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Research policy in party election platforms

April 11, 2011

A summary of research policy highlights from the party platforms, along with a few editorial comments:

Conservative Party of Canada

The Conservative plan (pdf here) is slightly more detailed than the others, as they’ve rolled their recently tabled budget into their platform. The platform document includes a subsection devoted to R&D, in which they trumpet their track record (e.g. “made substantial new investments in R&D through Canada’s granting councils”, which I guess is technically true if you ignore the funding cuts that preceded – and exceeded – said “investments”).

Promised initiatives include:

  • establish 30 Industrial Research Chairs at colleges and polytechnics.
  • establish 10 new Canada Excellence Research Chairs
  • “support research partnerships between college and university researchers and students, through Canada’s research granting  councils.” No details.
  • Support the “outstanding work” of the Institut National d’Optique and the “world-leading” Perimeter Institute. Presumably, other research centres are not world-leading or producing enough outstanding work to qualify for support. (I don’t mean to demean the work at these institutes, but it REALLY irks me when the government hand-selects recipients like this; it politicizes the research funding process and takes responsibility for research out of the hands of peer-review experts and gives it to politicians, for whom research excellence is presumably a secondary concern [/rant])
  • “leverage funding” for the Brain Canada initiative ($100-million from budget)
  • take action on recommendations of R&D review panel

Liberal Party of Canada

The Liberals (pdf here) are pretty ambiguous about research policy,  though they do have one idea that may be innovative (though probably isn’t). Platform highlights include:

  • focus on three “champion sectors“: Clean resources, health and biosciences, and digital technologies. These sectors will be the focus across all areas of government, presumably including research funding and innovation programs. I’m a little ambivalent on this idea. On the one hand, I think it’s important to have some focus for allocating finite resources, but I fear this approach runs the same problem as the “picking winners” strategy I criticized the Conservatives for, above.
  • establish an “Innovation Gateway“, which would bring the panoply of boutique innovation programs under a single umbrella. While it seems a little premature (and presumptuous) to make this recommendation while the R&D Review Panel has yet to report, it’s an interesting (possibly innovative) suggestion. There are few details, but there’s potential in the creation of an arm’s-length agency to administer innovation programs. It would take the money away from uncoordinated pork-barreling by regional development agencies and place it in the hands of an evidence-based agency built on the CFI or Genome Canada model. Of course, it might also change nothing and simply layer on extra bureaucracy.
  • Like the Conservative platform, there is also a section specifically dedicated to R&D, with a laughably ambiguous promise to “increase investments” in research “as the country’s financial situation improves“.
  • A specific promise to invest $100-million over two years in a Canadian Brain Health Strategy, with research money flowing through “leading national research bodies”. This announcement mirrors the $100-million for brain research announced in the recent Conservative budget. (note: the budget tables in the Appendix show only $80-million for brain health – unsure about the discrepancy)
  • A promise to restore the long-form census. Clearly a political move, will be interesting to see if it comes up in the debates this week.

New Democratic Party

The NDP (platform pdf here) doesn’t seem to have much of a plan for research, with nary a mention in the platform. Weird. Here’s what’s there:

  • a promise to support research, development and commercialization of green technologies through incentives and the sale of “green bonds
  • restoration of the long-form census
  • That’s all…

Green Party

The Greens’ platform (pdf here) is described in detail in their Vision Green document, which includes their goals up to 2020. Of all platforms, it contains the most research-related content, and it is the most descriptive. Unlike the others, it also describes something akin to a “vision” for research in this country, which is predictably aligned with environmental and social justice politics. Oddly, this means that health research, a multi-billion dollar undertaking in this country and our largest research sector, is barely mentioned. Among their policy goals:

  • cut all funding to research with GMOs ($300-million over three years), institute a ban on any further research on genetic engineering and increase funding into organic food production
  • cut all funding for research at AECL ($450-million over three years)
  • link research spending in the natural and social sciences to water policy goals
  • support research into “possible harmful effects” of nanomaterials (umm, risk of confirmation bias?)
  • lots of animal rights promotion, including: ban experimental use of animals for cosmetics and military research, “strive for… ultimate replacement of animal use for all research, testing and educational purposes”, ban use of vertebrates for lethal dose toxicity studies
  • increase funding to tricouncil by 15% annually for four years, “emphasize” funding for environmental innovation, and invest in “undergraduate research fellowships” through the tricouncil
  • support CANARIE (no details)

Bloc Québecois

edit: an earlier edition based the Bloc positions on an executive summary of their platform. Here’s a more detailed look at what the Bloc offers (demands?):

  • extensive support for industrial R&D through investments and tax credits, including for research on electric cars, biofuel, aerospace, biopharma, forestry, agriculture
  • the support is stated, but not costed or described in detail
  • the Bloc maintains that Canada’s poor record on R&D investment is because Canada’s research and high tech firms are concentrated in Quebec. The rest of Canada has no interest in investing in R&D because it’s irrelevant to its economic base.
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11 Comments leave one →
  1. April 11, 2011 13:12

    Thanks for putting this together. I’ve been planning to grill my local candidates about this, but so far no-one’s knocked on my door! Typical – before I got citizenship, they came around at least once each per campaign!

  2. crf permalink
    April 11, 2011 13:27

    Wow. A ban on particular research with federal money. That is just immoral. People should be able to study what they like, and the government should not limit the content of research should be. Peer review within a discipline is the best method of selecting which topics get the most studied with public money. It’s tried, tested, and works.

    The Green party needs to give its head a shake. Banning research in what governments with reactionary autocratic tendencies do.

    Regulations about how the fruits of research may be deployed are, at least, defensible.

  3. Jim permalink
    April 11, 2011 13:49

    Research is clearly not a vote-getter and is therefore not a priority for any of the parties. When each of them is focusing on the here and now and sniping at their opponents over whatever was picked up by the press the day before, its hardly surprising. But its particularly disappointing that the Liberals (the party that brought in the Canada Research Chairs, Genome Canada, Canada Foundation for Innovation, the MRC to CIHR expansion and indirect costs) have little to say, even on policy.

    None of the parties is looking towards science to solve problems, plan for the future or delay the demographic avalanche of the aging demographic. We are being led by people with their eyes shut and their fingers crossed.

  4. April 13, 2011 07:08

    I suspect the Bloc is also silent because the Province of Québec has long made an argument that university research should be provincial responsibility (under education) rather than a federal one.

  5. May 2, 2011 05:10

    “the Bloc maintains that Canada’s poor record on R&D investment is because Canada’s research and high tech firms are concentrated in Quebec. The rest of Canada has no interest in investing in R&D because it’s irrelevant to its economic base.”

    Stunning. Yup, no R&D going on anywhere but Quebec.

    Thanks for the nicely detailed round-up. My somewhat more whimsical take is here:
    http://occamstypewriter.org/irregulars/2011/05/01/science-policy-and-the-canadian-election-or-maybe-not/

    One of my commenters pointed me over this way. :)

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