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Science and technology

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Science fiction is not what it used to be. In our technology-dependent world, it is no longer part of an inaccessible dream world—science is central to daily Canadian life.

Biotechnology and chemistry deliver new drugs, high-tech firms release the newest must-have gadgets at an unprecedented pace, and research programs regularly generate leading-edge innovations in artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, robotics, photonics, geomatics and aeronautics.

Less noticeable in daily life are the ways that industry uses science to improve how our resources are extracted, refined, delivered and sustained. In a world where science has drastically changed our understanding of our impact on the environment, science also helps us to develop alternative energy sources, more sustainable growth and healthier products.

The impact of science is huge. It improves our quality of life, boosts our economy and strengthens our industries. Today, hundreds of thousands of talented Canadians across the country—in private industry, government labs and university research programs—are pushing science in new directions.

Who funds science?

Canada invests significantly in scientific research and development (R&D). In 2006, Canadian universities, hospitals, government laboratories and businesses planned to spend $28.4 billion on R&D, more than double the spending of a decade earlier. This total—the gross domestic expenditures on research and development (GERD)—refers to all money spent on R&D performed within the country in a given year.

GERD represents the total spending on R&D performed within a country from all funding sources, as well as funding from abroad. It excludes payments sent abroad for R&D performed in other countries.

GERD is a key benchmark for determining the research intensity in a given country and for making national and international comparisons. More GERD funding generally reflects the creation of more scientific knowledge.

In 2006, business enterprises were expected to account for $13.2 billion, or nearly half of total planned funding of GERD. The federal government was projected to fund $5.2 billion, and higher education institutions, $4.9 billion. Another $900 million was anticipated from private, non-profit organizations, a sector that has increased its R&D funding almost 300% since 1992. The remaining funding was expected to come from provincial governments ($1.6 billion) and from abroad ($2.4 billion).

In 2004, Canada ranked 12 out of 30 member countries of the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in terms of the percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) spent on R&D. Canada spent 2.0% of its GDP, compared with an OECD average of 2.3%. Some of the biggest spenders were Finland at 3.5% and Japan at 3.1%.

In the 2006/2007 fiscal year, the federal government planned to spend $9.2 billion on science and technology (S&T), including $5.7 billion on research and experimental development.

Spending grows

The share of federal science and technology (S&T) spending allocated to the natural sciences and engineering was $6.9 billion in 2006/2007, or 74% of total spending, down from a high of 78% in 2002/2003. Only 30% of the $2.4 billion allocated to the social sciences is allocated to R&D, with the rest going to related scientific activities, such as data collection, maintaining national standards and testing, feasibility studies and policy research.

From 2000/2001 to 2006/2007, Canadian federal government spending on S&T advanced 39% (in current dollars). Most of this gain came in 2001/2002, when the federal government invested an additional $1.5 billion, up 22% from the previous fiscal year.

University institutions and research hospitals are also expanding funding of their science programs. In 2000, higher education was responsible for 14% of GERD; by 2006, their share was 17%. During the same period, the business sector increased its share of GERD from 45% to 47%.

Who’s minding the lab?

More than 36,000 full-time federal government jobs were devoted to science and technology (S&T) activities in 2006/2007, 3% more than in 2005/2006. Sixty-one percent of those jobs were involved in related scientific activities in 2006/2007.

The natural sciences and engineering field accounted for 68% of the estimated total personnel spending in 2006/2007, of which 54% were engaged in R&D. Personnel in the social sciences and humanities accounted for 32% of the total, of which only 7% were engaged in R&D.

Canadian scientists are also pushing the frontiers of knowledge and are major players in cutting-edge sciences such as biotechnology, where they develop virus-resistant crops or produce new burn treatments.

In 2005, more than 13,400 Canadians were involved in biotechnology activities at 532 innovative biotech firms in Canada—firms that are developing new products or processes. More than three out of four of these companies are in the three provinces that account for more than 90% of biotechnology revenues: Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia.

Altogether, Canada’s biotech firms generated $4.2 billion in 2005 and spent $1.7 billion on R&D. Most are fairly small, employing fewer than 50 people. However, the 50 largest companies—those with at least 150 employees—accounted for more than two-thirds of the revenues.

Biotechnology related to human health remains the most significant biotechnology sector in terms of number of firms, employment, R&D and revenues.