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NRC infrastructure spending for “enhanced research and development”

May 14, 2009

The Government of Canada announced this week $19-million for upgrades to 28 National Research Council (NRC) facilities across the country. Our “Science” Minister, Gary Goodyear made the announcement: “This program is addressing important maintenance issues in our laboratories and will quickly bring economic stimulus to Canada“. Lest his government again be accused of disingenuously dressing up construction money as “science and research spending”, Minister Goodyear quickly adds: “With this funding, our scientists and researchers will have more modern work environments that will ultimately provide enhanced research and development”. This seems like arguing that federal health spending will enhance research and development by providing healthier scientists.

Mind you, perhaps this is too cynical. Obviously, more modern facilities and upgrades to labs will surely help scientists perform better science. So what’s the spending for? The NRC website outlines in general what the spending is for. The Institute for National Measurement Standards is receiving $4-million which “will allow the institute to operate for several more years in its existing location with much better and stable temperature and humidity control in its laboratories“, which is a bit ambiguous. The Instute for Aerospace Research is receiving $3.7-million for “noise and air emissions mitigation measures“. The other Ottawa NRC buildings are receiving $5.5-million, “mostly for maintenance to the roofing, exterior walls, and windows“. The remaining $5.7-million is divvied among 10 institutes across the country and will be also be spent “mainly on windows, roofing, structural framing and exterior walls“.

Spending money directly on labs and associated infrastructure can be logically called “support of research”. Fixing windows, roofs, and exterior walls? Not so much.

Even if one grants that basic maintenance of federal buildings constitutes an investment in research, the government comes up short. In March 2008, the NRC issued an assessment that identified $170-million in deferred maintenance at its institutes across the country. This announcement covers roughly ten percent of  the required maintenance.  Either way, this investment is hardly something to trumpet as evidence of your strong commitment to research.

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