Research and the Red Book

On 27 November, the polls closed, the ballots were counted, and the verdict came in: Prime Minister Chrétien and his Liberal Party will return to Ottawa with a majority government for the third time in a row, a feat unmatched since the end of World War II. The Liberals had promised to double the federal science budget by adding nearly $1 billion by 2005, but it remains to be seen if they will be able to push the generous increases past determined opposition.

In their "Red Book" platform , the governing Liberals pledged to "help Canada move by 2010 to the top five countries for research and development performance." The Liberals had also offered up a bag of goodies in the form of a pre-election minibudget, announced on October 16. Although the spending plans mostly involve changes to the tax laws for the benefit of corporate R&D, there was some news of interest to the nonprofit world. The Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) got an extra $500 million, with 80% earmarked for grants to universities and research hospitals, plus another $100 million to be devoted to support Canadian participation in international research projects.

That is good news for junior researchers. The CFI's mandate includes, among other things, "strengthening research training of young Canadians for research and other careers" and "attracting and retaining able research workers in Canada." The corporate R&D community was also pleased with the budget. "It is fantastic that new funds are finally being made available for R&D in Canada, especially the $130 million for the Genome Canada initiative and the funding announced for the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (scheduled to become operational in fiscal year 2000-01 with a $500 million budget). "These monies will certainly help Canada to achieve a leadership edge," says Joyce Groote, president of BIOTECanada, the association representing companies and research organizations involved in all aspects of biotechnology in Canada.

It now remains to be seen if the Liberal government will (or can) live up to their promises. During the election campaign John McCallum, ex-chief economist for the Royal Bank and nowadays brand new Liberal M.P., alleged that there was a $2.5 billion gap between the Red Book spending promises and the budget figures. Although Mr. McCallum has since claimed to have been misinterpreted, Don Drummond, chief economist at the Toronto-Dominion Bank, confirmed in subsequent press reports the existence of "definite inconsistencies" in the Liberals' figures. Other economists have disputed the accuracy of the Liberal figures, raising questions about which programs would be financed in a crunch.

The Liberals will also face stiff opposition to many of their proposals. Although both the Minister of Industry, Brian Tobin, and his Secretary of State for Science, Research and Development, Gilbert Normand, will be back, so will opposition spokespersons Charlie Penson (Canadian Alliance) and Pierre Brien (Bloc Québécois). In addition, just last week the Canadian Alliance announced in their Official Opposition Shadow Cabinet the new position of Science and Technology critic, to be filled by the former party leader Preston Manning.

In the meantime, the outlook for science funding remains positive. Normand has reiterated the government's intention to fulfill its commitments in a statement provided for this article: "The recent federal minibudget statement indicating increases in funding for the CFI and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council reflects the continuing efforts by the Canadian Government to brand Canada as a strong knowledge-based society. The large-scale investments made in R&D over the past several federal budgets, such as Genome Canada, the Canadian Research Chairs, and the Networks of Centres of Excellence, as well as funding increases to the Research Councils, demonstrate a commitment to fostering innovation in Canada. The most recent initiatives of the CFI, designed to promote partnerships in international S&T, will also offer opportunities for increased alliances and exchanges."

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