Federal Budget Is Good News for Canadian Science

Earlier this week, Finance Minister Paul Martin delivered his much anticipated budget, with billions slated for new security initiatives and infrastructure. But Martin's budget also reiterates the government's commitment to sticking to its Red Book promise of supporting science and technology, with the announcement of a handful of new funding initiatives and budget increases.

Regarding higher education, the 10 December budget provides universities with a one-time payment of CA$200 million through the research granting councils to help cover indirect research costs at Canadian universities and hospitals--a winning strategy, according to Robert Giroux, president of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada.

The government hopes that the money will "help support world-class research facilities and respond to the needs of Canada's smaller universities in their efforts to become more research-oriented." "This has been an urgent need for Canada's universities for some time, and we're delighted that the federal government has committed to making ongoing funding for the indirect costs of research a priority," says Giroux, in a statement.

Martin also announced spending of $110 million over 3 years to build the so-called CA*net 4, a new generation broadband network architecture that will link all research-intensive institutions on the Internet. And there was a little something extra for students with disabilities. The budget increases the maximum grant of the Canada Study Grants program from $5000 to $8000 to cover exceptional costs associated with their special needs.

Canada's three granting councils received good news in the form of increased expenditures on research. There is a much needed and very welcomed 7% increase to the annual budget of the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), resulting in an increase of $36.5 million a year. The message from NSERC's President, Tom Brzustowski is that the permanent increase in the Council's budget "is a substantial amount that will go a long way to helping us meet the needs of the new applicants to the Research Grants Program last year, and again this year". And that is likely to be a big relief for the latest round of equipment grant applicants. Brzustowski adds the Government's measures taken to increase the number of active science and engineering researchers in Canadian universities appear to be working, given the growth in demand for discovery grants. "It underlines the government's stated long-term commitment to move Canada up to 5th place in the world in terms of R&D spending per capita". The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) also received a 7% increase in its budget.

In the area of health research, Martin announced a boost of 15% to the annual budget of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR, a sponsor of Next Wave Canada), amounting to an additional $75 million per year. The CIHR president, Alan Bernstein, is "exceptionally pleased" with the boost. "It is stunning news for the health research community to get both a 15% increase for CIHR, as well as the indirect costs. Particularly given the global and economic context of this budget," he tells Next Wave Canada in an e-mail. "I think it is the clearest possible signal that the Canadian government is fully committed to CIHR and to health research." He adds that the institutes' Scientific Directors and Council will be meeting early next year to discuss how to allocate the funding, suggesting that a balanced approach of increasing the number of Open Competition grantees as well increasing the funds to all of the institutes would be likely.

As a part of the government's strategic investments in knowledge-intensive areas, the budget provides an additional $25 million to the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research and an additional $110 million to the National Research Council (NRC) over 3 years for "leading-edge technologies and to expand NRC's regional innovation initiative beyond Atlantic Canada." Overall, the government's expenditures on science and technology are estimated at $7.4 billion in 2001-2002, an increase of 25% from the previous peak, which occurred in 1993-1994.

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