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Commentary strives to politicize science funding debate

May 15, 2009

Ironically, just as Principal Heather Monroe-Blum asks all interested parties to depoliticize the debate about research funding, a commentary by Michael Bliss in the National Post whips up the political rhetoric. The article wields the sharpened tools of political battle to discredit researchers and dismiss their concerns, and serves as a reminder to the research community that wading into the political debate is not for the faint of heart.

Bliss never engages with the issues raised by concerned researchers. Instead, he’s eager to engage in political mudslinging, attempting to sway minds with unsophisticated rhetorical tools. In a transparently ad hominem criticism, Bliss dismisses scientists who have engaged in the discussion about the role of science funding as “a fairly powerful coalition of pure scientists — who resist any attempt to steer the direction of research”. But it’s not just this coalition; it’s also “disappointed grant applicants”. Then of course, there are the amoral scientific mercenaries: the “handful of scientific superstars willing to auction themselves to the highest bidding government”. Never mind that the signatories to the open letter are distinguished researchers from across disciplines, many of whom are not concerned about their personal funding. Demeaning and discrediting your opponents is easier than addressing their opinions, and represents one of the simplest and most distasteful tools of politics.

Another base political tool is mischaracterizing your opponent’s opinions to suit your position. What does Bliss say Canadian scientists want? “To [declare] war on a government because some of its policies are temporarily inconvenient and vexatious” and “[To] bring pressure on Ottawa to abandon its priorities and just spend more and more.” That’s good newspaper copy, but it’s hogwash. No one in the research community wants to go to war with the government, and it certainly isn’t because a few of its policies are irksome. Researchers are legitimately concerned by how research policy has been trending during the tenure of this government – the science and technology policy paper of 1997 which emphasized applied research at the expense of basic research, the elimination of the office of science advisor, the cuts to the research funding councils, $5.1-billion in infrastructure spending characterized as “support for research and science”. This isn’t about spending “more and more”. This is about science policy gone adrift. Yes, it is made all the more alarming given the strong voice of support by the new administration in the US. But no, this isn’t just about researchers whining about more money.

Canadian researchers are specifically concerned about what the recent budget says about government research priorities. While the government trumpeted the spending in this budget – this “stimulus budget” – funding for the three federal granting councils was reduced. If the government is cutting funding in a budget filled with massive spending, what will happen when budgets need to be tightened again? How will Canada be able to compete and cooperate internationally if we can’t be counted on to do our share – by participating in the Stem Cell Genome Project, for instance? Canada has been able to build momentum and success in science and research since the research funding cuts of the 1990s, as Bliss himself admits – why should we cede that now? Why are we not striving to build on the successes we’ve achieved, as noted in the recent STIC report?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, and that’s why I’m engaging in the discussion.

Articles like the one in the National Post threaten to derail what should be an opportunity for a very positive engagement between all the stakeholders in science policy. Yes, things may get heated when we hold different opinions on where funding should go and how our science policy should be built. Scientists are used to this sort of animated disagreement. The bare knuckles of political battle, however – where winning is more important than getting it right – will do nothing but distract and detract from the process. A good strong science policy is too important to Canada’s future to allow it to be turned into another cheap political battle.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. SpongeBob permalink
    May 15, 2009 19:45

    That comment by Bliss was everything Rob Annan said, and more.
    Unfortunately, the debate is already political. When governments ignore the fact that the first role of universities is to educate and train knowledgeable people — some of them to the highest level through the demanding course of a PhD — but pretend that research is supposed to generate commercial success, we have a problem. When governments ignore the way science and knowledge evolve, and pretend to be able to pick and chose valuable scientific activities, at a fast pace, like day-traders, at the expense of students enrolled in PhD studies that have to stop because of major funding cuts, we have a problem. When governments decide to ignore knowledge accumulated over time, through rigorous scientific methods, be it on long-term effects of environmental changes or low impact of repression on criminality, we have a problem.
    “Quand on veut tuer son chien, on dit qu’il a la rage”. Some governments and people like Bliss do not want to hear what researchers may say that goes against their belief, so they say that researchers are fat cats, living at the expense of honest working people. I think there are worst fat cats than researchers, like those who have money in tax havens and do not pay their share.
    Yes, the debate is somehow political. The research community did not start this, and as researchers are traditionally ill-equipped for political debates, they may be in for a long haul, but do they have the choice?

