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$50-Million for Perimeter in Tuesday’s Budget

March 21, 2011

Gary Goodyear, Minister of State for Science-and-so-on, announced yesterday that Tuesday’s federal budget will include $50-million in new funding for Waterloo’s Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. While details are scarce, it is assumed this will extend the $50-million in funding Perimeter received in the 2007 budget, which is set to expire next year.

While this is certainly great news for Perimeter and the quantum physics research community, it may be more significant for what the announcement doesn’t say. Traditionally, governments attempt to get the most political mileage out of their budgets by announcing spending measures one-at-a-time in the weeks leading up to the budget’s release. Already, political watchers have speculated that the dearth of spending announcements in recent weeks (apart from a seeming limitless supply of funds for Quebec snowmobile clubs) is signaling a budget that will be thin on spending announcements. Yesterday’s announcement may therefore signal that the Perimeter funding is the one (and only) politically significant R&D spending announcement in the budget.

Of course, there’s a glass-half-full interpretation as well. The Harper Government™ is nothing if not politically hyper-aware. If major cuts were coming to the R&D funding landscape, the Harper Government™ would have been laying the ground for weeks, perhaps by undermining the agencies or highlighting their inefficiencies. This would have been especially necessary given that they’ve stated repeatedly that they’re committed to an innovation society. It’s been absolutely quiet on that front, so maybe no news is good news.

There’s another, more nakedly political (and therefore more likely) interpretation. Given that there is widespread speculation that an election may be called as soon as Wednesday, the government is using any opportunity to spread the pork around ridings considered key battlegrounds. And it doesn’t get more key than Waterloo, the closest race in the country in the last election, won by the Conservatives by only 17 votes. Announcing $50-million for the riding can’t hurt if the writ drops later this week.

Anyway – this will certainly be an exciting week for Canadian science. The budget will be released tomorrow and I’ll be sure to summarize what it means for Canadian researchers. Later in the week, the government may fall, followed by an election call – in which case researchers will have to make sure R&D funding policy receives the attention it deserves.

Interesting times.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Jim permalink
    March 21, 2011 15:00

    While I think the physics, mathematics and pure science being done at the Perimeter is potentially wonderful, why is it so incapable of supporting itself through competitive funding, instead relying on government handouts and political pork? We have provincial and federal dollars matching the largesse of the RIM co-founders pet institution. It makes for great photo-ops and might swing a few votes but it undermines the entire premise of science funding structures. In essence, the income tax break given to Mike Lazarides in establishing the PI has been taken out of everyone else’s taxes and multiplied 5-fold – all without any sign of peer review.

    Perhaps the PI should spend less money on its photo-ops ands attraction of Stephen Hawking for brief visits and more on competing for dollars like everyone else in the research community. This type of “soft money” accrued outside of competitive peer review is typically much less well spent and has less of an impact than funds earned after intensive peer review. The Conservative/Harper government has an unenviable track record in such pork barrel funding stretching back to its 7 hand-picked “centres of excellence” (including a centre that had yet to be built at Dalhousie). Political expediency has no place in competitive, world class research – especially when the government is nickel and diming the funding councils. No, I am not holding out any optimism for tomorrows budget.

  2. Jim permalink
    March 21, 2011 15:41

    Had to follow up after reading the linked announcement.

    From Gary Goodyear: “We have great faith that the previous $50 million has been used extremely well,” Goodyear said. As the institute continues to expand and attracts researchers from around the world, “this will be a huge indication of ongoing funding,” he said.

    So the government is making $50 million funding decisions based on faith? May as well fire the presidents of the tri-councils and replace them with a few bishops. The second sentence is also chilling. As the money is spent and the place made bigger, it can expect more dollars from the government in the future. As long as the Perimeter Institute stays out of evolutionary biology, it’s set.

    • Rob Annan permalink*
      March 21, 2011 15:44

      And I thought I was cynical about tomorrow’s budget ;)

      Great points, Jim. I have faith we’ll find much to discuss in tomorrow’s numbers.

      ps. another leak from the budget this afternoon points to money for research: $4M for Thunder Bay Regional Research Institute

  3. April 4, 2011 12:31

    Maybe they deserve it? But this will forever be unknown because the scientific criteria for determining winners and losers of funding are based on peer review. Science funding strategy should be set by scientists through a robust peer review system. There is more on Perimeter posted here:

    http://blog.math.toronto.edu/colliand/2011/03/30/213/

Trackbacks

  1. Is Canada’s research strategy too politicized? | Piece of Mind
  2. Could the research community cost Harper a majority government? | Piece of Mind

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