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Don’t Leave Canada Behind

Open letter to the Prime Minister and Leader of the opposition

March 16, 2009

The Right Honourable Stephen Harper Prime Minister of Canada
The Right Honourable Michael Ignatieff, Leader of the Opposition

Ottawa

Subject: Don’t leave Canada behind

Dear Prime Minister, Dear Leader of the Opposition

U.S. President Barack Obama is taking advantage of the current financial crisis to push his country forward in new directions by greatly boosting funding to scientific research and education as a means to jump start innovation in a new economy. The scope of his vision is stunning, including an increase of more than $15 billion in scientific research, and a promise to double the funding for education in the next 10 years. For more details, see

http://www.sciencedebate2008.com/www/index.php?id=62

Our government has also tried to stimulate the research / university sector in Canada, wishing to take important initiatives. At the heart of the plan is a $2 billion dollars infrastructure fund for shovel-ready renovation projects in post-secondary institutions, a fund that was actively solicited by university presidents. There is also an additional $750 million for the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI), and $87.5 million over three years for doctoral scholarships. While these funding announcements are surely welcome, we would like to share our concerns as to the potential effect of some of these decisions, in particular in view of the bold and visionary course taken by the Obama administration south of the border.

1. Whereas the U.S. government is proposing to boost the funding of the National Science Foundation (NSF) by 40% ($3 billion on top of its current $6.9 billion), we see Canada’s “stimulus budget” cutting NSERC’s by 5%. Whereas the U.S. administration is proposing to boost the funding of the National Institute of Health (NIH) by 30% ($8.5 billion in addition to its current $29 billion), our “stimulus budget” is cutting CIHR’s by 5%, while essentially ignoring the needs of Genome Canada. When US researchers are being actively approached for ideas to use the stimulus money to think big and to hire and retain their researchers, their Canadian counterparts are now scrambling to identify budget cuts for their Labs, while worrying about the future of their graduating students. Recent Tri-council grants competitions, which were post stimulus budget, are already pointing towards sharply lower success rates (by more than 20% in some disciplines), lower start-up grants for young researchers, and negligible research funding for smaller institutions and provinces. These cuts are huge steps backward for Canadian Science and we ask the government to immediately develop a multi-year plan to significantly increase this country’s R&D investment through our granting councils.

2. The infrastructure support for Canada’s post-secondary institutions is surely beneficial for their depleted budgets for deferred maintenance. However, the federal support requires 50% in matching funds which few institutions currently have. The net effect of this decision will be to dictate priorities for universities and provincial governments too eager to get the federal funds, and as such to divert further funds from teaching, training and research. We therefore ask government to drop the requirement of matching funds.

3. The CFI has provided a tremendous boost to certain aspects of Canada’s research infrastructure over the last 10 years. However, the constraints of the program have left many important research disciplines out of its potential beneficial impact. Moreover, similar matching rules continue to apply to CFI projects, and as a consequence of the present lack of available support from the private sector and from provincial governments, even some of the already approved projects are being postponed and cancelled. At this point in time, we believe that removing the matching requirements for current and future CFI projects would be extremely beneficial for Canada and its research infrastructure.

4. The funding of an additional 500 doctoral scholarships is great news for a country that is committed to have “the best educated, most skilled and most flexible workforce in the world”. However, it seems this funding is coming at the expense of the highly qualified personnel (HQP’s) that could have been recruited more efficiently by our senior researchers through their Tri-Council grants. We believe that a more efficient strategy for ensuring a successful HQP policy is to give our leading researchers the flexibility to manage the selection, recruitment, and support of their own graduate students through their peer-reviewed research grants, and via well-established leveraging procedures with the universities and the private sector. We also regret that the $17.5-million assigned to SSHRC for graduate scholarships have been earmarked towards students in business and finance. As Alain Dubuc writes in La Presse: “En boudant certains domaines de recherche, nos universités vont perdre leur pouvoir d’attraction. Et bien des jeunes talentueux iront ailleurs”. See

http://www.cyberpresse.ca/opinions/chroniqueurs/alain-dubuc/200903/06/01-833827-apres-les-artistes-les-chercheurs.php

5. President Obama is proposing to double federal funding for education over the next 10 years, and pledging to “restore science to its rightful place” with billions in new investments. To advise his government, he has appointed leading scientists to his cabinet and as his advisors (including a Nobel laureate as energy Secretary). The Obama administration has also involved the directors of NIH and NSF in federal budget discussions about the future of research. We need a similar approach in Canada, where top research scientists and humanists can help shape directions in Ottawa for research funding.

A new economy is coming out of this crisis and research and development will be the lifeblood to that new economy. We call upon you not to let Canada be left behind.

