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Post-budget roundup

March 22, 2010

Things here at the Researcher Forum have been quiet since the budget (I’ve been busy and away…). A few weeks have passed, the dust has cleared, and I figured I’d take stock – a survey of internet opinion – and decide whether the research community has come to any sort of consensus on Budget 2010.

In a word, no consensus. In fact, there has been more diversity of opinion about research and this budget than I can recall observing before. And it’s not surprising: even my own opinion is ambivalent, and my overall take on the budget depends on my mood and how generous I happen to be feeling. On the one hand, some increases in funding despite a relatively lean spending environment. On the other hand, tricouncil increases don’t offset last year’s cuts and there are some glaring omissions.

I’ll pick up on more details in the week ahead. But to get us all on the same page, I’ve summarized below the main positions of major stakeholders/commentators.

Government

  • Genome Canada: can barely contain its enthusiasm with a one sentence statement (“Genome Canada is pleased…“) that is practically impossible to find on its website.
  • NSERC: goes one further than Genome Canada by being “very pleased”.
  • CIHR: is also “very pleased”. CIHR also emphasizes to the government us that “the spending priorities outlined in Budget 2010 are directly aligned with CIHR’s current priorities and investments”. Handy, that.
  • SSHRC: any mention of the budget is conspicuously absent from the SSHRC site. No media release, no news update, nada. Perhaps the meagre $3-million funding increase doesn’t pay for PR flacks.
  • CFI: While the government made sure to re-announce the money allocated to CFI in the 2009 budget, CFI didn’t respond. Probably should’ve thanked the government again, to be safe.
  • Gary Goodyear: revealed his list of talking points wrote an editorial which is little more than a laundry list of budget spending announcements. Too bad he didn’t take  the opportunity to describe how this assemblage of spending fits within a larger government S&T strategy. Unless…

Industry

  • Cross-Border Biotech: cheers the elimination of Section 116 of the Income Tax Act, which acted as a barrier to foreign (read U.S.) investment in early-stage Canadian high-technology firms.
  • BIOTECanada: VP Philip Schwab applauds the elimination of Section 116, but suggests more needs to be done to build an effective “commercialization eco-system”. Research and discovery are finem but we need better development, application, and market access.
  • Rx&D: the industry association that represents Canadian pharma companies was lukewarm (at best) in its reaction, going so far as to “acknowledge the government’s intent… to improve Canada’s capacity for world-leading research and development”. Damning with faint praise, that.
  • And anyone else? I found it hard to find industry reaction to R&D plans in the budget. Did anyone tell them that most of the R&D funding is being dedicated to improving industry R&D? Did anyone tell them that they’re supposed to be advising the government on a review of how the government allocates R&D funding? Does industry care about R&D in this country, or is that basically the problem?

