Canada gets wise to science's social life

September 29, 1995

Canada lags behind most industrialised nations in recognising the crucial role of science and technology, according to a new report, Healthy, Wealthy and Wise.

Research and development spending, measured against gross domestic product, is well below the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development average. Government outstrips industry in research and development investment.

The report has taken a different tack from previous attempts to provide a framework for a national science and technology strategy. The National Advisory Board on Science and Technology, whose report is one component of a wider federal government review, recognises that wealth and job creation, advancement of knowledge and quality of life are linked.

The report draws on public consultations in which 3,000 Canadians took part. Commissioned as a framework document for the government's yet-to-be-released science and technology policy, its recommendations are not binding.

The report urges the government to devote "appropriate resources, including the use of social sciences, to improving the effectiveness of quality-of-life programmes, and to finding ways to reduce their costs".

This means the government should devote 1 per cent of its health care, and 0.5 per cent of its social programmes budget for research to improve cost- effectiveness in those areas.

Another key recommendation, says NABST vice-chair Joseph Wright, is the appointment of a high-level cabinet minister for science aided by a chief advisor on science. "We have to get the governance right," says Dr Wright, who believes that a different model of leadership must precede changes.

But Lawrence Mysak, president of Canada's Academy of Science, and a McGill professor, said: "Whether we ever get more money for research as a percentage of GDP is probably a moot point," he says. "But one point not made in the report is that there is a fairly good pure research base here, and it should be made comparable to other leading countries."

Dr Mysak welcomed suggestions for a high-powered minister and for national standards in science and mathematics.

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