Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good morning, everyone.
Thank you for inviting me today.
I'm truly honoured to be speaking to you as Canada's new chief science adviser.
As you, I believe in the importance of science and technology to advance our economy and our well-being.
In my 10 weeks on the job, I've been quite busy in starting to build this new office from the ground up, as you know.
I like to joke and say that I'm a start-up in government, and I'll let you judge what that means.
As you know, my role is to provide the , the , and cabinet with scientific advice to help make policy decisions. I'll be looking at ways the government can strengthen science and ensure that it's fully available to the public, and that federal scientists are able to speak freely about their work.
I firmly believe in the importance of science for society, and I will be a champion for open and accessible science.
I'd like to use my time today to tell the committee a bit about myself, where I come from, and what I bring to this office. I'll also tell you a bit about what we've been doing since September 26, my first day on the job, and the general direction my office will take over the next months.
As some of you may know, I was born and raised in Beirut by loving and hard-working parents. My mother was a schoolteacher and my father was a mechanical technician. They were both very actively engaged in progressive societal reforms. In our family, education and giving back to society were very important.
As a university student, I attended the American University of Beirut. I studied chemistry, because by that time, I realized that I really loved science and I wanted to do something to help other people, like find new treatments to fight disease.
However, soon after, war broke out in Lebanon and studying became extremely challenging. I spent more time, for that matter, in shelters than in classrooms or laboratories. After much contemplation, I left Beirut and came to North America where I completed my undergraduate degree in Wichita, Kansas, of all places. I then moved to beautiful Montreal in 1977 where I did my Ph.D. in chemistry at McGill University.
When I finished my Ph.D., I worked in a biotech start-up. While that was much fun, I realized that if I wanted to do something groundbreaking, I would really need to have a better understanding of biology and physiology.
I went back to train in the burgeoning field of molecular biology and biotechnology. There were very few labs in the world that actually did this kind of work. One of them was in Montreal, where I went, and then later I also completed my training at Columbia University in New York.
By the time I completed my training, which was many years—you can count the years—I did not imagine that my interest in understanding gene regulation would actually lead to a career in academic cardiovascular health, let alone the position that I have here today in front of you. I tell this to the committee because it's important to realize that for many researchers, knowing exactly what you will do after graduation is not a given. When young students ask me for advice on their careers, I always tell them to embrace the opportunities. It's a shared responsibility of educators, institutions, and governments to help prepare our youth for various job opportunities; and I submit to you, some that we cannot even imagine today. It's a responsibility that I have always taken to heart as an educator and academic executive.
I also say this because in a sense it's an analogy for research altogether. Discovery means not knowing in advance what your outcome will be. Yet, the vast majority of discovery research has had significant socio-economic impacts, from technology development to disease prevention and treatment.
Importantly, it's through discovery research, be it basic or applied, that we train tomorrow's workers, innovators, and leaders. It's vital that we support discovery research because without it, there is no talent development, new knowledge, or new innovation.
This was something that I learned throughout my career in academia—as a professor, then as a director at the Montreal Clinical Research Institute, and most recently as vice-president of research at the University of Ottawa.
During those years, I had the privilege to interact with bright, dynamic and passionate professors and researchers who cared about their science, their students and their communities. I saw myself as an enabler, a convenor and an ambassador. I am proud of my 20-plus years at the Montreal Clinical Research Institute and at the University of Ottawa, which I believe have prepared me well for my present role.
Canada's science capacity is an immense asset, and better collaboration between intramural and extramural researchers will advance our country's overall science and innovation capacity.
Our biggest global challenges, from health to transport to a safe environment and resilient societies, are complex and multi-faceted. To address these, we increasingly need to work horizontally, across disciplines, across departments, and across sectors. That is what I will do and what I will promote.
What have I done since September 26 and 27? Well, it's been a busy 10 weeks of meetings, public engagements, and outreach, both domestically and internationally. I have met with stakeholders in the science community across the country and abroad.
I can tell you that the science community is very excited about the and the government's prioritizing of evidence-based policy. In fact, it's not just the science community. I have received almost 1,000 letters and communications from the public and, I would say, at least 200 or 300 from non-scientists. Everybody is excited by my position and by the attention given to evidence-based decision-making. Everywhere I go, they share their enthusiasm for bringing science to the forefront of decision-making.
I have been looking at ways to channel and utilize the enthusiastic support of the community into one of the key elements of my mandate: to promote a positive and productive dialogue among scientists, and with the public both in Canada and abroad. There is very important research being done within the government, and we need to open up channels between our government researchers and those in academia.
I have already begun this process with stakeholders in government and in the post-secondary research community. I have met with my counterparts in the Quebec government and the territorial governments, as well as with the science advisory leaders in the federal government.
I have reached out to all of the science-based departments and requested that they provide me with their directives and best practices on how they are helping their scientists communicate with the media. We will assess these practices and recommend guidelines to be adopted by all federal science departments.
I will also be working with the Treasury Board Secretariat to promote a national public consultation on open government, which includes both science and open data initiatives. These are important measures in making sure that science and quality data are freely available to the public.
I have also heard from student groups who want to contribute to science policy-making, and we are looking at ways to integrate them into our processes. I think it's great that our youth are actually re-engaging with the public arena.
In addition to all of the stakeholders I have met with across Canada, I also have reached out to the international science community. The message I took to them is that Canada continues to be open for scientific collaboration, but importantly, what I'm hearing in return is that they're looking to Canada for leadership on several fronts: Arctic research, brain health, regenerative medicine, artificial intelligence, climate and ocean sciences, and quantum information, just to name a few.
In Washington, Boston, Paris, the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, everywhere I have heard the same message: Canada is a partner of choice. Now is our time to lead, I am convinced of it. The global challenges of the 21st century will require global responses, and Canada is very well-placed to lead at least some of those responses. We have the talent, the facilities, the reputation, and the expertise.
I look forward to working with the members of the committee in the weeks and months ahead to promote Canada's leadership in science and innovation.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I look forward to answering the committee's questions.