$50-Million for Perimeter in Tuesday’s Budget
Gary Goodyear, Minister of State for Science-and-so-on, announced yesterday that Tuesday’s federal budget will include $50-million in new funding for Waterloo’s Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. While details are scarce, it is assumed this will extend the $50-million in funding Perimeter received in the 2007 budget, which is set to expire next year.
While this is certainly great news for Perimeter and the quantum physics research community, it may be more significant for what the announcement doesn’t say. Traditionally, governments attempt to get the most political mileage out of their budgets by announcing spending measures one-at-a-time in the weeks leading up to the budget’s release. Already, political watchers have speculated that the dearth of spending announcements in recent weeks (apart from a seeming limitless supply of funds for Quebec snowmobile clubs) is signaling a budget that will be thin on spending announcements. Yesterday’s announcement may therefore signal that the Perimeter funding is the one (and only) politically significant R&D spending announcement in the budget.
Of course, there’s a glass-half-full interpretation as well. The Harper Government™ is nothing if not politically hyper-aware. If major cuts were coming to the R&D funding landscape, the Harper Government™ would have been laying the ground for weeks, perhaps by undermining the agencies or highlighting their inefficiencies. This would have been especially necessary given that they’ve stated repeatedly that they’re committed to an innovation society. It’s been absolutely quiet on that front, so maybe no news is good news.
There’s another, more nakedly political (and therefore more likely) interpretation. Given that there is widespread speculation that an election may be called as soon as Wednesday, the government is using any opportunity to spread the pork around ridings considered key battlegrounds. And it doesn’t get more key than Waterloo, the closest race in the country in the last election, won by the Conservatives by only 17 votes. Announcing $50-million for the riding can’t hurt if the writ drops later this week.
Anyway – this will certainly be an exciting week for Canadian science. The budget will be released tomorrow and I’ll be sure to summarize what it means for Canadian researchers. Later in the week, the government may fall, followed by an election call – in which case researchers will have to make sure R&D funding policy receives the attention it deserves.