  2. Jonn Mero permalink
    May 16, 2009 10:35

    Sad with a world where prostitution (as in selling yourself or your worth) is the most honourable form of human intercourse, – with politicians leading the way . . .

  3. Jim permalink
    May 17, 2009 09:19

    Excerpt from Hansard – Senate Debate – sorry it is so long but it demonstrates how political and fruitless the debate has become: http://www.parl.gc.ca/40/2/parlbus/chambus/senate/deb-e/035db_2009-05-13-E.htm?Language=E&Parl=40&Ses=2#43

    Resuming debate on the inquiry of the Honourable Senator Cowan calling the attention of the Senate to the critical importance of scientific research to the future of Canada and to the well-being of Canadians.

    Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government and Minister of State (Seniors)): Honourable senators, it is my great pleasure to rise today to speak directly to the false charge by the opposition and some in the media that the government’s support for science, technology and innovation has been diminished. After the Honourable Senator Cowan rose and spoke about this issue on March 31, I thought it important to respond to what is, at best, a selective reading of the government’s actions on this important file and, at worst, an outright distortion of the facts.
    Honourable senators, let me state, without equivocation, that the government values and supports technology, and that we are not engaging in some Orwellian conspiracy to direct the content of scientific research. Contrary to what the Leader of the Opposition has suggested, we are not attempting to muzzle scientists. Honourable senators, the opposite has been occurring. Scientists have praised this government’s actions and spending announcements.
    For example, in response to the government’s Economic Action Plan, Genome Canada’s board of directors issued the following statement: “Genome Canada is pleased with the federal government’s 2009 budget in which millions will be invested in research infrastructure over the next two years. This is good news for the scientific community across the country that needs to be at the cutting-edge of research infrastructure and new technologies in order to maintain Canada’s competitiveness at the national and international level.”

    Honourable senators, this funding will fully fund all of Genome Canada’s existing projects, including current projects like the Autism Genome Project to identify genes that are susceptible to autism, or the Designing Oilseeds for Tomorrow’s Markets project that aims to use genomic technologies to develop canola with desired seed coat characteristics and decreased levels of anti-nutritional factors. It is anticipated that the results of this research will enhance the overall usefulness of canola seed, leading to improved meal for new food and feed applications and increased seed oil content. This research will further enhance a $2.5 billion-a-year industry. What about forestry, where the Arborea II: Genomics for Molecular Breeding of Softwood Trees project aims to identify specific genes associated with growth and wood quality in species of softwood? This project will develop tools and protocols, making it possible to select well-adapted, high-performance spruce trees with high-quality wood. This project, in turn, will enhance and promote the competitiveness of Canada’s forest industry.

    Indeed, honourable senators, contrary to the doom and gloom espoused by my honourable colleague opposite, there is a great deal of real and meaningful research taking place in Canada. It is important to set the record straight, not only for the sake of the government and the public, but for the sake of our excellent researchers and scientists who must have been baffled and astonished to hear the Leader of the Opposition suggest that Canada is becoming a scientific and technological wasteland on the watch of the current government. Not only is this suggestion false, but it is highly irresponsible talk from a person who holds a leadership position in the Liberal opposition party.
    For the sake of researchers and scientists, but also for the sake of a corrected record, I want to address my honourable colleague’s remarks, in case Canadians start listening and believing the Liberal spin and think Canada’s science and research community is on its way back to the Middle Ages.

    The first distortion from my honourable colleague opposite regarding our government’s science policy is the termination of the office of the National Science Advisor. While it is a fact that the government accepted the resignation of this one person, what he failed to mention is that, as part of the government’s Science and Technology Strategy released in May 2007, the government appointed a national Science, Technology and Innovation Council with a mandate to advise the government on science policy and report on the state of science and technology in Canada. This council membership is made up of 17 prestigious scientists, researchers, business leaders and senior officials in Canada’s bureaucracy. For example, the chair of the council is Dr. Howard Alper, a respected member of Canada’s science community, both internationally and domestically. He is a distinguished university professor at the University of Ottawa, where his research spans organic and inorganic chemistry, with potential applications in the pharmaceutical, petrochemical and commodity chemical industries. Major awards to Dr. Alper include the Alcan Award for Inorganic Chemistry, 1986, the Bader Award for Organic Chemistry, 1990, and the Steacie Award for Chemistry, 1993. The Chemical Institute of Canada has presented Dr. Alper with the Catalysis Award, 1984, the Montreal Medal, 2003, and the CIC Medal, 1997, its highest honour. He also received the Urgel Archambault Prize, ACFAS, in physical sciences and engineering. In 2000, the Governor General of Canada presented Dr. Alper with the first Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal in Science and Engineering, the most prestigious award in Canada for science and engineering. Dr. Alper is an Officer of the Order of Canada, and he has 500 publications and 37 patents.
    I could go on for some time listing the extensive qualifications of the other members of the Science, Technology and Innovation Council, but instead I will name each member of the council, without going into great detail with their biographies. It is important to put these people’s names on the record to see the type of people who are assisting Dr. Alper on this council.

