Canada S&T policy

Canadian S&T policy and R&D spending habits

Since the Second World War, Canada has frequently been referred to as a “hewer of wood and drawer of water”, reflecting the country’s significant reliance on its abundance of natural resources to generate economic growth and jobs for Canadians, and to increase the country’s standard of living.  Of course, this is not entirely accurate in view of the importance of Canada’s manufacturing sector, the broad scope of its higher education system, its contributions to nuclear energy (the CANDU nuclear reactor), aerospace (the flight simulator, STOL aircraft and the CanadArm used in the ISS), agriculture (canola), and telecommunications (the geostationary satellite), among many important Canadian innovations of the past half century.  These and similar advances would not have been possible without the support and encouragement of governments – both federal and provincial – not only for the conduct of research but also for the growth of Canada’s post-secondary educational systems as well as for nurturing of innovation by the private sector.

Yet, as in many other countries, science and technology policy issues in Canada are frequently over-shadowed by the more urgent and high-profile demands placed on governments at all levels.  S&T policies, and R&D programs, must compete for attention amongst a wide variety of issues such as social welfare, national defence and more recently fighting the effects of the global economic recession.  Thus, the federal government’s 2007 framework “Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada’s Advantage” strategy was widely welcomed for its focus on innovation as a key driver of the economy, enabling Canada not only to better compete economically on the world stage but also to better weather international economic storms and to more actively contribute solutions to increasingly urgent global problems such as climate change, global pandemics and diseases.

Three years later, the federal government’s strategy remains in force and is supported by real dollars.  In 2008, the federal government’s total contributions to R&D amounted to $10.7 billion dollars, although overall spending on R&D by all levels of government and the private sector represented just under 2% of Canada’s GDP.  The focus of this spending is directed primarily at the innovation end of the R&D spectrum.  And, despite the federal government’s declared support for international S&T linkages, such support is limited in financial terms and has been focussed geographically on collaboration with selected foreign partners including China, India, Brazil, Israel and the US.

There are signs that this could change however, and an obvious beneficiary of any expansion in Canada’s approach to international R&D collaboration could be the European Union.  First, the EU’s FP7 program is drawing increasing amounts of attention from the Canadian research community, in part through the efforts of the jointly (European Commission and Government of Canada) funded ERA-CAN project.  Second, the Commission-funded A2C project is slowly “spreading the gospel” of the value of trans-Atlantic R&D collaboration among a wide variety of Canadian science-based departments and agencies at both federal and provincial levels.  The momentum favours the growth of increased Canada-EU R&D linkages, but it will require the concerted and on-going efforts of the research communities on both sides of the Atlantic to mobilize governments to take more decisive and concrete actions in support of EU-Canada S&T cooperation. 

Frank Deeg – A2C – July

On 5 September 2011 opportunities for doing environmental research in Canada were promoted in Gdansk.

For more information, click here.


On 9 June 2011 opportunities for doing health research in Canada were promoted in Brussels.

For more information, click here.


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