Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to meeting number seven of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology.
Today, we have witnesses from Statistics Canada, Wayne Smith, chief statistician of Canada; and from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Mario Pinto, president; Alfred Leblanc, vice-president, communications, corporate and international affairs; Pierre Charest, vice-president, research grants and scholarships directorate; and Patricia Sauvé-McCaun, vice-president, common administrative services directorate.
We're going to allow StatsCan to do its 10-minute presentation, and then, if it's okay with the committee, we'll proceed to the presentation by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. This way you can direct your questions to either party.
Without further ado, Mr. Smith, the floor is yours.
Mr. Chair, I would first like to thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today about Statistics Canada's priorities and challenges.
Statistics Canada is well known for regular publication every year of a wide range of high-quality economic, social, and environmental data, from gross domestic product to crime rates, from employment to inflation, from post-secondary graduations to field-crop production. These data support the decision-making of governments, business, unions, civil society, and even individual Canadians. Our stakeholders demand that data be both consistent and comparable over time, yet responsive to emerging needs. We work collaboratively with provincial and territorial governments, other stakeholders, and with international organizations and other national statistical offices to meet these challenges. For our most impactful data, we pre-announce publication dates and religiously meet them. Maintaining this continuous stream of decision data remains our major focus.
This year, of course, is a special year in the cycle of statistical production. It is the year in which we conduct the censuses of population and agriculture. For 2016, the census of population returns to a comprehensive and fully mandatory program. Exceptionally, one in four households will be asked to complete the long-form census. The 2016 program will make greater use of administrative data to reduce the burden on Canadians of responding. It will also make greater use of social media to promote the census. We hope and expect that this year about two-thirds of Canadian households will respond to the census via the Internet.
Another plus for the 2016 program is that we expect to release all data from the census of population about 10 months earlier than in previous censuses. The census of agriculture will also be conducted this year and hopes to make some significant gains in Internet response by farm operators.
As I mentioned, Statistics Canada's program must evolve to meet emerging needs. In recent budgets, we've been funded to introduce a triennial survey of household wealth, to generate new statistics to measure the stability of financial markets, to build a new comprehensive price index for new and resale housing, to measure the clean-tech sector, and to determine how best to measure the impact of foreign buyers on residential real estate markets.
Working jointly with other departments, Statistics Canada has made strides in labour market information, developing and implementing a new survey of job vacancies and wages, which has now begun publishing data. We have also fielded a pilot survey on children's health that will fill a significant gap in health data. The survey on job vacancies would not have been possible without direct funding from Employment and Social Development Canada, and the survey on child health would not have been possible without the assistance of Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Statistics Canada also works to increase its efficiency and reinvests savings in the statistical program. In the past year we invested in the expanded and improved statistics on the environment, on energy, and on globalization.
Rising to the challenge raised by the Auditor General in his May 2014 report, we have developed new techniques for estimating small area data, and we'll soon be applying these techniques to generate a wide variety of small area data on new subjects.
Beyond these success stories, there are still gaps where new partnerships and resources are needed to make progress. One example is the digital economy and innovation. Some work has been done on an ad hoc basis, but a more regular and consistent program is needed.
Academic researchers are pleading for Statistics Canada to resume conducting longitudinal surveys that follow children, youth, workers, immigrants, and seniors through time, as some policy questions can only be addressed in this way. Longitudinal surveys are, however, expensive and require time to yield their full potential. Better information about life-cycle transition, such as transitions from school to the labour market, or from work to retirement, and from early old age to the very advanced years of aging, are of particular interest to researchers and to policy-makers.
I mentioned efficiency earlier, and I'm pleased to be able to tell you that Statistics Canada has a permanent management process to seek out and exploit opportunities to improve the efficiency, robustness, and responsiveness of its systems and processes. These systems have been thoroughly overhauled over the past five years and have been improved on all three dimensions of efficiency, robustness, and responsiveness.
Despite budget reductions, as I mentioned above, the efficiency gains allowed us to expand the statistical program in critical areas, and to remove all charges for access to standard statistical products and all limitations on their redistribution by others.
Gains in responsiveness allowed the agency to develop and deploy the new job vacancy and wage survey in record time.
One particular strategic investment is being made into the further development of the use of administrative data and other non-traditional data sources, such as big data and satellite telemetry to replace or complement traditional survey research including, potentially, parts of the census. These techniques can reduce the cost of statistical production and reduce the burden on businesses and individuals while permitting data to be generated for very small geographic areas.
