Canada and the United States: the Science and Technology Counsellor Perspective

bridges vol. 21, April 2009 / Feature Articles

By Valerie La Traverse

Since my predecessor last wrote in bridges in 2004, there has been significant change on both sides of the Canada-US border, with new elected officials in both countries resulting in a new S&T policy realm. One thing has not changed: Canada and the US still continue to enjoy a strong collaborative relationship in all areas of science and technology. This is, in a way, representative of the greater and unique Canada-US relationship: We share the world's largest and most comprehensive trading relationship, a common border that stretches across 8,893 kilometers (5,526 miles) of land and three oceans, and stewardship of a rich and diverse environment, including 20 percent of the world's supply of fresh water in the Great Lakes.
You can imagine the possibilities and opportunities to work together in the area of S&T.  While we continue not to have an overarching S&T agreement, the US and Canada have literally hundreds of agency-to-agency S&T arrangements or memoranda of understanding (MOU), which provide an enhanced level of collaboration with US entities. These are in addition to the extensive integration at the grassroots level.  Broad areas of collaboration between the US and Canada include biomedical research, space, information and communication technologies (ICT), energy, environment, and Arctic research.  A diverse range of  bilateral projects includes Neptune, the world's largest cable-linked seafloor observatory; collaboration between the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and Canada's National Research Council (NRC) to develop measurement standards for nanotechnology; and collaborations between the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the various institutes of the Canadian Health Research Institutes (CIHR) in the areas of cardiovascular health, neuroscience, infectious diseases, and cancer research.

Another important Canada-US project is the Canada-California Strategic Innovation Partnership (CCSIP) between several of Canada's major research universities and California's university research system (nine major universities). CCSIP has established working groups to address three crosscutting issues (attracting risk capital, managing intellectual property, and ensuring a free flow of faculty and students between the two jurisdictions), and also five substantive areas of research and development: ICT/broadband, stem cells, clean energy, infectious diseases, and nanotechnology.  One of the early successes is a major collaborative research agreement with California for cancer stem cell research.

Canada has worked very closely with the American space programs since the creation of NASA, when Canadian engineers and scientists played key roles in the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs. Canada has also played a collaborative role in many of the leading satellite programs (telecom, remote sensing, and deep space exploration). The 1981 deployment of the Canadarm, the Shuttle Remote Manipulator System, has inspired several generations of scientists and engineers as they develop new technologies for industry, medicine, and other applications.

{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} Canada and the US also work together by participating in multilateral international projects such as the HapMap Project; the International Space Station; the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum and the Weyburn Sequestration Project in Saskatchewan; and International Polar Year. Canada, the US, and Mexico have also signed a Trilateral Agreement for Cooperation in Energy Science and Technology, designed to support the efforts of the North American partners in their pursuit of energy security, environmental protection, and economic sustainability. The recent visit of President Obama to

Canada also resulted in the launch of a Clean Energy Dialogue

In 2003, the Canadian federal government announced that it was opening seven new consulates in the US, bringing Canada's representation in the US to 24 offices. The move was designed to strengthen Canada's capacity to advocate its interests in vital economic, political, and security matters, and to develop innovative strategic partnerships in emerging US economic power centers. Of this representation, there are seven technology partnering officers (TPOs) whose role is to promote technology cooperation at the researcher, institute, or company level. This has really helped to build a team focused on S&T, in addition to the S&T counsellor in Washington whose role has traditionally focused on policy developments in the US.

But what are we trying to promote to the US ... and to the rest of the world? There are some things about Canada you may not know! For example, we have a long history of innovation and discovery: Possibly the most commonly known technology today is the Blackberry, but consider some of the other great things that have come out of Canada: insulin (Banting), the proof of the existence of stem cells (McCulloch and Till), the IMAX motion picture system, the light bulb (Woodward) ....
That culture of invention continues today, with world-class research taking place at universities and labs across the country. This research has been supported by our three major "granting councils," and various programs, many launched early in this decade - the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, which funds infrastructure and instrumentation in universities, colleges, and other not-for-profit research institutions; the Canada Research Chairs program (now close to 2000 Chairs) which has attracted talent to, or back to, our country; and Genome Canada, funding key initiatives across Canada. Recently we announced the Vanier graduate scholarship program, which will award 500 international and Canadian doctoral students with scholarships valued at $50,000 per annum - these are internationally competitive and similar to the Fulbright scholarships in the US. The Canada Excellence Research Chairs Program will help our universities compete for world-class researchers working in areas that will contribute to the competitiveness of our industries.
Of course there is much more to say - but hopefully some of those good things about Canada are covered elsewhere in this issue. Like other competitive global economies, our country faces its challenges: We have low levels of business investment in S&T, we need to strengthen public-private and commercialization partnerships, and we need to make better use of a talented workforce. Our current government's strategy aims to address these issues.

In conclusion, it is an exciting time to be in Washington and monitoring all that is going on in S&T, in addition to working with colleagues across the US to target new areas of collaboration.


The author, Valerie La Traverse is the Trade Commissioner for Science and Technology at the Embassy of Canada in Washington, DC. {/access}