Geoff Munro discusses the role of science at NRCan, science priorities and the opportunities for government research.
What is the role of science at NRCan?
Geoff Munro, Chief Scientist for Natural Resources Canada and Assistant Deputy Minister of the Innovation and Energy Technology Sector
Geoff: Giving useful, practical advice to decision makers based on scientific evidence is a large part of the role science plays within the department. We create the evidence necessary to support policy options, or gather it from the global research community. Policy makers can then make decisions informed by the best evidence available.
Equally important, we are aligning our science activities with the department’s priorities to spur economic growth while protecting environmental and human health.
For example, targeted forest research is helping to support the forest sector’s transition towards a more diversified, higher value product mix. This will increase the economic competitiveness of Canada’s forestry sector.
The Canadian Forest Service (CFS) is working with industry and others to facilitate transformation of the forest sector. The aim of this work is to increase the sector’s economic sustainability and its readiness to respond to the new reality of a global market economy. CFS is providing strong leadership in industry transformation through several initiatives. For example, the Investments in Forest Industry Transformation program provides funding to eligible firms willing to invest in innovative technologies to support a more diversified, higher-value forest product mix. It is the first program of its kind in the Canadian forest sector to help move new technologies and products closer toward commercialization. Among the potential new products are bioenergy, biomaterials, biochemicals and next-generation building products such as cross-laminated timber.
Over the long term, the program’s investments are expected to support the forest sector’s economic competitiveness and environmental sustainability, and to set the foundation for lasting industry transformation.
Another example is the advancement of clean energy transition. To this end we are supporting industry in the development of renewable energy sources, clean electricity, and cleaner fossil fuels.
Science and technology drive innovation, which in turn drives economic competitiveness and enables activities that support and promote the public good.
To illustrate this model, I can tell you about the Genomics R&D Initiative. This initiative coordinates genomics research carried out by federal science departments and agencies. Federal departments such as Health Canada and Natural Resources Canada perform genomics research, but also partner with Canadian and international universities, as well as research institutes and industry.
At NRCan’s Canadian Wood Fibre Centre, researchers are looking at genetic markers in white spruce saplings to predict traits such as the tree’s potential for adaptation, growth, wood quality and pest resistance. The goal is to find trees that have quality wood to benefit industry, but also to aid in the renewal of ecologically important forests.
This research has the potential to improve the economic competitiveness of Canada’s forestry sector by improving wood value and reducing costs.
But to achieve these benefits, research needs to be incorporated into policy-making. This is why it’s critical to consider how science is integrated with policy.
Describe your key role as chief scientist.
Geoff: As Chief Scientist, I work with my Assistant Deputy Minister colleagues in ensuring that our policy advice is backed by sound evidence. This is the critical juncture of the integration of science and policy. We work together to coordinate the department’s research efforts based on the department’s Science and Technology Strategy. This research is enhanced by partnerships in industry, other government departments and academia.
So I am constantly looking for opportunities to collaborate and form partnerships with researchers outside of government. NRCan has over 1,000 arrangements with external partners in different forms, many with international reach.
How is research enhanced by partnerships?
Geoff: At all of our major 18 laboratories, we have developed links with other research communities. In Hamilton, the CANMET Materials technology laboratory is integrated with McMaster University and located near industry that is partnering on materials research. In Atlantic Canada, we are located in the same building as the University of New Brunswick’s forestry program, and the New Brunswick Forest Products Association.
The more we are integrated with others, the more we have the opportunity to share ideas and expertise. The creation of these information hubs is important for fostering innovation to generate new knowledge.
What are NRCan’s Science Priorities?
Geoff: To maximize the relevancy and impact of NRCan’s science activities, the department is prioritizing investment in five key areas:
- The development of national and international partnerships for innovation,
- The creation of world-class science and technology,
- The integration of science and technology with policy and program decision making,
- The application of science and technology for sustainable development, and
- Effective communication with citizens and stakeholders on natural resource issues related to science and technology.
Natural Resources Canada's Science and Technology Strategy
Creating a Sustainable Canadian Resource Advantage through Science and Technology
Science.gc.ca is a Web site that presents scientific information from across the Government of Canada.