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Budget 2010 – A Qualified Success

March 5, 2010

What a difference a year makes.

Last year’s cuts to the research granting councils, though relatively small, were magnified by their inclusion in a so-called “stimulus budget” full of spending increases in other areas.

This year, the opposite is true. Funding increases, though relatively small, are made more significant by the context of spending restraint evidenced elsewhere in the budget.

So what are the research-related numbers?

  • An annual budget increase of $32-million to the three granting councils, starting in 2010-2011. This is generally non-targeted, and is designed to sustain their overall research support. The breakdown is: $16-million for CIHR, $13-million for NSERC, and $3-million for SSHRC. The NSERC money is divided between $8-million for advanced research support and $5-million to foster collaborations between academia and industry.
  • $8-million for the Indirect Costs of Research Program, to help institutions support the increased research related to the tricouncil increases.
  • $75-million for Genome Canada in 2009-2010. Funding for Genome Canada was omitted in last year’s budget, to much outcry. This funding, which is for the current fiscal year, will allow Genome Canada to proceed with a couple of previously announced initiatives related to forestry and the environment.
  • $45-million over five years for “new and prestigious” post-doc fellowships. These 140 2-year fellowships, valued at $70,000 annually, are designed to “attract top-level talent to Canada”. These are the post-doc equivalent of the Vanier scholarships for graduate students.
  • $9-million for the Rick Hansen Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to the creation of an international centre of excellence in spinal cord care and research.
  • $20-million over five years for the establishment of a Canadian High Arctic Research Station.
  • $126-million over five years to fund TRIUMF (“Canada’s premier national laboratory for nuclear and particle physics research and… home to the world’s largest cyclotron”)
  • $15-million annually for the College and Community Innovation Program (CCIP), doubling its size. This program encourages collaboration between colleges and local industry.
  • $135-million over two years for 11 NRC regional innovation clusters.
  • $35-million to NRC to support R&D of new technologies for the production of medical isotopes.
  • $397-million over five years to the Canadian Space Agency to develop the next generation of RADARSAT advanced radar remote sensing satellites.
  • $8-million to extend the International Science and Technology Partnerships Program (ISTPP), which promotes collaborative R&D with international partners.
  • The Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency will get $19-million annually to extend the Atlantic Innovation Fund, a competitive initiative for academia and industry to develop and commercialize new technologies.
  • The 2009 budget allocated $750-million for CFI, of which $150-million has been spent. New competitions will be announced in the coming months for the allocation of the rest.

So there you have it. By my reckoning, this totals more than $1.1-billion in new research-related spending over the next five years (not including the ACOA or CFI money). According to the Globe and Mail, the total of new spending measures over the same period is expected to be just under $5-billion. And so, the research community is receiving more than 20% of new spending measures in this budget. And this doesn’t include the $600-million still to come from CFI.

That’s pretty darned impressive.

Sure, there are a few concerns. The increases in tri-council funding don’t erase the cuts outlined in last year’s budget. The $32-million increase is in relation to the $43-million cut outlined in last year’s budget, which means they will still have $11-million less in 2010-2011.  Also, the spending announcements don’t exactly merge into a clear and unified science and technology strategy, but are rather a bit of a hodge-podge; some of the announcements clearly designed to address other policy issues, like arctic sovereignty. Finally, there’s lots of talk about innovation and the future, but little evidence that the conclusions of major reports by the Science, Technology and Innovation Council or the Council of Canadian Academies have been applied to a new “Innovation Strategy”.

Perhaps this will come. My eyebrows were raised by this statement in the budget:

Despite the high level of federal support, we continue to lag behind other advanced economies with respect to overall innovation performance, private sector investment in R&D, and the commercialization of research.

To ensure that federal funding is yielding maximum benefits for Canadians, the Government, in close consultation with business leaders from all sectors and our provincial partners, will conduct a comprehensive review of all federal support for R&D to improve its contribution to innovation and to economic opportunities for business. This review will inform future decisions regarding federal support for R&D. The Government is currently developing the terms of reference for the review.

