Lab Canada

Federal budget brings both applaud and criticism

Ottawa, ON – In its 2013 budget unveiled last week, Canada’s federal government has continued funding for its major research-granting organizations, receiving praise from Canada’s universities, while other groups raise concerns about a gradual shrinking of the funding pool and a trend toward supporting commercialization of research over basic research.

In a nutshell, the budget includes:

  • $225 million to support advanced research infrastructure and the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s long-term operations.
  • $165 million in multi-year support for genomics research through Genome Canada, including new large-scale research competitions and participation by Canadian researchers in national and international partnership initiatives.
  • $60 million over five years to expand the services of business incubators and accelerators, establishing new Entrepreneur Awards to recognize excellence in entrepreneurship, and supporting young entrepreneurs with new resources of $18 million over two years through the Canadian Youth Business Foundation.
  • An additional $37 million annually to the granting councils in support of research partnerships with industry to create and deploy new technologies, products and services into the marketplace.
  • $20 million over three years to help small and medium-sized enterprises access research and business development services.
  • $325 million over eight years to Sustainable Development Technology Canada to support the development and demonstration of new clean technologies, which can save businesses money, create high-paying jobs and drive innovation.

The Associations of Universities and Colleges of Canada welcomed the budget, saying that the support of university research, skills and talent will help to make Canada more innovative and competitive.

It adds that the federal government’s research investments have made Canada a top research nation. “Even in difficult fiscal times, the government recognizes that university research fuels a competitive advantage for Canada,” says Paul Davidson, the association’s president. “Over successive budgets, the federal government has increased support for research and innovation in Canada -investments that nurture talent, create jobs and make us more competitive internationally.”

However, the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) raises concerns about the government’s priorities. “On the same day that some of Canada’s world-renowned research projects, like the Experimental Lakes Area, are in process of being dismantled because of last year’s federal budget cuts, the new budget makes matters worse,” says James L. Turk, CAUT’s executive director.

“While there is an announced $37-million for Canada’s three academic research granting councils, this only restores half of what was cut last year and comes with strings that seriously limit its usefulness for advancing knowledge,” he adds.

In a release, the organization notes that the budget specifies that 80 percent of the restored money for the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council must be spent on collaborations between community colleges and private industry that focus on company needs. Overall, the $37-million is described as being for “research partnerships with industry.”

“This means there will be no new money for the basic research on which all scientific advancement depends,” says Turk.

CAUT also asserts that the transformation of Canada’s National Research Council, announced in the 2012 budget, from a leading scientific agency into a body that assists private businesses meet their company-specific needs is accelerated by the allocation of an additional $121-million over the next two years.