    Dr. Francesco Bellini is the Chairman, President and CEO of Neurochem, an industry leader in the development of therapeutic drugs for the central nervous system.

    Mr. Eric Bergeron has 18 years of global international management experience in high-tech industries, including business development, sales, technology and finance. He is the founder of Optosecurity Inc., a venture-funded company that develops breakthrough security products for the transportation and critical infrastructure markets.

    Mr. Richard Dicerni, who is well known to most of us, is the Deputy Minister of Industry Canada in the Canadian bureaucracy.

    Mr. David B. Fissel has his M.Sc. in physical oceanography from the University of British Columbia, and he worked as a research oceanographer at the Institute of Ocean Sciences of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

    Mr. Peter MacKinnon is President of the University of Saskatchewan.

    Dr. Terence Matthews, who is particularly known to many people around Ottawa, is the non-executive chairman on a number of technology companies, including Mitel Corporation, of which he was a founder, March Networks Corporation, DragonWave Corporation, Newport Networks and Solace Systems.

    Marie-Lucie Morin is the National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister and Associate Secretary to the Cabinet, a position she was named to in the fall of 2008. Prior to that, she had been an Associate Deputy Minister at Foreign Affairs.

    Dr. Heather Munroe-Blum is the Principal and Vice-Chancellor of McGill University, and she is a member of McGill’s Faculty of Medicine and a professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics.

    Mr. David O’Brien is Chairman of the Board of EnCana and Chairman of the Board of the Royal Bank of Canada.

    Mr. J. Robert S. Prichard is President and Chief Executive Officer of Torstar Corporation. Torstar, as we know, is a leading Canadian media company. Mr. Prichard is also President Emeritus of the University of Toronto, where he previously served as Dean of Law and a professor specializing in law and economics.

    Mr. Morris Rosenberg, as is well know to us, is the Deputy Minister of Health in the Canadian government.

    Dr. Guy Rouleau, MD, PhD, FRCP, OQ, is the Canada Research Chair in Genetics of the Nervous System, and is a professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of Montreal.

    Dr. W.A. (Sam) Shaw is President and CEO of the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, one of Canada’s leading technical institutes.

    Dr. Molly Shoichet holds an NSERC Canada Research Chair in Tissue Engineering and is a professor of chemical engineering and applied chemistry, chemistry and biomaterials and biomedical engineering at the University of Toronto.

    Dr. Mihaela Ulieru holds the NSERC Canada Research Chair in Adaptive Information Infrastructures for the e-Society at the University of New Brunswick, where she founded and directs the Adaptive Risk Management Lab, an international leading centre for research and innovation in the design of holistic security ecosystems and resilient information infrastructures that link crucial infrastructures.

    Dr. Harvey Weingarten is President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Calgary. A distinguished scholar and researcher in the fields of psychology and medicine, Dr. Weingarten came to the University of Calgary from McMaster University, where he served as Provost and Vice-President, Academic, from 1996 to 2001.

    Finally, Mr. Rob Wildeboer, 47, resides in Milton, Ontario and is Executive Chairman and co-founder of Martinrea International Inc, a leading Canadian auto parts supplier specializing in automotive fluid systems and metal forming products, with leading edge expertise in hydroforming, hot stamping, stamping, laser trimming and welding.

