to appoint a chief scientific advisor. The unpaid position was awarded to Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières professor Dr. Simon Barnabé, who holds the municipal research chair for sustainable cities, a new position created in June by UQTR and Victoriaville, a small city about an hour south of Trois-Rivières.

Quirion hopes to build on that momentum during his two-year appointment as President of the International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA), an organization he helped found in 2014. One idea is for the Quebec Research Fund to pay post-doctoral students a stipend to work as scientists-in-residence at a municipality.
Canada woefully underinvests in international [science, technology and innovation], compared to our peers in the OECD. It’s grim and I think everyone knows we need to do better.
Dr. David Castle
Chair, Scientific Advisory Committee, Council of Canadian Academies
"A lot of them would probably end up getting jobs with the city after they're finished their post-doc, which would help build science capacity at the municipal level," said Quirion.

Reaching Out to External Experts

Government departments do not always have the capacity in-house to examine the current state of science around a pressing public policy issue. When that happens, they may turn to the Council of Canadian Academies for help.

In response to requests from government departments and other groups, the CCA assembles experts from different disciplines and sectors to assess the best available evidence on complex issues that are in the public interest - evidence that is used by government to inform policy. Since it was established in 2002, the CCA has produced more than 65 independent expert assessments on topics as diverse as antimicrobial resistance, public safety in the digital age, nature-based climate solutions and medical assistance in dying. Its most recent report examined the financial and human toll of science and health misinformation, and leading practices for assessing and responding to misinformation.

"We're in the business of providing evidence for decisions and evidence for policy," not science advice or specific recommendations, said Dr. David Castle, Chair of the CCA's Scientific Advisory Committee.

One current study sponsored by Global Affairs Canada is examining international science, technology and innovation (STI) partnerships.

"Canada woefully underinvests in international STI, compared to our peers in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). It's grim and I think everyone knows we need to do better," said Castle, an expert on science, technology and innovation policy at the University of Victoria, and member of the International Science Council and the OECD's Global Science Forum.

Recent efforts aim to bolster those bilateral and multilateral collaborations, including an agreement signed over a year ago between the the Natural

Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the National Science Foundation in the U.S. Canada is also negotiating with the European Commission to participate in the next phase of Horizon Europe, the world's largest science, research and innovation collaboration program.

"The fundamental challenge though still remains - how we move money around to enable those activities with shared resources?" cautioned Castle. "Domestic finance departments don't like common pools of money."

Expanding International Collaboration

The OECD has identified international cooperation as critical in providing science advice in international crises like COVID-19.

Canada appears to be listening. Last year, the New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF) awarded $144 million to seven, Canadian-led international and interdisciplinary projects. Topics range from developing new methods to repair spinal cord injuries to designing inclusive workplaces for persons with disabilities.

Dr. Ted Hewitt, President of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, said the five-year-old NFRF was a new mechanism that allowed the granting councils to partner in ways they hadn't been able to in the past.

"The NFRF was specifically designed to be international, strongly interdisciplinary to promote risk taking, to focus on high reward, be transformative and to act in a more rapid-response format. It's a program that delivers on a number of firsts," said Hewitt, who also chairs the Canada Research Coordinating Committee (CRCC), which coordinates policies and programs between Canada's four main research granting agencies.
We’re finally starting to build the type of system Canada needs.
For people who say, well it’s not there yet, I’d say be a little patient because we’re building it and we will definitely get there.
Dr. Ted Hewitt
President, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council;
Chair, Canada Research Coordinating Committee
Some NFRF funding supports Canadian researchers participating on international projects through Horizon Europe. A $40-million NFRF competition currently underway will award grants of up to $250,000 per year over two years.

The CRCC is also establishing more formal linkages with research councils in other countries, including the National Science Foundation in the U.S., UK Research and Innovation and the European Commission. Meetings are planned early this year with the major research funding agencies in South Africa and Japan to discuss opportunities for joint programming.

Hewitt said "one of the most impactful" changes was opening NFRF competitions to foreign researchers who collaborate with Canadian scientists. Currently, about 25% of all participants in NFRF-funded projects are from other countries. Funders in other countries are looking at adopting a similar model.

"It would allow Canadians to be co-applicants on European projects or UK projects or French projects, for example, where our international partners would fund them the same way we would fund them."

The CRCC is also facilitating Canada's lead on some international projects. For example, it engaged with the United Nations to develop the UN Research Roadmap for the COVID-19 Recovery, released in 2020.

An even bigger effort launched in January. It sees Canada leading a $90-million international competition for research on climate change adaptation and mitigation in partnership with research funders from Brazil, Germany, Norway, South Africa, Switzerland, the UK and the US, among others.

"The NFRF gives the research funding agencies and the CRCC incredible flexibility to act quickly to get the best and the brightest in the world together to start cracking some of these thorny problems," said Hewitt. "We're finally starting to build the type of system Canada needs. For people who say, well it's not there yet, I'd say be a little patient because we're building it and we will definitely get there."

Debbie Lawes,, is an Ottawa-based writer specializing in science, technology and innovation.