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A Note From our President: Building Canada’s Infrastructure for Science and Innovation

Posted
on March 29, 2016

Posted by Jim Ghadbane, President and CEO, CANARIE

One of the most interesting figures for me in Budget 2016 wasn’t actually in the Budget itself: the number 43.

It is the percentage increase in references to “science” in Budget 2016 over last year’s budget (when adjusted for the length of the document). With $95 million additional annual ongoing funding for the granting councils, and investments in organizations such as Genome Canada and Mitacs, some of the research community’s key needs were clearly heard by the new Government.

But there was an even more staggering percentage figure that can be extrapolated from the Budget, and that is the adjusted increase in references to infrastructure – 6808%.

That isn’t a typo. Budget 2016 mentions infrastructure 253 times, while the previous Budget, though twice the length, used the word only 7 times.

A significant number of these references relate to the Post-Secondary Institutions Investment Fund, which will allow institutions to upgrade their facilities. While these investments are vital to the physical requirements of higher education institutions, we need to ensure that digital research infrastructure (DRI) is similarly supported.

CANARIE manages one of the key components for Canada’s DRI, the high-speed national network, which in partnership with provincial and territorial networks, connects Canadian research facilities and higher-ed institutions to one another and to their international peers. Where students and researchers once collaborated in person, information now flows seamlessly internationally.  For example, the CANARIE network helps enable ongoing collaboration between the TRIUMF national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics in Vancouver and the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva. CANARIE was fortunate to have its funding from the Government of Canada renewed in Budget 2015, allowing us to continue to evolve the network and other digital infrastructure tools and services to meet the needs of Canadians.

But networking is just one of four pillars vital to a functioning DRI ecosystem – the other three being computing, software, and data storage. To think of it in terms of your own laptop or tablet, the network is the Internet that you connect to over Wi-Fi, computing is the processor, the software is the operating system, the browser or other applications, and data storage is the hard drive.

Under the last Government, Industry Canada initiated a consultation to a begin developing a medium-to long-term strategy for DRI in Canada, recognizing that changes associated with data- and compute-intensive research “provide exciting new opportunities for discovery but also create new demands for the tools and infrastructure needed to carry out this work.” Stakeholders in the research and innovation community, including CANARIE, also recognized the importance of coordinating a vision for Canada’s DRI ecosystem, coming together to form The Leadership Council for Digital Infrastructure.

We are pleased that under its new name of “Innovation, Science and Economic Development”, the Government of Canada will be continuing with this DRI strategy development under the leadership of Science Minister Kirsty Duncan, because the future – both generally and in science, research, and innovation – is online; the world has gone digital and there’s no indication we will go back! This Government has clearly recognized the need to get Canadians connected: the $500 million set aside over the next 5 years to get rural and remote communities online, building on the previous Government’s Connecting Canadians Program, is testament to this. But as Canada seeks to grow and maintain its position as a science and innovation leader, ensuring proper digital infrastructure is vital to making the most of other government investments – not only for individuals and businesses, but also in support of researchers and innovators.

The extra investments pledged to the granting councils in Budget 2016 will almost certainly lead to greater DRI usage, as more and more data-intensive research is enabled. To fully leverage the investments Budget 2016 is making in science and research, Canada’s DRI ecosystem must also evolve. This is indeed a very transformative and exciting time for Canada. We look forward to working with Minister Duncan and our stakeholders to maximize Canada’s performance in the digital economy.