Given that the research community is an acknowledged world-leader, it will be important to include its representatives in this consultation. Many academic researchers have good ideas about how to improve innovation performance and commercialization of research, a topic I’ll address in greater detail later. There is consensus, however, that there is a disconnect between our research success and innovation, and attempts to address it can and should be supported by researchers.

It would have been easy for this government to stand pat on research funding, or increase cuts, and then hide behind the deficit-fighting argument. Instead, this government recognized the importance of research to the recovering economy and allocated a relatively large slice of a rather small spending pie to Canadian research.

At least in part, this decision is due to the efforts of researchers who made themselves heard. Whether by signing the petition on this site, or through efforts with other research advocacy groups, researchers told the government that supporting research is important. Kudos to the government for listening.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. Jim permalink
    March 5, 2010 14:04

    You’re more optimistic than I, Rob. :-) It looks good at a superficial level and there is certainly merit to the increments at a time that other programs are frozen or cut. But, I get the feeling that this is setting the scene for significant changes in the next year. We’ll see. The article by Paul Wells pointed out by Nilima in Macleans is a well researched piece and raised the same issue as you in terms of the review. http://www2.macleans.ca/2010/03/04/budget-2010-peering-into-tomorrow-blind-as-a-bat/

    The budget also clarified that postdoc fellowship income is fully taxable (unlike students). Some 140 new postdocs will be better off over the next few years but I’d bet a few thousand will be worse off.

  2. SpongeBob permalink
    March 9, 2010 14:36

    I agree with Jim that it may look good, but in the end, there is not that much. Some numbers are interesting, it is true, especially the number of times the word “research” is used. But if you look carefully, the real numbers are small, in terms of percentage, and the importance given to “transfer” is quite impressive.

    Most of the money is sprinkled everywhere, with questionable decisions, like giving some happy few postdocs more money a young academic gets. Nice announcements for the three granting councils, not even covering last year’s cuts.

    The Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospherics Science received no money at all, probably meaning a short term closing of operations. If you put this in perspective with the effort to guarantee Canadian sovereignty of the Arctic regions, it looks like if the government acknowledges that the ice pack will melt and the only thing we have to worry about is to take control of the region in its new configuration.

    Speaking about climate change, this part (page 102) is instructive:

    “Hydro, solar, wind and other clean and renewable energy technologies have the potential to significantly reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases and help us meet our ambitious climate change objectives, while creating new business opportunities as the global economy transitions towards lower emission pathways. By supporting the development of advanced clean energy solutions, such as carbon capture and storage technologies, Canada can build on its leadership in this important area.”

    “Our ambitious climate change objectives”!!!!!! This is so dramatic that I cannot laugh at such a lie. The rest is not bad either:

    “This is why Canada’s Economic Action Plan provided significant new resources to support Canada’s transformation towards a green energy economy, including:
    • $ 1 billion over five years under the Clean Energy Fund to support research, development and demonstration of promising clean energy technologies, including carbon capture and storage technologies.”

    Actually, there is more than $800 million in support for carbon capture and storage. This will allow increases in oil and coal extraction and burning, with the promise that “one day we will have a solution”. Drill baby drill! Little is known about carbon capture and storage, about its feasibility, about the long time fate of stored CO2. It could well be a climatic time bomb.

    There is no real vision, except generating energy from fossil carbon and giving the mandate to some committee to find a solution to the well documented difficulty of Canadian private sector with R&D. This is as close to wishful thinking as you can get.

    I think this budget is not good for research, and for Canada.

Trackbacks

  1. Research and the 2010 Canadian federal budget; nanotechnology from a materials perspective; Visionaries in Banagalore; materials science and PBS offer a grant opportunity; To Think To Write To Publish for emerging science writers « FrogHeart
  2. Reactions to Canada’s 2010 Federal Budget « The Cross-Border Biotech Blog
  3. Canada space week resume « Blog de Steve Prud'Homme
  4. Harms and Company Consulting » Archives » Catch up mode
  5. Reactions to Canada’s 2010 Federal Budget « The RIC Blog
  6. Government Announces R&D Review « Researcher Forum
  7. What happened to the $8-million? | Piece of Mind

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