Canadian Manufacturing

Feds to make research “more industry facing”

Minister of state for science and technology Gary Goodyear announces changes to NRC and SRED

OTTAWA—The federal budget will overhaul the way the National Research Council funds science and technology research as part of a sweeping innovation agenda, the minister in charge of the agency said Tuesday.

In a speech and interview Gary Goodyear, the minister of state for science and technology, said the way the government has been handing out almost $12 billion to stimulate business innovation hasn’t worked.

“The whole concept of becoming more innovative in the private sector to improve our economy and prosperity is going to be a big part of the budget,” Goodyear said.

“Clearly one of the best opportunities (for reform) is the National Research Council. By taking steps to make the (NRC) more industry-facing than it is … is exactly what we mean.”

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Goodyear said the NRC has funded significant advances in its near century of existence, but of late had begun to “lose its focus.”

In a report issued for the government last fall, executive chairman Tom Jenkins of Waterloo-based Open Text Corp., made several proposals to overhaul the way Ottawa funds research and development.

A key element of the report was to transform the NRC, which has a budget of about $700 million, into a series of collaborative centres bringing in businesses, universities and provinces.

Another, which the government is being urged to adopt, is to use the procurement process to tie successful bidders to commitments on innovation.

As well, the budget is expected to tackle the $3.5 billion Science Research and Experimental Development program to make it simpler and less costly on small businesses to seek grants.

Goodyear said the key goal of all the reforms the government is exploring is to tie research more closely to results, in terms of marketable products and more innovative and productive companies.

The government is among the biggest spenders among advanced nations in terms of higher education and R&D, but the country lags in innovation and productivity, he noted.

“This is about optimizing benefits for Canadians from our science and technology expenses,” he said.

“We will be taking a broad approach … to how we encourage businesses in Canada to be more globally competitive so we continue to create jobs and economic growth.”

It would be wrong, however, to assume the government will adopt all of Jenkins’ recommendations, he said.

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