March 30 - Experts Comments - Federal Budget PDF Print E-mail
Yesterday, March 29 2012, the Canadian Federal Government presented the 2012 Federal Budget.
  • What implications will it have for investment in scientific and technology research and innovation?
  • How will it impact science policy, science education, and science-related economic opportunities?

Below are some comments from Canadian experts in reaction to the 2012 Federal Budget. Feel free to use these quotes in your stories. For more extensive quotes or if you need help reaching a Canadian expert on this or any other story, please call us at 613-249-8209.

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Janet EA Prince
President, Science & Policy Exchange 2012
Ph.D. Candidate, Integrated Program in Neuroscience, McGill University
Janet Prince is available for interviews in English

Researchers and science industrialists always have many hopes when it comes to announcing a new federal budget. These hopes include funding to foster partnerships, funding for basic science and funding for industrial research. This year’s federal budget fell flat on bringing many of these hopes to reality.

The 2012 budget does include some initiatives to foster partnerships: $37 million to granting councils to enhance support for industry-academic research. These types of partnerships need to be cropping up all over the country for several reasons including: 1) they serve students by honing their creative thinking and problem solving skills in both University and industry settings, 2) they train students for potential future careers in industry and 3) sharing of information between the two major players in research drives progress. This money comes with a catch though as it is not an increase in funding to granting councils but more of a reallocation of funds, as the councils will pursue operational efficiencies and reallocation of funds from lower-priority programs to create savings to put towards industry-academic research. The $37 million reallocation of funds to the enormous venture of industry-academic partnerships is just not enough and will not make Canada competitive in a global market.

$10 million over two years was also allocated to the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research to link Canadians to global research networks. One of the most critical ways to put Canada at the forefront of global research is to share resources such as equipment or research space with other leading research countries. $5 million dollars a year won’t even pay the rent in the shared research space we should have let alone build research space and stock it with equipment abroad. Although putting money to link Canadians to global research networks is what Canada needs to advance, $10 million falls short of what is required.

The 2012 budget also includes significant allocation to the National Research Council, which will be used to support industry-based research. This is clearly a positive aspect of the budget, which will foster innovation only from a business perspective.

In all of this funding for partnerships and industry where does the money for basic research come in? Well there was $60 million assigned to Genome Canada to sustain Science and Technology Centers and to begin a new research competition in human health (much lower contributions than earlier years). The Canadian Foundation for Innovation will receive important funds (in 2014-2015) to be put towards research infrastructure. These are both areas that are important to Canada’s innovation and research strategy.  On the other hand, Universities need to continue to hire top quality recruits, especially researchers who are homegrown. Without increased funding to granting councils such as the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) or the National Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), some researchers will not be able to continue to fund their labs and will be forced to shut down their research (Canadian researchers need increases to granting agencies operating grants).  Where will researchers look for new jobs? They will look to other countries with good funding opportunities such as China, India or Brazil.

The biggest downfall in terms of Canadian science of this budget is the lack of focus on the importance of increase in funding to basic research. When basic research doesn’t flourish in Canada, the whole system of Canadian science, technology and innovation is at risk.

Rob de Loë
Professor, Water Policy and Governance, University of Waterloo
More information on Rob de Loë

"The National Roundtable on the Environment and Economy will be missed. NRTEE has served as an important organization for bridging government, industry and civil society. NRTEE's recent work on the importance of water for industry in Canada has revitalized discussions around the country on the importance of water for Canada's economy and society. The detailed and careful research and thorough engagement processes behind NRTEE's water studies moved the needle on policy dialogues in this country."

Dr. David Schindler
FRSC, Killam Memorial Professor of Ecology, University of Alberta
More information about David Schindler

The current review process is indeed cumbersome, but "streamlining" must include strengthening, rather than weakening, our environmental laws. There are other things that could be done to make the process manageable in two years or less.  But firstly, why are we calling it an "approval" process? This suggests that all proposals will be approved, certainly this is not why we conduct an environmental review!

The best way would be start collecting environmental data when a proposal first becomes visible.  There should be a professional organization available to do this, using internationally accepted, modern designs for monitoring, analysis, etc.  This would eliminate the highly variable standards that currently exist among the consulting companies that do such work.  Current Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) are often very poor, perhaps 10 to 100 pages of good science well hidden by irrelevant "filler" in a document the size of Encyclopedia Britannica!  It becomes almost physically impossible to find the relevant material, greatly slowing the review process.

