How could $4 billion change Canadian research?

Universities Canada

Big things are on the horizon for Canadian research over the next few years as a 25 per cent increase for research and innovation funding has been outlined in the federal government’s 2018 budget, presented to parliament on February 27.

The Liberal Party has outlined a total contribution of $3.8 billion to science over the next five years. This sum is divided into four categories, including $572.5 million set to fund advanced computing access for research, $275 million for high-risk and interdisciplinary research and $763 million for research facilities. $925 million is earmarked for research grants, divided among three major research grant councils which make up the tri-Agency: the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

This funding will be distributed incrementally over five years, and all together will fund 21,000 individuals doing research, including students, by the year 2021 or 2022. Tim Kenyon, Vice President of Brock Research, outlined three major ways that this funding will impact Canadian Research.

Increase of Research and Resources

The funding will allow the amount of research being done at Brock to increase and will provide researchers with more resources to use. “This additional funding supports students and other researcher trainees or collaborators, pays for research tools and infrastructure, hires staff to coordinate complex partnerships, and underwrites many indirect costs too … The increase in budgets for the Tri-Councils will mean more of this support across the board,” Kenyon explains.

Researcher-Driven Interests

“A great deal of intellectual progress and innovation springs from serendipity, not highly specific planning,” said Kenyon. “On one hand, what blows up as the next big innovation that changes society or the economy often starts as inquiry based on curiosity or problems idiosyncratic to specific researchers and groups; on the other hand, top-down efforts to guide or determine the next big innovation are sometimes mediated by a pretty naïve theory about how to make discoveries happen.”

Kenyon has a positive outlook for significant funding towards promising research in fields such as artificial intelligence, something signaled in the budget.

Research Partnerships

While not fully clear how this will play out as of yet, there is significant funding in the budget to “support partnerships between researchers and private partners by facilitating commercialization … we may be looking at a range of programs to connect researchers and those who can use their discoveries commercially or entrepreneurially,” said Kenyon.

“We can use increased funding to help create major research partnerships that link Brock with other universities, domestic and international, as well as with community partners and industry,” explained Kenyon. Many faculty and students at Brock have expressed a desire to see intensification of Brock research culture, and this funding will allow more access to resources, thus supporting the reality of that desire.

“From individual researcher applications to partnerships and institutional applications, there’s a variety of ways to put these enhanced resources to work at Brock … I think that Brock can be known for outstanding research in areas where research depth and impact has grown over time, while yet ensuring that there is capacity for research of any kind to flourish and be celebrated.”

Along with a focus on research and innovation funding, the 2018 budget focuses heavily on gender equality, particularly with representation and pay in the workforce. “It is a plan that puts people first – that invests in Canadians and in the things that matter most to them,” said Bill Morneau, Minister of Finance, in his speech to the House of Commons when he presented the budget. The 2018 budget is the first Canadian federal budget to ever undergo and complete and thorough gender-based analysis, and other factors such as age, ethnicity, and disability were also taken into account.

However, there has been significant criticism of the Liberal’s due to the $18.1 billion deficit that the budget projects. “Never has a Prime Minister boasted so loudly and spent so much to achieve so little,” said Lisa Raitt, Conservative MP of Milton

When elected, Trudeau promised to borrow a maximum of $10 billion per year. However, the projected deficit has decreased from the $28.5 billion deficit forecast in the 2017 budget.

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