Lettre ouverte au Premier Ministre et au Chef de l’opposition

Cher Premier Ministre, Cher chef de lʼopposition

Monsieur le Premier Ministre, monsieur le chef de l’opposition,

Vous savez probablement que le président des Etats-Unis, M. Barack Obama, a décidé de mettre à profit la crise financière actuelle pour aiguiller son pays vers de nouvelles voies d’avenir en augmentant significativement le financement de la recherche scientifique et de l’éducation, ceci afin de relancer l’innovation dans un contexte économique nouveau. Sa vision, très large, comprend une augmentation de plus de 15 milliards de dollars pour la recherche scientifique, ainsi qu’une promesse de doubler le budget consacré à l’éducation dans les dix prochaines années. Voir la page web de Nancy Pelosi:

http://www.sciencedebate2008.com/www/index.php?id=62

De son côté, notre gouvernement a concocté son propre plan pour tenter de stimuler la recherche et l’ensemble du secteur universitaire au Canada. Le cœur de ce plan est un fonds de 2 milliards pour des projets de rénovation dans les institutions d’enseignement. Ce fonds avait été réclamé par les recteurs d’universités. La Fondation canadienne pour l’innovation (FCI) reçoit pour sa part 750 millions. De plus 87,5 millions, répartis sur trois ans, sont alloués à un programme de bourses doctorales.

Même si ces annonces de financement sont bienvenues, nous demeurons préoccupés des répercussions futures de certaines de ces décisions, en particulier à la lumière de l’approche audacieuse et éclairée qu’a choisie l’administration Obama aux États-Unis.

1. Alors que le gouvernement américain augmente le budget de la National Science Foundation (NSF) de 40% (3 milliards s’ajoutent à son budget courant de 6.9 milliards), nous constatons que le « budget de stimulation économique » du Canada ampute de 5% le budget du CRSNG. Alors que le gouvernement américain augmente le financement du National Institute of Health (NIH) de 30% (8,5 milliards s’ajoutent à son budget courant de 29 milliards), le « budget de stimulation économique » canadien ampute de 5% le budget de l’Institut de recherche en santé du Canada et ignore les besoins de Génôme Canada. Alors qu’on invite les chercheurs américains à viser haut et loin dans leurs propositions d’utilisation de ces nouveaux fonds, notamment pour recruter et retenir dans leurs équipes de recherche des chercheurs de calibre international, leurs collègues canadiens doivent s’atteler à la pénible tâche de gérer les coupures de budget dans leurs laboratoires et se préoccuper de l’avenir de leurs étudiants de cycles supérieurs. Les résultats récents (c’est-à-dire après l’annonce du budget de stimulation) des concours de subventions des trois grands conseils de recherche au Canada font déjà état de taux de succès plus faibles (par plus de 20% dans certaines disciplines), de fonds de démarrage réduits pour les jeunes chercheurs, et d’un financement négligeable pour les plus petites institutions et petites provinces. Ces coupures représentent un pas en arrière pour la science au Canada.

Nous demandons au gouvernement de développer immédiatement un plan qui augmente significativement sur plusieurs années l’investissement en recherche et développement des trois grands conseils.

2. Le nouveau programme d’entretien des infrastructures dans les institutions d’enseignement post secondaire canadiennes est certainement une très bonne nouvelle vu le manque criant de fonds à cet effet. Cependant, pour s’en prévaloir, une contrepartie financière de 50% est exigée, dont personne ne dispose en ce moment. Afin de pouvoir profiter de cette manne fédérale, les universités et les gouvernements provinciaux pourraient être tentés de détourner des fonds normalement destinés à l’enseignement et à la recherche.

Nous demandons donc au gouvernement de retirer la clause de contrepartie financière.

3. Ces dix dernières années, la FCI a joué un rôle extraordinaire dans certains aspects du développement de l’infrastructure de recherche au Canada. Cependant, les contraintes du programme ont empêché plusieurs disciplines d’en bénéficier. De plus, des règles de contrepartie financière, similaires à celles mentionnées ci-dessus, continuent de s’appliquer aux projets FCI. Étant donné la rareté actuelle de fonds en provenance du secteur privé et des gouvernements provinciaux, certains projets déjà approuvés sont même reportés ou carrément annulés.

Vu le contexte économique actuel, nous recommandons, dans l’intérêt du Canada et de son infrastructure de recherche, la suppression des clauses de contrepartie financière pour tous les projets FCI présents et futurs.

4. Le financement de 500 nouvelles bourses de doctorat est une excellente nouvelle pour un pays qui s’est engagé à disposer de « la main d’oeuvre la mieux éduquée, la plus compétente et la plus flexible au monde ». Cependant, il semble que l’argent pour ces bourses ait été obtenu en coupant dans les fonds de recherche de nos chercheurs seniors.

Pour augmenter et améliorer la formation de personnel hautement qualifié, nous croyons qu’il est plus fructueux de donner à nos meilleurs chercheurs la flexibilité de gérer la sélection, le recrutement et le soutien financier de leurs étudiants aux cycles supérieurs, en utilisant à ces fins leurs fonds de recherche obtenus des trois grands organismes subventionnaires.

