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Canadian Budget Targets Industrial Applications

Good forecast. A new Canadian budget includes investments in improving weather forecasting systems, such as these instruments used to help predict the weather for the Winter Olympic games held in British Columbia in 2010.

Environment Canada

Spring typically brings new hopes and higher expectations. Instead, Canadian scientists are feeling a decided chill in the air after federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty yesterday unveiled the government's fiscal blueprint for 2013 to 2014.

The new budget promises stiffer competition for a smaller pool of research grants. What little new money is made available will again be funneled into targeted "industry-academic" partnerships.

The additional $36 million for such industry-driven research will be administered by the country's three granting councils: the $1 billion Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the $1 billion Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and the $700 million Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. The amount exactly offsets the reductions announced last year as part of a government-wide budget-cutting exercise.

Treasury Board officials say the effect on the scientific community will be "a wash." But Canadian Association of University Teachers Executive Director James Turk says that the budget will be a "grave disappointment" to scientists.

"Program after program [within the councils] is becoming company specific," he says. "This is all money that's being squeezed out of what should be going for discovery research. Previous budgets had signaled a shift of priorities from basic research to various collaborations with industry. This budget confirms that."

The new budget repeats a pattern of extending support for the Canada Foundation for Innovation without committing to a new tranche of funding. Specifically, the foundation will be allowed to hold a new competition with $220 million in accumulated "unallocated interest income" that accrued during previous competitions for university research infrastructure over the past decade. The government will also provide about $160 million over 3 years, commencing in fiscal year 2014 to 2015, to support a planned Genome Canada competition focused on applied research to improve human health and to sustain operating costs at the not-for-profit agency's regional genomics centers.

The budget reaffirms plans by Minister of State for Science and Technology Gary Goodyear to revamp the National Research Council, the government's primary in-house research arm. The goal is to create a "concierge" service that provides one-stop shopping and solutions for industrial needs, and Flaherty said $118 million will be invested over 2 years toward meeting that goal. The government will also spend $19.5 million for a pilot project at the agency's Industrial Research Assistance Program aimed at allowing small businesses to obtain "credit notes to help pay for research, technology and business development services" at academic or private research institutes.

A big winner in Flaherty's budget is the Meteorological Service of Canada. It will receive a $241 million bump over 5 years in its current $175-million-a-year budget to upgrade its capacity to provide reliable weather forecasts. Treasury officials said that the targeted programs have not been determined, but the expected beneficiaries include radar and climate monitoring stations, weather balloon programs, and predictive models, along with broader dissemination of research findings.