Equally important for the health of the statistical system over the past few years, Statistics Canada has identified each year, and program by program, investments required during the next 10 years to ensure the continuity and quality of its outputs. These are things such as system and survey redesign, implementation of new classification standards, and implementation of new international conceptual standards. These investments have been consolidated into a 10-year forward plan with a corresponding financial plan to ensure that the necessary financial resources will be available.
A final priority I'd like to mention is the government's commitment to reinforce the formal independence of Statistics Canada in law. While Canada's statistical system is much envied, one area of weakness that stands out among developed countries is the absence in law of formal protection of the national statistical office's independence. Canada has endorsed guidelines from the United Nations and the OECD that set out principles and recommendations in this regard. Statistics Canada is working on recommendations for consideration by the government that would follow international guidance and bring us in line with other developed countries.
Turning to challenges, the first one I would mention is a very positive one. The government's emphasis on evidence-based decision-making and monitoring of results is giving rise to what I have described as a tsunami of demand for Statistics Canada's services that will temporarily tax our capacity as we adjust to this new level of expectations, but adjust we will.
The second challenge at the forefront of our thoughts is the impact on data quality of declining household survey response rates. This is a phenomenon throughout the developed world for both public sector and private sector survey organizations. It reflects both greater difficulty in contacting households and the faster pace of modern lives which affects the willingness of Canadians to participate. We're tackling this issue through a combination of improved survey processes, new response channels, application of behavioural economic theory, improved survey design, and greater use of administrative data to displace or shorten surveys.
The final challenge that's very front of mind for us at the moment is the temporary decline in the effectiveness of our informatics support. Statistical agencies are essentially applications of informatics. Every stage requires intensive informatics to actually carry out the work. There has been some degradation in the level of support that we've been receiving, and we're working on this issue with our partners.
I believe I've pretty much exhausted my time, so I'd like to close by thanking you again for for this opportunity to address the committee on the work of Statistics Canada.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and ladies and gentlemen of the committee.
My name is Mario Pinto. I am the president of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, also known as NSERC.
I am happy to be here today to talk to you about NSERC's role in growing Canada's prosperity and well-being.
NSERC invests over $1 billion each year in natural sciences and engineering research and innovation in Canada's post-secondary institutions—colleges, polytechnics, and universities. Our investments support over 30,000 science and engineering students, and 11,000 professors, world-leading researchers in their fields.
Our investments also enable partnerships that connect industry with discoveries and the people behind them. This ensures that discovery research is constantly being enriched by industry and market perspectives. We currently work with 3,550 companies. We are very confident in these investments. The OECD has stressed human capital as a basis for innovation and ranks Canada number one in the percentage of highly educated individuals in the workforce. These investments have never been so critical.
The world is in the midst of what some call the fourth industrial revolution, and Canada's success will largely depend on fully mobilizing Canada's discovery and innovation ecosystem. The hallmark of the present revolution? It is progressing faster than ever before at a scale and scope that is both unprecedented and unpredictable.
Powerful new technologies have emerged from fundamental science and are converging across physical, digital, and biological worlds. These enabling technologies are transforming economies, societies, and industries. Most examples are within NSERC's purview: energy storage, advanced robotics, the Internet of things, 3-D printing, next-generation genomics, automation of knowledge work, and advanced oil and gas exploration and recovery.
The impact will be felt across the whole of Canada's economy in agriculture, fisheries, forestry, oil and gas, transportation, construction, and manufacturing. All are being completely transformed. To use an example, graphene, a revolutionary nanomaterial 200 times stronger than steel, resulted from pure discovery research. We are already seeing the use of carbon fibre in the aerospace industry because of its lightweight qualities. Graphene, which is even lighter and stronger, could eventually replace all steel structures in aircraft, vastly improving fuel efficiency and range. The many industry applications of this breakthrough at reasonable cost will rely on further discovery research.
To effectively participate in the fourth industrial revolution, Canada needs scientists, engineers, and business leaders who are empowered by a research and innovation system that is adapted to this technological reality. Now is the time to embrace fresh thinking about how to pursue research and innovation activities. Today's research and innovation ecosystem is much more collaborative and non-linear than ever before. Done right, there is a very active dynamic linking discovery and innovation.
Discovery-based research, which draws on different thinking and uses a different lens, produces new firsts in knowledge, as well as new opportunities and inventions which are certainly of value to innovation. Innovation, which is attuned to market needs and opportunities, creates a new context for discovery research, and helps test and realize the value of inventions. In the process, it generates challenges that inspire further discovery research.
