OTTAWA – The Harper government is telling the National Research Council to focus more on practical, commercial science and less on fundamental science that may not have obvious business applications.
The government says the council traditionally was a supporter of business, but has wandered from that in recent years — and will now get back to working on practical applications for industries.
The council has become a loose web of individual fiefdoms, each pursuing its own goals, Gary Goodyear, minister of state for science and technology, told a news conference Tuesday.
The result, he said, was an inflexible agency that had lost its ability to respond to the demands and needs of industry.
“Today, the NRC embarks on an exciting, new journey — a re-direction that will strengthen Canada’s research and innovation ecosystem for many years to come,” Goodyear said.
The revamped agency will concentrate on industrial research, new growth and business development, he added.
Council president John McDougall said the NRC will become a more attractive partner for business.
“We have shifted the primary focus of our work at NRC from the traditional emphasis of basic research and discovery science in favour of a more targeted approach to research and development,” McDougall said.
“Impact is the essence of innovation. A new idea or discovery may in fact be interesting, but it doesn’t qualify as innovation until it’s been developed into something that has commercial or societal value.”
It’s a matter of going for concrete results, he added. “We will measure our success by the success of our clients.”
Some agency staff will lose their jobs in the changes, McDougall said, but additional hiring will ensure the restructuring is job-neutral.
Goodyear dismissed suggestions that the changes are part of what opposition critics have described as a Conservative war against science, insisting that his government has been a leader in science and technology investment.
“By helping Canadian businesses develop and bring technically advanced products to market, the NRC is supporting the creation not only of jobs, but good-quality, high-paying, long-lasting jobs,” he said.
“We will continue to support basic research, but the use of that knowledge is the next step,” he said.
The day is past when a researcher could hit a home run simply by publishing a paper on some new discovery, Goodyear said.
“The home run is when somebody utilizes the knowledge that was discovered for social or economic gain.”