Canada eyes new funds and collaborations to boost international science

Officials in Ottawa say they plan to step up funding for Canadian researchers to join other countries’ R&D programmes – including Horizon Europe

OTTAWA – The Canadian government is pushing to expand international collaboration in science – including the possibility of joining the European Union’s big R&D programmes.

Canadian officials say they plan to launch a new fund of up to C$25 million (€16.75 million) a year for direct co-funding of science with other governments. The country’s social science council recently announced plans for more collaborations with the UK and officials are also keen on a suggestion from Brussels that it join the big Horizon Europe R&D programme from 2021.

Though there’s no formal offer as yet from Brussels on membership of Horizon Europe, or any Canadian decision on it, “I can tell you that I would certainly like us to move forward,” said Mona Nemer, chief science advisor to prime minister Justin Trudeau, in an interview with Science|Business. “There are many people who are very keen, both on the scientist side and the science policy side,” she said.

The Trudeau government has made research and innovation a policy plank since coming to office in November 2015 – boosting funding for research by C$9.4 billion, launching five “innovation superclusters” for R&D in artificial intelligence and other fields, and making active use of science diplomacy to advance its foreign policy goals.

Following the launch last year of ethical guidelines for artificial intelligence, by the Quebec Research Funds and the University of Montréal, the Canadian government pushed with Japan, the EU and the OECD to get an international agreement – leading this month to the G20 nations endorsing the first international principles for AI.

In Canada, “there’s a strong feeling that we punch above our weight” in science, said Ted Hewitt, chair of the Canada Research Coordinating Committee, which oversees federal science funding. “But we also realise that we’re not a huge country, and tackling big complicated problems also benefits from international collaboration. This government believes we need to promote that kind of international collaboration to put Canadian expertise to work for the world, and for Canada,” he said.

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