In a highly functioning, discovery-innovation dynamic, there is a constant back and forth of information and ideas. Many different players are involved, and with guidance they act in an integrated and purposeful way. For example, NSERC partnerships help SMEs increase their bandwidth, grow their intellectual property, and maximize their worth in global value chains.
I would now like to share a few comments about budget 2016.
We were very pleased to see an increase of $30 million a year to NSERC's discovery budget, which is ongoing. This will have a positive and much needed impact on our community. Budget 2016 also included other strategic investments that can be effectively leveraged by NSERC's discovery and innovation programs. These include enhanced funding for the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, our sister agencies; two Canada excellence research chairs related to clean and sustainable technology; and welcome support for optics, genomics, stem cell research, drug development, theoretical physics, clean technologies, agriculture advances, electric grid technologies, and NRC's IRAP.
NSERC is also eager to participate in a variety of initiatives: in the federal government's new innovation networks and clusters to help high-impact firms reach their potential, with currently five regional offices that broker relationships between the local academic and industrial sectors; with Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada on the effects of climate change in the Arctic; with the , who will have NSERC's full participation for the review of federal support for fundamental science; and with on the development of the innovation agenda.
I would like to mention some of the challenges we face.
Mastering the S and T revolution requires an empowered brain trust that can work across disciplines and borders. Our cutting-edge engineers and scientists must also have a global reach to access the 95% of S and T knowledge generated outside of Canada.
One of NSERC's most significant challenges is ensuring that Canadian researchers have the necessary funding to pursue discovery research that will yield benefits for Canadian society and our economy. Budget 2016 funding for NSERC will help address pressure that has been created by inflation, a broadening mandate to include the colleges and polytechnics, and a growing client base, a 30% increase since 2007. This is a good start. Other countries have been investing heavily, and Canada will need to do the same to remain competitive.
NSERC's new strategic plan, NSERC 2020, will help us mobilize Canada's discovery and innovation system and face today's technological reality. We will back bold ideas and the best talent, and connect communities to address Canada's biggest challenges and greatest opportunities.
We have been focusing on initiatives that will coalesce NSERC's diverse research expertise to work on such critical issues as R and D on the integration of renewable and clean energy sources into smart electricity grids. NSERC is keen to work with ISED and the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Environment and Climate Change on these aspects.
NSERC is also looking to help support the next agricultural revolution: precision agriculture. We are looking forward to working with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada on this initiative.
NSERC continues to invest in other strategic priority areas: aerospace, automotive, and high-tech manufacturing; forestry and wood products; fisheries and oceans; health and life sciences and technologies; and natural resources and energy. We are helping Canada's critical and crucial industries adapt and grow in the fourth industrial revolution.
Ladies and gentlemen, in summary, we are an organization with deep knowledge and connections to the academic world and with expertise and connections to industry as the result of thousands of partnerships with Canadian businesses. That is what makes us different, and that is one of the ways we provide value. We also provide rigorous quality assurance through expert peer review of projects, grants, and awards. In so doing, we de-risk R and D investments. We build the feedback loops from industry to academia to optimize technologies and help companies grow and participate in global value chains and trade in value-added to contribute to interconnected economies. We assemble pan-Canadian networks that bridge to international partners.
We are ready.
Thank you very much.
I will be happy to answer your questions.
Thank you very much for the question.
We view this in the light of embracing diversity, and that is one of the foci in our strategic plan. We present an innovation ecosystem that embraces colleges, polytechnics, small universities, very large research-intensive universities, etc., and we attempt to tap into the best of the best in all of those sectors. That said, we have invested $47 million in 2015-16 in the CCI suite of programs. That's up from $28 million in 2010-11, a very good trajectory.
We do so by investing in applied R and D projects. We have a suite of programs, the engaged grants for colleges, applied research and development grants, college-university idea to innovation grants where we bring together colleges and universities and marry their expertise, and even industrial research chairs at colleges. These are all worthwhile investments. We fully intend to support those as we go forward, but with an integrated innovation agenda where we trade between partners, bring the universities together with industry, bring the universities together with colleges, polytechnics, and we have a combined ecosystem.
Thank you, panellists. I appreciate your taking the time to give us a briefing on your plans and priorities. Thank you to the other members who joined to help us.
As you know, our government has announced an agenda of growth, specifically focused on the middle class and specifically with significant investment in infrastructure under transit, social, and green development.
