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Federal budget focuses funding on “innovation and skills plan”

By Stephanie Levitz   

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2018 fiscal blueprint sets aside $3.2 billion over five years to fund everything science as part of an effort to fire up new engines of economic growth.

big data Canada AI 2018 federal budget scienceOTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is a proud science fiction fan, but his government’s third budget is much more focused on uncovering new scientific facts.

The 2018 fiscal blueprint sets aside $3.2 billion over five years to fund everything from the beakers to the brains behind scientific research as part of a Liberal effort to fire up new engines of economic growth.

In a recent article, Levi Garber demonstrates that Canada has been able to do a lot of really great stuff and make a big mark in space for a very small amount of money. More federal support only opens up more opportunities for space engineers.

The money supports the spirit of innovation to help build the new industries and jobs Canada will rely on in future years, Finance Minister Bill Morneau said.


“Budget 2018 represents the single largest investment in investigator-led fundamental research in Canadian history,” Morneau said Tuesday in his budget speech in the House of Commons.

“And more than that, we’ll make sure that the new money for research supports the next generation of researchers, so that we can build a science community that looks more like Canada—more diverse and with a greater number of women.”

The funding was a direct response to the Naylor report, a document drafted by independent panel struck by the government in 2016 to review the state of science in Canada.

What the panel found was a sector languishing after years of neglect and cuts by a previous Conservative government that favoured research with the immediate payoff.

The panel came back with dozens of recommendations, from how and what research is funded to how the entire system is overseen, and was followed up by pressure from academics and scientists for the government to follow through.

The budget itself is so complex it’s hard to say whether the government matched the Naylor suggestions word-for-word, said Martha Crago, a member of the panel and vice-president of research and innovation at McGill University.

But it’s clear the government is committed to science going forward, she said.

“What I saw, first and foremost, was that it was a multi-year plan and that’s really excellent and very much what the Naylor plan called for.”

Direct investment on scientists and research breaks down to roughly $1.7 billion over five years for the granting councils and institutions that dole out federal research dollars and $1.3 billion over five years for labs, equipment and infrastructure.

The money isn’t just for emerging research, but also shores up ongoing major initiatives like the physics research centre near Sudbury, Ont., which has supported research into the building blocks of the universe. That money will flow through the Canada Foundation for Innovation, which will now also receive permanent funding from the government beginning in 2023-24 as opposed to the intermittent injections of the past.

There’s also increased federal money for the National Research Council.

Taken together, it amounts to a reset of the research landscape that will allow far more room for people to pursue not just hard but social sciences, said Paul Davidson, the president of Universities Canada.

Both are essential to answering key questions of the day, he pointed out. Take climate change — research is required not just to analyse its scientific impacts but how to change human behaviour in order to mitigate it.

“What today’s budget shows is that this government understands how science improve the lives of Canadians, it improves the economy of Canada, it improves Canada’s place in the world,” he said.

It will take time to judge the benefits from this research, but the budget also promises to track outcomes by collecting the data required to figure out whether, for example, the pool of research scientists is in fact becoming more diverse.

It’s one of several new data-gathering measures pledged by the Liberals. The largest is $572.5 million over five years for a “digital research infrastructure strategy” for what the budget called harnessing big data.

That money is part of a suite of measures in the budget that emphasize innovation, a favourite theme of the governing Liberals.

In Tuesday’s document, $2.57 billion over five years is set aside under the heading of a “innovation and skills plan — a more client-focused federal partner for business.”

Not everything is of such a massive scale, however.

One small measure — $30 million for what’s known as a patent collective — was being pushed for by the Council of Canadian Innovators as a way to help smaller business share the intel they need to develop their products.


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