Selected Highlights of the Labs21 2009 Annual Conference


Labs21 – A Canadian Perspective

Dwayne A. J. Willmer, P. Eng., Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC)


The Canadian federal government has a laboratory inventory of approximately 200 facilities located in all regions of the country and comprising 3.35 million square meters. Approximately 25,000 employees are actively engaged in support of the research, science, and technology activities in these facilities on behalf of the government's annual investment of approximately $10 billion.

Not unlike other institutions and organizations, the Canadian federal laboratories are experiencing rust-out issues, changing mandates and priorities of departmental programs, significant funding pressures, and competition to attract and sustain world-class talent and research programs. With the significant socio-economic benefits of a vibrant knowledge-based economy supported by world-class expertise and laboratory facilities supporting science and technology, renewed and innovative approaches are being implemented in order to position Canada for future generations.


Science and Technology Strategy

In November 2006, Canada's federal government released “Advantage Canada,” an economic plan to make Canada a world leader for current and future generations, based on the premise that Canada already has tremendous strengths, including the drive and ingenuity of its residents, the relative strength of Canada's fiscal position, and its strong research base. It also recognizes that Canada must and can do more to turn its ideas into innovations that provide solutions to environmental, health, and other important social challenges, and to improve Canada's economic competitiveness, “Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada's Advantage, 2007.” The focus of this vision is:

Building on Canada's strengths

Canada has an enviable international reputation for fiscal discipline, price stability, open product markets and flexible labour markets. Canada has a strong research base and will continue to be at the forefront of important scientific developments and challenges. Together with a skilled workforce, Canada will be able to build on the past to attract a strong future in science and technology.

Facing challenges

Despite many scientific achievements, global economic and environmental challenges will require a new level of effort and success; further, the productivity gap between Canada and global trading partners is widening. The renewed strategy will build on strong economic and social fundamentals, taking advantage of the existing research capacity and more effectively using science and technology to develop practical solutions to address the challenges.

A new approach

  • Private sector commitment to science and technology
    Governments and private sector organizations have traditionally collaborated to bring Canada to the forefront of scientific developments and technological achievements that create high-quality, knowledge-intensive jobs with high wages. The Canadian public sector is encouraging greater private sector involvement into all areas where they can excel, particularly in non-regulatory research and development.

  • Strengthen its knowledge base
    Canada is in a global science and technology arena and in order to attract skills to continue to be at the leading edge of important developments that generate health, environmental, societal, and economic benefits, Canada must strive for excellence in science and technology. World-class research is Canada's standard.

  • Sustaining Canada as a magnet for talent
    Talented, skilled, creative people are the most critical element of a successful economy in the long term. Canadian businesses and other organizations need to make better use of the skills, talent, and knowledge of Canadian graduates. This, in turn, will generate more interest among young people in pursuing scientific and technology careers, encouraging a circle of talent generation and mobilization.

The Rust-Out Picture

Several notable factors are contributing to the rust-out picture of Canadian federal laboratories, primarily:

Accumulated delays in recapitalization

Capital funds approved by the Treasury Board must generally be spent in the fiscal year in which they are allocated. If capital projects are delayed, then approved funds revert to consolidated revenues. Over many capital projects, delays can produce a build-up of funding shortfalls that departments must obtain from other sources.

Periodic operations and maintenance (O&M) shortfalls

Unforeseen shortfalls in the operating and maintenance budgets sometimes force departments to draw down on their capital budgets in order to finance their immediate needs for critical maintenance, thereby putting increased stress on existing resources.

Little focus on life-cycle costing

Although the government's Federal Assets and Acquired Services Framework explicitly calls for departments to engage in life cycle costing of their new infrastructure requirements, it is not always clear that this takes place. Nor is it apparent that sufficient funds are always provided by central agencies to fund the least expensive life cycle option, especially when that option may demand higher up-front expenditures. At best, life cycle costing seems to be inconsistently applied, meaning that the departments cannot minimize the lifetime cost of their assets. In any event, a substantial majority of all assets were acquired prior to the adoption of the life cycle philosophy, which has left them stranded financially.

Unproductive or redundant facilities

It is extremely difficult for departments to shed science and technology infrastructure assets that they know to be unproductive or redundant. Even though some departments maintain a “divestiture list” (i.e., a list of redundant infrastructure), most report that it is extremely difficult to actually shed this infrastructure. Sometimes this is due to political factors, technical factors, or the economics of relocating facilities. Some departments maintain this divestiture list, but most do not.

Aging infrastructure, high cost of “heritage” facilities

An aging infrastructure imposes higher O&M costs than a newer infrastructure. Many elements of the federal science and technology infrastructure base are reaching the end of their design life or have exceeded their design life and are therefore imposing higher costs on the departments that operate them.

Many Science Based Departments and Agencies (SBDAs) have a stewardship responsibility for heritage buildings; these high-cost facilities put an inordinate strain on departmental resources.

Evolving program requirements

SBDAs are in a constant struggle to balance expectations to undertake new science responsibilities and simultaneously maintain old ones. New science requirements inevitably drive new science and technology infrastructure requirements. If SBDAs continually add new activities without dropping old ones that inevitably affects their infrastructure situation.