To start, Mr. Smith, I have two questions for you.
I was quite pleased to see that for all of the four programs that you have identified in your report on plans and priorities you have key metrics, key performance indicators and targets of what needs to be done.
I also was pleased to hear that you highlighted two of the six sectors to be included in the plan you are putting forward for the next year, i.e., clean technology and agrifood, which were two areas you highlighted. You also identified health resources, advanced manufacturing, digital technology, and resources as areas that your department will be focusing on in the future.
Under each one of these or in all the programs, do you have the specific key performance measures and indicators defined to help the government and help us measure the growth so that we can figure out where the gaps are or whether or not we are excelling in that area? Do you have those measures, or if you don't, how fast would you be able to put them in place so that we can leverage your resources and expertise to monitor our progress?
We have in place a broad infrastructure that allows measurement of growth down to individual industries and to reconstitute....
To use clean tech as an example of what we're able to do, part of the proposal around clean tech is.... This is not a standard industry that is defined by Statistics Canada, so our first problem is that we have to define it. We're currently working with Natural Resources Canada and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada to define that industry, to define what types of businesses belong in that industry.
Once we've done that, we have a wide range of information from surveys and tax data that allows us to calculate estimates of the output of that industry, for example, and to track that output through time. We can then create in principle a baseline of what the situation was before a government policy and can track the development of that industry over time.
For businesses that have benefited, for example, from development loans from the federal government, we also have the ability to look at them individually to see how their business has developed over time and compare them with a control group.
The capacity is thus there, but generally speaking much of the actual work of exploiting the data is done in the departments and granting councils and agencies rather than by Statistics Canada.
My view would be that, depending on the granularity of what people are looking at, we have an infrastructure in place that would allow us to address those kinds of needs.
Let me be clear. The cost recovery I was talking about is a thing of the past. The pricing of our products and services, the restrictions on re-dissemination, that's all gone. Our standard product is free. Our data's free on the Internet. Anybody can take it. Anybody can re-disseminate it.
Every year we generate about $100 million in revenue through providing statistical services to other organizations, primarily federal government departments. Employment and Social Development Canada and Health Canada are examples of major clients of ours that ask us to carry out large surveys on their behalf.
In that domain, it's mainly a client-driven business. It's one of the issues that arise when people are concerned about surveys that have disappeared. In some cases a department has come to us and said they want to pay for a survey. We do the survey. Then they decide they don't really need it anymore, and the survey stops.That's one of the reasons that happens.
About one-fifth of our total production today, every year, is funded by other departments, primarily federal government departments, sometimes the provinces, sometimes the private sector, but very little. The buyer calls the tune, not in setting the standards, our professional standards, but in choosing what data's going to be collected.
In my first round I will limit my questions to Mr. Smith.
Mr. Smith, I have three questions. We have only five minutes, so I'll just ask all three. You can choose to answer one or all three.
You mentioned a formal protection in law of the statistics office. I would like you to elaborate on that, if possible.
You also mentioned the lack of willingness by households to participate in the surveys you conduct is a matter of concern. What are you doing to mitigate that?
My major concern is the different numbers I get from different agencies. For example, the number from the University of Ottawa for high-tech employment in Ottawa is 68,000. From Statistics Canada, it's 42,000. That's a big difference. While I can understand the difference may be in how you define “high-tech sector”, even then the difference is huge.
Looking at only Statistics Canada numbers for Ottawa, in 2014 your number was 64,000, and it crashed in 2015 to 40,000. That is a significant difference, which we know is not at the street level. From the University of Ottawa the number has been quite constant and slightly increasing during the last several years.
Why is there that difference?
I thank you for that. I think it's an important point to make, because Canadians did speak well on this in terms of a moral issue.
Lockheed Martin, for anyone that was aware, conducted an activity that across the world is actually illegal. The use of cluster munitions and scatter bombs by Canada is not even legal because we've signed a convention treaty. As well, they've been involved in infamous projects such as the stars wars program.
A lot of Canadians felt compelled to state that this was very disturbing, because when munitions come over to Canada.... If you're an immigrant, like my grandfather and my wife were, those weapons could have been used on their families. Even some of the legal and illegal warfare that goes on was affecting their families, including places like Iraq most recently.
That's an important point to make because there was an actual public campaign about it, CountMeOut.ca. The Privacy Commissioner was involved. There are others that actually looked at the Patriot Act, including the privacy commissioners. I want to commend the in-house development of that because it gives confidence in the product that you provide which is very valuable.