    Honourable senators, the point is obvious. Where the previous government had one science adviser, we created a Science Technology and Innovation Council consisting of 17 members to advise the government on matters of science and technology policy, and we are listening. In September 2008, the Minister of Industry announced that he was accepting the recommendations of the council on sub-priorities within four research policy areas announced in the Government of Canada’s 2007 Science and Technology Strategy. These include research into environmental science and technology, including water safety and health; and cleaner methods of extracting hydrocarbon fuels and reducing consumption of these fuels. Other sub-priorities include energy production in the oil sands, Arctic resource production and climate change monitoring, wireless networks and services, and telecommunications equipment.
    The truth is that while the honourable senator opposite accuses us of cutting, we are in fact consulting, listening, expanding and implementing. I will get to the money later, Senator Carstairs.

    The honourable senator continues his remarks by referring to an Ottawa Citizen article from February 1, 2008, which he cites as evidence that the government is sidelining scientists. The truth is that he totally misrepresented the content of the article; such is the depth of research for his speech. Had he read the entire article, he would have found evidence of no such thing.

    Indeed, Mr. Gregory Jack, who was cited in the article as being acting director of Environment Canada’s ministerial and executive services, pointed out that scientists and “subject matter experts” will still be made available to speak to the media “on complex and technical issues.” He went on to say that the policy is meant to bring Environment Canada in line with other federal departments and added, “there is no change in the access in terms of scientists” being able to talk. My honourable colleague then continues his remarks by discussing how Mr. Martin and Mr. Chrétien transformed Canada into a science superpower. Indeed, based on his comments, one might have been led to believe that Mr. Chrétien and Mr. Martin induced a scientific renaissance in Canada. However, like most Liberal mythology, there is a considerable bit of revisionism at work here. Let us begin generally and work down to the specifics of the former Liberal government’s science and technology policy.

    Senator Comeau: What science and technology policy?

    Senator LeBreton: Under Finance Minister Martin, the Liberals cut funding for post-secondary education. Between 1994-95 and 1998-99, the Liberal government cut the annual Canada Health and Social Transfer entitlements to the provinces by $25 billion. Under the Liberals, tuition fees in many provinces more than doubled. Despite their repeated announcements on the importance of education, Liberals instead starved the post-secondary education system of much-needed resources. The Liberal research and development policies were not much better. The 1993 Red Book, remember that? That was the one where they promised to “axe the tax.” The 1993 Red Book promised to double research and development spending in Canada.

    Senator Comeau: Get rid of free trade.

    Senator LeBreton: As a matter of fact, research and development funding was actually cut. What, you might ask, was the defence for these cuts? The claim was that since they were cutting research and development proportionately less than other areas, they were actually showing support for research and development.

    Senator Tkachuk: Liberal logic.

    Senator LeBreton: That is creative accounting, if I ever saw it. The 1995 Budget cut funding for Canada’s granting councils by $77 million over three years and, at the same time, the National Research Council budget was also cut by $76 million over three years. Under the previous government, Canada’s productivity growth lagged behind the United States. Since 1993, output per hour worked in manufacturing has risen twice as fast in the United States as in Canada. According to the rankings compiled by the Conference Board of Canada, in 2004, Canada ranked eleventh on research and development spending, well below the then government’s stated target of fifth place. The honourable senator at least recognized this dismal record in his remarks, and even attempts to pre-empt such criticism.
    The honourable senator then asks: What is our vision for Canada in the 21st century? Allow me to outline how the government is supporting science and technology in Canada. The honourable senator points out the three granting research councils — Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Natural Sciences and Research Council and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council — are victims of cuts. Nothing could be further from the truth. The government has provided significant new funding to the granting councils for their core programming in each of the last three budgets. Taken together, these investments have boosted core funding for the granting councils by $205 million per year, an ongoing permanent increase in their budgets. The granting councils will also receive an additional $87.5 million to expand temporarily the Canada Graduate Scholarships Program. This money will provide enough funding for an additional 500 doctoral scholarships and 1,000 masters scholarships in each of the next two years. The Leader of the Opposition also quotes the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada. Allow me also to quote the AUCC. On the recent budget, the AUCC had this to say about our government’s commitment to universities and scientific research. “The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada welcomes the new investment in Canada’s university infrastructure and the Canada Foundation for Innovation funding announced in today’s federal budget. These investments will boost universities’ role in the effort to stimulate the economy in these difficult economic times. AUCC is pleased to see the investment of $2 billion targeted for critical infrastructure at postsecondary education institutions aimed at supporting repairs and maintenance as well as accelerated construction on university and college campuses. This will create jobs immediately in communities across the country as well as ensuring that the Canadian economy is equipped to compete internationally when we emerge from this difficult economic period. Renewed campus infrastructure will enhance the quality of teaching and research at Canadian universities.”

