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No Research in Speech From the Throne

March 4, 2010

Yesterday, the government outlined the results of its ‘recalibration’ with a speech from the throne (.pdf here). In broad strokes, the government outlined its vision for the recovering economy and signaled its priorities for the coming Parliamentary session.

So what are the government’s plans for research? How will investment in R&D help drive economic recovery and place Canada at the forefront of innovation?

Well, research was barely mentioned. The community can take comfort that “[the] Government will extend support for advanced research, development and prototyping of new space-based technologies, especially in support of Arctic sovereignty”, which sounds exciting, though I have no idea what it means. Also, “[the government] will create a world-class High Arctic Research Station”, presumably to track the advanced space-based technologies we create.

That’s it.

In both cases, the government is underlining its belief that research is something you do to support “real” objectives, like Arctic sovereignty, instead of something of value in its own right. Research as a means to a quantifiable policy outcome, instead of as a foundation for a modern, innovative economy.

Of course, the Speech from the Throne is a political document – short on details, long on positioning. The government used it to signal its broad economic plan, and to position itself politically with lots of law and order issues and patriotism sprinkled throughout. We’ll get a better sense from today’s budget, which will enumerate spending details.

Still, it’s a sad and worrying note that, despite widespread calls for investment in an innovative economy, Canadian research and development don’t even qualify for a mention in the government’s overall plan.

p.s. There is an intriguing note in the speech that the government “will expand the opportunities for our top graduates to pursue post-doctoral studies and to commercialize their ideas.” It’s pretty vague, but the fact that post-docs made it into the speech signals that their issues made it onto the table, which is great. They’ve been the forgotten link in the academic world for too long, and it’s good to see the government acknowledge it.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Jim permalink
    March 4, 2010 12:46

    The lousy situation of postdocs given the economy and lack of positions has permeated all levels of government. Of course, whether the budget contains practical benefits to postdocs or, instead, offers misguided “re-training” for a real job will soon be revealed. Am not holding out much hope.

    Big questions:
    Is Genome Canada allocated new funds in the budget? If not, stick a fork in it.
    Is there new money for patient-oriented research for CIHR? If not explicitly mentioned, that initiative is also toast.
    Is there any recognition that the 2000 Canada Research Chairs need additions (not to mention the fact that $100,000 in Y2K money is around $55,000 today.
    Has the IPM commercialization program been replaced?
    Are the tricouncil budgets increased in real terms?

    Poor answers:
    Re-announcement of infrastructure (CFI and university delayed maintenance).
    Lipservice around innovation with no dollars attached.
    Focus on applied versus basic research and re-announcement of second CECR competition.

    • Rob Annan permalink*
      March 4, 2010 12:54

      Jim, I’m afraid I’m not expecting much more than what you outline as ‘poor answers’. I had a sliver of hope that the tricouncil cuts outlined in the last budget would be repealed, and that maybe even slight increases might be observed, but that has faded. The rumours/leaks I’m hearing lean towards reannouncements – esp. CFI.

      re. Genome Canada: haven’t had a chance to write about it, but came across GC’s “Corporate Plan 2010-2011” this morning ( Sad. They’re putting a brave face on things, and are focusing on raising money from other sources and administering programs already funded (they say they need to “nurture existing relationships to ensure effective completion of approved projects”). There is one note at the very end, in the small section “challenges”: “An ongoing challenge for Genome Canada is maintaining effective operations in light of new funding uncertainty for fiscal year 2010–11 and beyond…”. That’s putting it mildly.

      • Jim permalink
        March 4, 2010 14:42

        The budget speech does contain mention of the creation of new fellowships for postdocs (hooray!!!) but no mention of other funding agencies. Doesn’t appear to be much innovation in this speech.

      • Rob Annan permalink*
        March 4, 2010 14:52

        Actually, the budget document does address the councils, maybe didn’t mention it in the speech. $32M increase to tricouncil ($16M CIHR, $13M NSERC, $3M SSHRC) plus $8M for indirect costs. New funding for Genome Canada: $75M for targeted competition in forestry and environment, plus to sustain centres. $9M to Rick Hansen Fdtn for spinal cord research. $397M to Can Space Agency to build next gen RADARSATs. $20M for High Arctic Research Station. $126M for TRIUMF,

        They also reannounced the CFI spending announced last time.

        This really raised my eyebrows:

        “Despite the high level of federal support, we continue to lag behind other advanced economies with respect to overall innovation performance, private sector investment in R&D, and the commercialization of research.

        To ensure that federal funding is yielding maximum benefits for Canadians, the Government, in close consultation with business leaders from all sectors and our provincial partners, will conduct a comprehensive review of all federal support for R&D to improve its contribution to innovation and to economic opportunities for business. This review will inform future decisions regarding federal support for R&D. The Government is currently developing the terms of reference for the review.”

  2. Jim permalink
    March 4, 2010 15:12

    The post doc funding is cool but why $70,000 fellowships? This is like the Vanier studentships where students earn $50,000 tax-free yet sit next to other students earning less than $20,000. I’m all for competition but why not spread this “wealth” a little wider?

    The new Genome Canada funding is targeted to agricultural research and forestry (the previously, prematurely announced competitions). Why isn’t this iconoclastic agency wrapped up with sustainable funding transferred to the tricouncils? The increases this year are pitiful.

    No idea what the review will entail. Sounds scary. The problem is our private sector refuses to invest in R&D. Do they expect the government to pay for their costs?

  3. Nilima permalink
    March 4, 2010 22:46

    Paul Wells has an interesting opinion piece on his blog,

    “To repeat: every study shows that Canada’s researchers out-perform the world, not only in their level of funding but in their ability to produce research that influences international peers. It’s Canada’s businesses that underperform, even though they, too, already benefit from generous tax treatment of private-sector R&D. A review of our science strategy that ignores our scientists would amount to a decision to put the weakest performers in charge of strategy. “

    • Rob Annan permalink*
      March 5, 2010 07:05

      Thanks, Nilima. Wells is a real supporter of research, and has often lamented the poor job we do of supporting it in Canada. I sympathize with his opinions, though I’m feeling a little less negative than he is about things. I think this quote, though, is significant, and is certainly something I’m going to address on the blog in the next couple of days.

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