Difficulties in adapting to change (culture)

Unlike a private company, which tailors its infrastructure to its current business conditions, SBDAs generally are unable to do so. Science requirements and thus infrastructure requirements tend to be fixed and do not respond quickly to a department's changing financial circumstances.

In the private sector, increased demand for a company's services yields extra revenues and profits, which in part can be invested in improving infrastructure. In the public sector, increased demand for services yields no increase in revenues and places additional strain on available financial, human, and infrastructure resources. In other words, in the public sector, expanding service activity increases the utilization rate of existing infrastructure and actually reduces its life cycle.

Inability to capitalize on lapsing funds

Often, planned projects and programs experience delays and therefore deference of expenditures towards the end of a fiscal budget period. Given the nature of fiscal year funding constraints and lack of real-time project intelligence or shelf-ready projects, planned expenditures fall short of available budgets and therefore opportunities to allocate funding to future year projects in current years, is not capitalized upon.


The Path Forward

Having recognized the scope of the Canadian federal government's vision for the future of science and technology, and the nature of the pressures facing the infrastructure and program requirements, the federal custodial departments in collaboration with Federal Central Agencies, have undertaken action to move forward with aggressive plans to modernize Canadian federal laboratories:

Economic stimulus aimed at deferred maintenance ($250M, two years)

As part of Canada's economic action plan identified in the budget for 2009, a one-time investment has been allocated to address significant deferred maintenance in the nation's laboratories. This investment will, in part, provide a significant boost to enable many facilities to catch-up much needed maintenance projects.


As public funding for large capital investments in laboratory infrastructure continue to be scarce, increased use of alternate project delivery and funding mechanisms will become increasingly necessary. Innovative service delivery solutions through partnerships with other levels of governments, academic institutions, and the private sector, are seen as becoming increasingly viable, particularly for non-regulatory laboratory infrastructure and scientific programs.

Increased use of construction management, design-build, and similar delivery techniques are being employed to enable a more robust and timely approach to project delivery and therefore economies of scale and total investment costs.

Innovative financing

The use of public private partnerships (P3s) has been successful for several infrastructure projects in the past and will continue to provide an alternative avenue to minimize first-cost investments and spread the financial burden over future years. These mechanisms will be increasingly used for “whole-project” applications, as well as ongoing operations in existing facilities.

Science parks

Science parks have existed for some time, but with increased financial pressures from all stakeholders, the advantages of these parks are increasingly viewed as a viable and sustainable concept to attract and retain world-class science and scientists.

Sustainable, energy-efficient facilities (Labs21 Approach)

Much of the nation's laboratories were constructed during an era where energy and environmental considerations were not as relevant as today. Much can be gained in applying sustainable laboratory practice through design, construction, operations, and maintenance of existing and future laboratories, thus enabling the growth of high-performance, energy efficient facilities. More sustainable facilities will serve to attract and retain the next generation(s) of science and scientists.

High arctic research station

The recently announced laboratory in Canada's arctic, will build on existing science and technology research and development in the north, as well as serve as a world-class facility for continued research in arctic regions of the world.

Pandemic research

The recent H1N1 pandemic has highlighted gaps in Canada's ability to adequately deal with future pandemic research and response. It is likely that future programs and supporting facilities will be developed to ensure sufficient readiness.


Labs21 Future and Growth in Canada

Through a formal agreement with Labs21, Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) has embarked upon a strategic path in collaboration with SBDAs to broaden and leverage the best practices, tools, and principles of Labs21 to modernize existing facilities, rationalize inventory, and ensure that the facilities remain world-class, high-performance, energy efficient, environmentally-conscious, safe, and productive assets.

This partnership will capitalize on the strong foundation of collaboration between the United States and Canada in laboratory knowledge management, helping to ensure a more sustainable future working with the nations' laboratories. PWGSC is working to facilitate the understanding of and access to the Labs21 principles to all federal laboratory custodial departments, other levels of government, industry, and the academic community in Canada. Further collaborations/partnerships are also being realized through association with the Real Property Institute of Canada (RPIC), the Canadian Green Building Council (CAGBC), and academic institutions. These organizations are bringing the Labs21 principles to Canada by way of workshops, training sessions, and conference participation. These initiatives are growing and are proceeding with plans for more exposure in the coming years.



Dwayne Willmer, P.Eng., has worked for over 35 years as a professional engineer in Canada, employed in both the private and public sectors. He is a senior director in the Real Property Branch of PWGSC with a primary focus on providing federal laboratory custodial client departments with a central and national business focus for laboratories. The objective of this role is to ensure that PWGSC provides and sustains the highest level of strategic and technical advisory services, expertise, and best practice in a consistent manner for all custodial laboratory client departments in all regions of Canada.

Mr. Willmer has been associated with the Labs21 program over the past ten years and was responsible for the signing of a formal Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) with Labs21 in the fall of 2008. Through the MOU, PWGSC and Labs21 will work together to meet the challenge of the Labs21 mission by sharing world-class knowledge, information, and solutions in all aspects of laboratory planning, design, engineering, and operations. The partnership will capitalize on the strong foundation of collaboration between the United States and Canada in laboratory knowledge management, helping to ensure a more sustainable future, working with the nations' laboratories. PWGSC is working to facilitate the understanding of and access to the Labs21 principles to all federal laboratory custodial departments, other levels of government, industry, and the academic community in Canada.