Representing Canada's S&T Interests in Washington, D.C.

by Lisette Ramcharan

For over twenty years, a Canadian Science and Technology Counselor has been based at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C., working to promote Canadian scientific interests in the United States and to inform Canadian government and research communities of U.S. science policy developments. The person filling this position has most often come from a government science department or agency, like the National Research Council or the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. I represent the latter.


{access view=guest}Access to the full article is free, but requires you to register. Registration is simple and quick - all we need is your name and a valid e-mail address. We appreciate your interest in bridges.{/access} {access view=!guest} Unlike many Civil Law countries that have a Ministry of Education and a Ministry of Science or Research, Canada has a decentralized approach, dividing government responsibilities for science and technology funding between the federal and provincial levels. In December 2004, Prime Minister Martin created a new position, a "National Science Advisor," to provide sound scientific advice at home and to represent Canada's scientific interests abroad. We are pleased to be working with such a distinguished individual as Dr. Arthur Carty, former President of the National Research Council, who took up his duties in April 2004.

It is both a privilege and a challenge to represent Canada's scientific interests in the United States. Truthfully, Canada's close proximity and cultural similarities to the United States make for nearly seamless north-south collaboration between researchers. Canada does not have a treaty-level umbrella S&T agreement with the United States, nor would we want one. Below the treaty level, there are thousands of agency-to-agency agreements facilitating R&D cooperation in areas such as: renewable energies, photonics, ocean technologies, and hydrogen/fuel cells. That is not to say that there are not issues or irritants that crop up; but in general, our scientific relationship is marked by a high degree of collegiality and cooperation.

Unlike my European S&T colleagues, I rarely get involved with the logistics of incoming scientific missions and stay pretty close to home. I spend two thirds of my time tracking U.S. science policy developments and reporting these to the Canadian community. I have no officer-level staff, but I do have supportive colleagues at the Embassy who are interested in S&T and who are actively seeking ways in which we can integrate our various programs and activities. I also have a nation-wide network of colleagues working in consulates from coast to coast who will be increasingly providing S&T services.

In the past year, the Canadian government has decided to increase its representation in the United States to enhance our ability to promote and defend our political and trade interests. By the end of this year, we will have, in addition to the Canadian Embassy, fourteen full Consulates General, four Consulates and three additional offices -- a total of 22 posts! Additionally, this fall, we will welcome four new "Technology Partnerships Officers" in Boston, New York, Los Angeles and Dallas. We anticipate that additional resources will be added in the coming year.

This expansion of our S&T activities in the United States is a significant development. Furthermore, all our U.S. posts, and not just those receiving the Technology Partnerships Officers, are seeking to integrate S&T into their delivery of International Business Development services. We have much to gain by working together, to share information and best practices and to achieve synergies among our programs. To facilitate this process, we recently (June 2004) organized a two-day meeting at the Embassy of colleagues representing fifteen posts in the U.S. and a number of science-based departments and agencies in Canada, including International Trade Canada, Industry Canada, the National Research Council, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Genome Canada and the Office of the National Science Advisor. The theme of the meeting was "Launching a U.S. S&T Network." During the meeting, we achieved a new commitment to work on the elements required to build a functioning S&T network in the United States.

Canada strives to be one of the most innovative countries in the world. We have made a national commitment to be one of the top five countries in the OECD for R&D performance by 2010. Since 1997, the government has put in place innovative new models for supporting our national R&D enterprise. For instance, the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), a not-for-profit corporation, aims to spend C$3 billion on R&D infrastructure at universities and research hospitals by 2010, leveraging funds from the provincial governments and the private sector.

Another great model is Genome Canada, also a not-for-profit, which invests in and manages large-scale genomics research projects, leveraging funds from provincial governments, industry and non-Canadian sources. To date, it has invested C$365 million across Canada, leveraging over C$450 million in partner funding. Finally, the innovative Canada Research Chairs Program, established in 2000, has invested over C$1 billion to create more than 1,100 chairs in 63 Canadian universities, successfully building up an outstanding cadre of Canadian research professors.

Our brand, "Canada: Cool and Connected," captures the entrepreneurial spirit of our startups, the endurance of our medium-sized technology companies, and the runaway successes of our superstars. In the third category: Research in Motion (RIM), the Canadian company who brought us the Blackberry and who has reinvested its commercial returns in the basic physical sciences at the new Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, in Waterloo, Ontario.{/access}