Budget 2018: Innovation and Investment in Science

At the end of February, the federal government released Budget 2018. The federal government has touted this budget as helping to build the conditions to encourage a more equal Canada, and as a budget that would grow Canada through economic innovation. For those who are thinking about science and how the federal budget supports research, the 2018 budget can be seen, in part, as a direct outcome of the Naylor report, an independent panel that was tasked to review the state of science in Canada.

During Federal Minister of Finance Bill Morneau’s budget address to the House of Commons, he said, “Budget 2018 represents the single largest investment in investigator-led fundamental research in Canadian history”, and went on to suggest that the 2018 budget helps to diversify the science community to reflect what Canada looks like: a community with an increased presence of women, indigenous peoples and visible minorities.

It has been widely argued that the investment in women, especially in pursuing science, technology and engineering related research and professions, is a strong direction to take and will help to maximize Canada’s economic productivity. While the 2018 budget has not found support among fiscal conservatives given the reliance on running a deficit, nevertheless, from the perspective of field of science the newly unveiled budget was pegged as being a huge advancement away from the previous Harper government. While Harper was in office his government successfully eliminated many resources from both public and government funded research. The Harper government was also largely criticized for silencing research scientists from discussing the findings of their research. Additionally, the Harper government strongly favoured a more diminished role for government in science.

Equally, a noticeable trend was observed throughout federal government departments that positions would not be subsequently filled after an individual retired. Although there is little question that the public sector is predominantly driven by sector-based interest, I argue that there should be an increased focus on communication between scientists and the public.

After Justin Trudeau was elected in 2015, there has been a stronger emphasis on the science and technology field; the newest budget does not fail to follow this direction. Below is an outline of some of the main initiatives that the budget intends to support throughout the upcoming years.

  • Over $4 billion in total to invest in researchers and other organizations over the next 5 years
  • An increasing concern with researchers has become the management of Big Data; essentially a large volume of data that cannot be dealt with on typical application programs. The ability to make sense of large volumes of data has been seen to be one of the most important advances for scientific research. Budget 2018 has outlined that it will aid in Big Data storage and advanced computing.
  • An increased amount of funding ($925 million) for the tri-councils – the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). Additionally, the budget included $275 million to be administered by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) to aid in “interdisciplinary… and higher-risk research”.
  • Over $763 million will be used to update various research facilities through the Canada Foundation for Innovation.
  • Increased spending will be on facilities and administrative costs for research.
  • Special attention was paid to female entrepreneurs, specifically in fields of science and tech to help them kickstart their businesses,

Many of these budget changes are driven to change the field of science, but are Trudeau’s most recent budget changes enough for Canadians in the science and tech field? After running on strong platforms of reform for science and equal gender representation in those fields, some people still believe that not enough is being done. One of his most distinguishing planks in his policy platform was to support action on climate change. Although if Prime Minister Trudeau was making no action for innovation in the science field, it would speak louder than the smaller changes he is trying to enact. Ultimately, it is important that the federal government’s budget recognizes the critical importance of science to the impact on the daily lives of Canadians and the economy.