    AUCC goes on to say: “AUCC is pleased to see the federal government’s continued commitment to the people and knowledge priorities as outlined in Advantage Canada and the S & T strategy with funding for infrastructure that focuses on increasing productivity and competitiveness through the immediate commitment in 2009-10 of $150 million to the existing Canada Foundation for Innovation competitions as well as $600 million for future competitions. The additional $87.5 million short-term funds for Canada Graduate Scholarships and $3.5 million internships in science and business are significant contributions to maintaining Canadian universities’ ability to produce highly qualified talent. These funds will provide an additional 1,000 master’s scholarships, 500 doctoral scholarships and 600 internships.”

    Senator Comeau: How is that for a quote? They are in stunned silence right now.

    Senator LeBreton: The honourable senator opposite also brings up the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory, PEARL. However, when he said this, I was curious as to why he would, since the previous government had let the lab shut down in 2004. For a brief period of time, they had planned “bulldoze it.” Mr. Drummond, the scientist in charge at PEARL was able to restore funding only to the lab and save it by cobbling together funding from various other sources.

    Senator Comeau: Now we have the rest of the story.

    Senator LeBreton: The honourable senator insinuates that scientists will leave Canada for opportunities elsewhere. Allow me to allay his concerns. The AUCC in a press release entitled, “Federal budget announces important investments in developing and attracting talent,” had this to say about Budget 2008: “AUCC welcomes the recognition in tonight’s federal budget of the vital importance of investing in education and skills of Canadians to ensure this country’s prosperity and quality of life. In particular, AUCC is pleased to see the creation of new Canada Graduate Scholarships for top Canadian and international doctoral students and a new Canada Student Grant Program that will provide targeted grants to increase accessibility to postsecondary education for students from low and middle income families.”

    I and my colleagues are particularly proud of this policy because it makes education accessible to many more Canadians than in the past.

    Senator Comeau: You have to stop; the Liberals cannot take it anymore.

    Senator LeBreton: In addition to the measures announced in Budget 2008, this government established the Canada Excellence Research Chairs program aimed at enabling Canadian universities to recruit, retain and equip the brightest and most promising researchers the world has to offer. This government’s record on science and technology clearly indicates that the government has sustained a worldwide leading commitment to basic and applied research in all domains. Saying otherwise or spinning outright falsehoods does not change the undeniable facts. Canada is an international leader in post-secondary research. In terms of research and development expenditures as a percentage of GDP in the higher education sector, we rank first in G7 countries, and second after Sweden among the 30 countries that make up the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Canada is number one in the G7 for supporting basic discovery-oriented research at universities. However, where we need to improve — and there is no doubt about it — it was referenced by Senator Eggleton in his question — we need to improve in moving innovations from the lab to the marketplace where Canadians can benefit from them. Our science and technology strategy and our investments support both. This performance has been boosted by the government’s substantial science and technology investments in the past three budgets, resulting in a total of $2.2 billion of new investment.
    Canada’s Economic Action Plan, or Budget 2009, builds on this strong base, providing $5.1 billion in new science and technology investments — one of the most substantial budget investments in science and technology in Canadian history. Budget 2009 included new funding to support business innovation, research infrastructure in universities and increases the number of graduate scholarships. These new investments announced in Canada’s Economic Action Plan includes up to $2 billion in funding to support deferred maintenance, repair and expansion projects at post-secondary institutions. This measure will provide an economic boost in the short term, but it will also enhance the research capacity and provide a better educational experience for the highly skilled workers of tomorrow.
    Honourable senators, it is crystal clear that this government has a vision for science and technology. We have made other substantial investments like the further $750 million investment in the Canada Foundation for Innovation, CFI, to sustain its ability to support the modernization of research infrastructure at Canadian post-secondary institutions across Canada. This funding builds on an additional investment of $510 million in Budget 2007 to support the CFI’s research infrastructure activities. There is $50 million for the Institute of Quantum Computing located at the University of Waterloo. This funding will allow this truly world-class research facility here in Canada to be at the forefront of knowledge in this critical emerging technology area. Also, $80 million over two years is provided to FPInnovations, a not-for-profit research institute that focuses on the development of emerging and breakthrough technologies in forestry.

