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Industry Minister provides explanation for mining funding controversy

June 19, 2009

As we reported several weeks ago, researchers at Laurentian University in Sudbury were upset at a perceived snub when the federal government announced Knowledge Infrastructure Funding for a mining research centre at the University of Toronto while their own centre was ignored.

This week, Industry Minister Tony Clement sent a letter to the Canadian Mining Journal explaining the decision, suggesting that Laurentian University simply did not qualify for funding under the terms of the program, and that the controversy represents “petty spin” that “shows the uglier side of politics”. A few excerpts from his letter, which is available on the CMJ website:

I feel it necessary to set the record straight. I think that everyone needs to be privy to some of the facts surrounding the spin to bring a bit more balance to the CEMI/Knowledge Infrastructure Program [KIP] story. Here are the facts.

The government of Canada through KIP can only fund new projects that: a) submit a funding proposal; b) have a proposal that qualifies for funding within the program criteria (ex: the funds are used for building and renovation, not operations, and that the project will be completed by March 31, 2011); and c) have matching funds from either the province or the university or college. The KIP program can only match funds for renovation projects up to 50%.

Laurentian University did not apply for funding for CEMI under the Knowledge Infrastructure Program…

The University of Toronto’s Innovation Centre for Canadian Mining Industry, founded in 1878, has provided mining education to thousands of Ontarians for over a hundred years. Many Canadians, who make a living in the mining sector, including those around Sudbury, received their formal education at this institution. Their project was selected because it applied for funding and it met the criteria.

The Knowledge Infrastructure Program has proved a valuable stimulus tool, creating jobs for Canadians over the next two years, while building our province’s post secondary capacity to teach and train for future generations of Canadians. The petty spin that has taken over this story shows the uglier side of politics, and it is regrettable that not every publication represents the full story.

I applaud the minister’s willingness to explain the issue. While he feels that criticizing government decisions may represent the “uglier side of politics”, it is hard to believe that Laurentian researchers were simply engaging in partisan rhetoric. Rather, the absence of transparency leads people to form their own conclusions, and silence from the government is wide open to interpretation. The minister’s explanation provides a reasonable rationale for the decision, and is likely to silence many of the critics on this issue. I don’t know why the government doesn’t do this more often – perhaps it is from some irrational fear of looking weak if they “justify” their decisions. Rather, and especially with academic issues where researchers are used to evaluating conclusions based on shared data, openness and transparency build trust between a government and its citizens. Furthermore, academics are used to inconvenient or unhappy conclusions if the data justifies them. The government shouldn’t be afraid to provide the data – in fact, they may find that doing so earns some unexpected support.

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