Academia

  • AUCC: “welcomes the government’s strategic choice”. That’s sort of a weird statement, no? What does that mean? Why is the AUCC being so cryptic? Also, what is this statement doing in the AUCC press release: “Economic stimulus efforts such as the Knowledge Infrastructure Program are helping Canada to emerge from this recession and to accelerate economic growth.” Is the AUCC on the government payroll? What’s the story, AUCC?
  • CAUT: “major disappointment”. Argues the increases in tricouncil funding barely account for inflation, but do not offset “significant cuts last year”. The CAUT is also troubled by the “continuation of the government’s efforts to force universities and colleges into a closer embrace with the private sector [which] threatens the integrity of research and the independence and quality of education”.
  • Canadian Association of Physicists: Justifiably happy, as the Canadian phsyics community got the biggest chunk of new spending announcements: $400-million for RADARSAT, $222-million for TRIUMF. The budget “represents a clear, if somewhat modest, commitment to basic research in addition to commercialization aspects and targeted research that all too often seem to push basic research to the back burner of the government agenda.”
  • TRIUMF: the national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics is ecstatic, and no wonder. BIG winners, with $126-million in funding over the next five years. But they’re not letting it go to their heads: “We cannot do everything, but we will focus on our areas of strength and we will make a difference in science, the economy, and healthcare”. They can’t do everything, but only almost everything.
  • CFCAS (.pdf) The Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences is less ecstatic than TRIUMF. In fact, it is “acutely disappointed”, calling the budget “the nightmare scenario”. CFCAS, the dominant funding agency for climate research in Canada, has received no new federal funds for six years, and was omitted altogether from this budget, which means that it will no longer be able to fund climate research projects. There’s no word on whether TRIUMF will fill the gap and also make a difference in climate science.
  • Polytechnics Canada: the association of Canadian research-intensive colleges and institutes of technology both “welcomed” and “appreciated” the recognition of its members’ contributions to research, particularly through increased funding for the College and Community Innovation Program.
  • Research Canada (.pdf): “remains concerned that the government has not gone far enough in redressing an imbalance in the current system of health research investments thereby jeopardizing Canada’s ability to undertake the foundational research that will result in the innovations which will be our competitive edge in the fast-paced global economy”. It seems like they’re saying they’re not happy, though I can’t figure out why.
  • University Leadership: The presidents of 13 research-intensive universities laud the “difficult balance in difficult times”, and are “grateful to the government”. They argue the government has signaled it won’t cut provincial transfers when it finally has to balance the books (which seems more hopeful than accurate). The presidents also invite themselves to the review of public R&D spending, even though the budget is pretty explicit that it’s industry the government wants to talk to.
  • Black Hole: Post-docs face a $4,000-$6,000 pay cut due to newly taxable status of post-doc fellowships. And the 2% of Canadian post-docs who get the fancy new high-salary fellowships face a 50% pay cut in year three of the post-doc, when the fellowship expires.
  • Canadian Association of Postdoctoral Scholars: taxing postdoc salaries means that many postdocs will earn less than Master’s and PhD students in the same labs. Great for lab morale.
  • Tom Brzustowski (UofO): “These are positive signs for Canadian S&T in Budget 2010, but the S&T community must not take anything for granted. Budget 2011 will start work on slashing the deficit, and program spending in most areas will come under careful scrutiny.” So, something to look forward to.

Opinionaters

  • Stephen Murgatroyd (Troy Media): Budget shows “little imagination, no courage and no effective response to Canada’s declining competitive position in innovation”. Suggests all the money should have gone to IRAP and colleges. Reluctantly admits that “university-based research is not unimportant”.
  • Paul Wells (Maclean’s): A great column worth reading. Wells is not impressed by the budget: “Budget 2010 gives the very strong impression of a national science-and-technology effort that is grinding to a halt in exhaustion and confusion” (which confusingly implies that there was once a science and technology strategy with momentum). And on the proposed review of federal R&D support:

To repeat: every study shows that Canada’s researchers out-perform the world, not only in their level of funding but in their ability to produce research that influences international peers. It’s Canada’s businesses that underperform, even though they, too, already benefit from generous tax treatment of private-sector R&D. A review of our science strategy that ignores our scientists would amount to a decision to put the weakest performers in charge of strategy. In the international competition for the best ideas and minds, that would be a decision to flee the podium.

I share Wells’ concern about the funding review. In fact, I worry that this might be the most consequential element of this budget for research. I’ll have more to say about this in a coming post.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. crf permalink
    March 24, 2010 11:25

    You forgot nrc (which is nearly opaque, unfortunately), and perhaps also the termination of the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences (there has been news about that).

    • Rob Annan permalink*
      March 24, 2010 12:01

      There’s an entry about CFCAS in the academic section of the post. They’re understandably quite upset, and use apocalyptic language (“nightmare scenario”) which, to be honest, is a little dicey for a climate research organization these days… NRC, as you say, is opaque as usual. Their news releases consist almost entirely of various MPs announcing awesome investments in local firms.

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  1. New nano job board; Canadian science and technology strategy inferred by climate debate and 2010 federal budget? « FrogHeart

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