    Honourable senators, I conclude my remarks by addressing the concerns of the honourable senator who has suggested that this government’s science and technology strategy does not strike a balance between infrastructure investments and operational funding. The federal granting councils, which provide operating funding for research and development, have not had their budgets cut. The opposite is the case. For example, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council received $862.2 million in 2005-06, the last budget of the previous government. In 2009-10, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council will receive over $1 billion. The same is true for other granting councils. The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council received $573.3 million in 2005-06 and will receive $689.5 million in 2009-10. The same is true for the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, which received $776.8 million in 2005-2006. In 2009-10, they will receive $992.4 million.

    It is clearly evident that this Conservative government is on the right track. It is providing increased funding for research through the granting councils. It is an indisputable fact that we are providing significantly more than the previous government provided. We have heard from the Leader of the Opposition, and he has suggested that we are not providing adequate funding for the granting councils and for research funding. He must really stop relying on the Globe and Mail for his biased research. Honourable senators, take the example of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. What is more adequate: $862.2 million under the previous government or $1 billion from this government? We have the balance right and we are on the right track to fostering innovation and research in Canada. Honourable senators, new spending on science and technology in the Economic Action Plan totals $5.1 billion. It is clear that the government is committed to science, technology and innovation. Where my honourable colleague spreads false doom and gloom, the government of which I am proud to be a part, under the leadership of Prime Minister Harper, sees potential and opportunity for Canada’s scientists. Indeed, our economy and our future depend on it.

    A final word about our modern state of the art facility — the microbiology lab in Winnipeg, which is playing a leading role, if not the leading role, in testing and identifying the H1N1 flu virus and in providing assistance to the world, most particularly Mexico and the United States, so much so that the World Health Organization singled out Canada’s contribution to this serious health issue. Not a word of praise for this outstanding example of Canadian scientific and medical research, and not a word, I dare say, to remind honourable senators, in particular, and Canadians, in general, that were it not for the efforts of a previous Conservative government and a cabinet minister from Winnipeg and a former Minister of Health, this lab would not be the world class facility that it is today. It would not even exist. Honourable senators, the record is clear. This government’s contribution to science and technology is real in every respect — in commitment and support and, most importantly, in funding.

    Hon. James S. Cowan (Leader of the Opposition): Would the Leader of the Government in the Senate entertain a question?

    I thank her for her contribution to the debate. It is an important topic, and I am glad she shares my enthusiasm for science and technology and its importance to Canada’s place in the world and to our economy. Although the honourable senator and I might disagree on the interpretation of what has been said by scientists in Canada on the record of this government, I am certain that she would agree with me that there is some difference of opinion amongst persons in Canada who have commented on these issues. I hope that the honourable senator will join with me in support of an amendment that I propose to make to Senator Callbeck’s reference to the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology on post-secondary education. The committee then could have another look at the issue of science and technology funding, in particular the point that the honourable senator properly makes about the commercialization of research, which is an important aspect. Would the honourable senator care to comment?

    Senator LeBreton: I thank the honourable senator. I will not commit to supporting an amendment at this time, but I would be happy to entertain the idea. The honourable senator is right in saying that no matter the topic, there will always be supporters and non-supporters. Yesterday, in the infamous Globe and Mail, there was a straight-up-reporting article on McGill professors winning three of the five Killam prizes. It also mentioned the other individuals, each of whom had received a $100,000 award. The Killam prizes are awarded each year by the Canada Council for the Arts. The other winners were biologist John Smol of Queen’s University and legal theorist Ernest Weinrib of the University of Toronto. The article reads: Prof. Smol said this year’s prizes underline the importance of funding basic research that doesn’t have an immediately obvious industrial application, something that governments can lose sight of when they are too heavily involved in choosing which research gets funded. “When you’re in the environmental field, industry is in no great rush to support a lot of this work, to be perfectly blunt. So you’re really dependent on public money to do it,” he said. Dr. Habashi said he and his colleagues often field offers to go to U.S. universities that offer higher salaries, but he prefers the stable research environment in Canada. He said the research infrastructure has improved immeasurably thanks to the funding of the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the Canada Research Chairs, which have not only kept researchers in Canada but attracted them from around the world.
    I could not have said I better myself.