Nous rappelons que ceux-ci sont attribués selon des procédures bien établies, comprenant à l’occasion une contrepartie financière des universités et du secteur privé, et suite à des concours rigoureux fonctionnant avec un arbitrage par les pairs. Nous regrettons également que les 17,5 millions que le SSHRC réserve aux bourses d’études supérieures aient été ciblés uniquement pour les étudiants en affaires et en finance. Comme l’a écrit Alain Dubuc dans la Presse: « En boudant certains domaines de recherche, nos universités vont perdre leur pouvoir d’attraction. Et bien des jeunes talentueux iront ailleurs. »
(Voir http://www.cyberpresse.ca/opinions/chroniqueurs/alain-dubuc/200903/06/01-833827-apres-les-artistes-les-chercheurs.php )

5. Le président Obama propose de doubler le financement fédéral en éducation pour les dix prochaines années. Avec de nouveaux investissements de plusieurs milliards, il s’est engagé à redonner à la science la place qui lui revient. Il a nommé membres de son cabinet ou conseillers de son gouvernement des chercheurs de tout premier calibre (dont le lauréat d’un prix Nobel en tant que secrétaire à l’énergie). L’administration Obama a également impliqué les directeurs de la NIH et de la NSF dans les travaux préparatoires du budget fédéral, pour y inclure une dimension de planification du futur de la recherche.

Une approche similaire est nécessaire au Canada, avec l’implication des meilleurs scientifiques et humanistes dans la formulation des nouvelles orientations du financement de la recherche.

Nous demandons au gouvernement canadien de ne pas laisser le Canada à la traîne.

Reply from the Office of the Leader of the Opposition

Dear Sir/Madam:

Thank you for your letter regarding the federal funding of research in Canada.

The Liberal Party of Canada has always recognized the importance of supporting research in science and technology. Former Liberal governments have created powerful tools to reinvigorate public research: the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Canada Research Chairs Program, Genome Canada and the Indirect Costs Program for Canada’s colleges and universities.

In contrast, the Conservative governments’ recent budget demonstrates its failure to grasp the importance of scientific research for creating the jobs of tomorrow. Three national research granting councils, which play essential roles in funding the scientists who conduct the research, will be subjected to “efficiency and focusing” cuts over the next three years. Equally disturbing, the budget failed to provide Genome Canada with new funding, obstructing the multi-year process of engaging talented Canadian scientists and private-sector partners in the next research cycle.

Be assured that the Liberal Party will work relentlessly to push this government into making long-term commitments to science, research and innovation. We will raise this issue in the House of Commons, pressuring the government to send a clear message that our country is in this for the long haul.

By allowing our scientists to make long term plans government sends the signal that it really does believe in what they are doing, and, more importantly, that it understand the nature of their work. Long term, predictable support provides our scientists with the tools they need to do their work. It also communicates that we want our scientists to stay in Canada, and, moreover, that we want scientists from the rest of the world to come here to work.

This support must extend to all forms of research – engineering and natural sciences, medicine and life sciences, the humanities and social sciences. It is not appropriate for government to impose constraints on which forms of research are more likely to be funded. Such a policy – valuing applied science over fundamental science that has less obvious commercial value – is shortsighted and wrong.

Thank you again for sharing your views on this important matter.
Sincerely,

The Office of the Leader of the Opposition

Reply from the Office of the Leader of the NDP

Dear Researchers,

Thank you for contacting my office requesting the NDP position on funding for research, innovation and development.

It seems just as President Obama has made a commitment to attract great minds to the US with huge investments in research and innovation, Canada is pulling back in that area. The effects of the brain drain that could result from the contrast in the US and Canadian approach to this problem could be disastrous, and long-lasting.

We believe the changes introduced in the recent Harper budget are backward and insulting to the thousands of students and researchers in the social sciences and humanities. We strongly believe that this funding should not be limited or allocated to one specific discipline but to the range of studies in the social sciences and humanities. The decision to redirect SSHRC funds to support students in business-related degrees is disturbing and short sighted. While there is absolutely a great deal of value in business studies, is no evidence to support the position that business students are of greater long-term value to Canada. We recognize a healthy economy requires diversity and intersection of development, rather than a single-minded approach to addressing complex and layered challenges. Part of the reason our economy is in such peril right now is precisely due to a myopic obsession with short-term profits rather than attending to the overall health of our country.

Canada’s New Democrats understand the tremendous value of research, which is why innovation played a central role in our 2008 platform including: the economy, the environment, health care, post-secondary education, and Northern development. New Democrats have been consistently supportive of federal investment in research and development to assist Canadian institutions and industries achieve strategic objectives in both the medium to long term. In our 2008 platform, we committed an additional $400 million in research grants for colleges and universities. This investment would enable our academic institutions to enhance their research and development capabilities and strengthen our position in the global economy.

As well, biomedical research is one of many areas and programs that stand to be adversely affected by the recent federal budget due to a disregard of its importance as a funding priority by the Conservative government. Rest assured the NDP did not support this budget and will fight to halt the neglect for essential investments in Canada’s future such as important research and development.

Again, we hope our response has clarified our position for you on this important issue.

Sincerely,

Office of Jack Layton MP (Toronto-Danforth)
Leader, New Democratic Party of Canada

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