Canadian Scientists Breathe Easier

Innovation was to have been at the center of Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin's first budget. But fiscal restraint appears to have trumped science as a priority in the government's $143 billion blueprint for fiscal 2004-05 that was unveiled yesterday. Still, the news wasn't as bad as some had feared. With Martin scrambling to rebound from a major financial scandal, many scientists feared research would fall entirely off the agenda as the government tightened the purse strings in a bid to demonstrate their fiscal responsibility. Instead, each of the nation's three granting councils received 6.3% hikes in their core operating budgets. And some programs saw larger increases. The government will add $15 million to a $171-million-a-year program to pay universities for indirect research costs (Science, 27 October 2000, p. 687) and give $45 million to Genome Canada while it ponders whether to renew a 5-year mandate that expires in 2005 (Science, 10 March 2000, p. 1732).

Research administrators said the new money would help keep research funding steady in the face of rising demand, a phenomenon driven by generous infrastructure grants from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation. Thomas Brzustowski, president of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, says his agency will use a $29 million hike, to $497 million, to increase the size of grants offered to new investigators. The council now awards roughly 40% of the funds requested.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research, with an identical budget, will either revoke a planned 5% cutback to existing grants or use the monies to alleviate skyrocketing demand for new operating grants, according to its president, Alan Bernstein.

Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council president Marc Renaud, whose $136 million budget rises by $9 million, is hoping to maintain success rates of 40% for grant applications. "There was an 18% increase in demand for standard research grants this year," he says, including 1100 first-time applicants.

Although the new increases fall short of the 10% hike the councils received in the final year of former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien's stewardship, their leaders aren't complaining. "Given the kind of budget it was, I couldn't have hoped for anything better," says Brzustowski.

Related site
The 2004 Canadian budget