    Hon. Sharon Carstairs: I would like to ask the Leader of the Government in the Senate a question with respect to her remarks. I am delighted that she has recognized the superiority of the lab in Winnipeg. Why is it impossible to get the funding to expand that disease lab, which has been needed for some time?

    Senator LeBreton: Senator Carstairs, an additional $5.1 billion was announced by the government in the budget, so I am quite certain that the various world-class research facilities in Canada are making applications or have made applications. The budget was passed as recently as the beginning of April, so I would say, stay tuned.

    Senator Carstairs: The government has indicated that they want those shovel-ready projects; and here is a shovel-ready project. It could have been announced within days of the budget passing.

    Senator LeBreton: I am informed by my colleague, who is from the city of Winnipeg, that there is some doubt about that, although that does not in any way detract from the importance of such world-class facilities being fully supported. I am very happy that it was a Conservative government that saw the wisdom of it. I am certain that it will be continued to be supported by the present government.

    Hon. Art Eggleton: Honourable senators, if there are no more questions, I am prepared to speak to this inquiry. I am sorry that the Leader of the Government in the Senate has been so defensive about this matter. This side has not been crying doom and gloom. When the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology came out with its report one year ago on the government’s new policy on science, it was not critical at all. The report said that it was a good, basic policy. What we said then and what we are saying today is that there are gaps. Not everything has been addressed. It is not a question of throwing more money at more things; it is a question of finding the right balance and dealing with these gaps to ensure that we move forward with the best possible science and technology policy. It is important, particularly at this time of tremendous competitiveness, when we see the United States putting some $10 billion into health research alone. We will have a great deal of competition in terms of keeping the scientists we have attracted to this country and the ones who were educated in this country. It is important for our future prosperity and economy that we look at what these gaps are and the challenges we face.
    The minister says there were some four priority areas in the science report. There were, but while those are all fine and good, we should not ignore other areas. The humanities are not mentioned as one of those priorities. There is not the kind of emphasis on all the areas that need attention. There is the problem of basic research.
    We need more money to be invested in applied science, science that will lead to products that will ultimately help new businesses create new jobs. We also must remember that basic research is vital to bringing us to that point in time.
    There are basic research projects in this country’s past that would not qualify under the four priority areas today. For example, the Canadarm program or the chemistry research by John Polanyi, who won a Nobel Prize, would not qualify. Let us not forget the needs in terms of basic research. Key to basic research is the work of the three granting councils. Although the leader is not listening, I would tell the honourable senator that we can extrapolate over a number of years and show that the government has invested more money, the $862 million to $1 billion. Our government before that was building up the funds as well, and the numbers go up with inflation.

    The fact is that in the current year there will be an administrative cut of $149 million, which appears to be part of an across-the-board measure applied here as well. It may not be extremely damaging to the bottom line of these granting councils, considering the previous years’ increases, but it sends the wrong message at the wrong time. It creates a chill in the science community by suggesting we are slowing down and cutting back at a time when, in the United States, they are adding significantly more dollars into research as part of their stimulus endeavour.
    Other areas and gaps need attention, such as the Scientific Research and Experimental Development tax deduction program, where people involved in this program have come forward and said reforms and changes are needed in these areas. The tax needs to be refundable because many of these new programs and projects do not make money; they lose money. Researchers need to be able to continue to develop other kinds of products, many of which will succeed. Improvements are needed to the tax credit scheme. The government should be given credit for the money that it has invested in the infrastructure program for science as part of the stimulus, but it still needs to pay more attention to the operating funds, the funds necessary for scientists to carry out the programs in these facilities. There is no point in upgrading all these facilities if they are not pumping money into the operating costs for the scientists to use them to develop the kind of research that will to lead to new products for our economy.
    It is unfortunate that this information is looked upon as an attack by us or as a preaching of doom and gloom. Instead, we are saying the government has done some things that are going in the right direction, but there are gaps. There needs to be improvement. Do not let down your guard. Address these gaps because it is vital to address them, in terms of our economic future and our quality of life in this country; that we keep apace in terms of research and development.

Trackbacks

  1. Community reacts to Bliss « Researcher Forum
  2. This government 17 times more committed to science « Researcher Forum
  3. CAUT head responds to Michael Bliss « Researcher Forum

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