There is no need for huge tables of aquatic insects that are identified only to order, then subjected to "species diversity" analysis, for which organisms should be identified for species.  Such absurdities would not get a passing grade in a freshman ecology course, but they are common in EIS practice. Similarly, tables of water samples identified for every element in the periodic table are unnecessary.  Only a handful of elements are toxic, and they should be the focus of an EIS, not hundreds of irrelevant ones.

Interpretation of the data set should again be done by professionals.  Environment Canada has the expertise, if only we could be sure that their findings would not be manipulated or the scientific experts gagged by politicians or bureaucrats.  It is time that we moved these scientific organizations out from under politicians.  We, the citizens, pay for them, and we should be entitled to know what they find, unvarnished by "spin."

It should be understood that if predictions are erroneous, environmental problems must be fixed. Currently, no one ever looks back to see whether the predictions of an EIS are correct.  This fact alone means that the process is not science. Science by definition is self-correcting, eliminating erroneous assumptions and conclusions over time by trial and error. Such retrospective analysis would slowly improve the monitoring process, and speed the review process.  As it is, the process has changed little over decades.

For sites of continued activity, such as the oil sands, data collection should be continuous, by the same professional agency.  That would allow a better and better monitoring background upon which to evaluate new projects as they came up, and fewer errors as more projects inevitably emit more pollutants and destroy more habitat.

Finally, we need environmental and social experts on hearing panels, not engineers. The concerns are almost always environmental or social. Why are engineers and lawyers always dominant on these hearing panels?  They need an appointment process that is at arms length from the political process, especially in this day when politicians in power are shamelessly promoting projects long before it is known whether or not they can be done without severe environmental or social consequences.

With respect to the laws, they need improvement, not weakening.  Ministerial discretion should be all but removed, replacing "the Minister may" with "the Minister must" wherever possible.  Discretionary laws lead to ambiguous interpretations, often differing depending on which side of the bed the Minister gets up on.  They are also hostile to industry.  A wise CEO wants to see a clear path, even if it is tough.  Then his experts can tell him if his proposal is likely to pass, or how it must be modified so that it can pass.  Who would want to invest millions or even billions in a project that can be derailed before it is completed by a change in ministers, or a minister who blows in the political wind?

The above process would in the end be more efficient and less expensive, but do we really want it to speed industrial development? In the west, there is a shortage of labour, housing, schools, hospitals, and highways.  Yet developments in many areas are increasing at 7 percent a year and more, a pace where infrastructure and labor can never keep up.  Perhaps it is time that we exploited natural resources at a slower rate, did a better job, turned the projects into goods here instead of letting that be done in the USA or China, and did not end up with irreparable ecological damage.

Adam Holbrook
P.Eng., Adjunct Professor and Associate Director, Centre for Policy Research on Science and Technology, Simon Fraser University
More information on Adam Holbrook

The 2012 Budget focuses on “creating value-added jobs through innovation” through a number of provisions. Some of these provisions are definitely constructive, others less so.

The most positive provision in this part of the Budget is the doubling of funding, by $110M, to the Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP) of the National Research Council. IRAP has the distinction of being probably the oldest continuous program for the support of innovation in Canada, having been started in the 1950s. It has demonstrated its utility in bring new knowledge to small and medium-sized enterprises throughout Canada through the transfer of technology into SMEs and its support for hiring technically trained people into these companies.  One of its great strengths is the distributed nature of the program, with the technology officers responsible for delivering the program located across the country in both large and small centres of population. As a consequence it has survived the ups and downs of budgetary fortune and understandably enjoys the support of its stakeholders.

The counter-example of these budgetary provisions is the decision to cut back on the Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SRED) program. The Jenkins Expert Panel (and thus the government) was correct in criticizing it for its complexity, and the resulting unregulated consulting practices that drain benefits of these tax credits from firms in their efforts to access the program. But the cure is worse than the disease: the replacement of some of the SRED tax expenditures by a vastly increased program of direct grants for corporate research turns the selection of R&D projects away from the discipline of the corporate decision–making process to the selection of projects by bureaucrats. This change in support for R&D takes government programs back thirty years into the late 1970s – the SRED was originally developed precisely to get the selection of R&D projects for federal funding out of the hands of federal departments and into organizations much closer to the marketplace. Yes, the SRED needs changes, but not wholesale dismemberment (for example, a proposal earlier this year, to focus the SRED on funding only salaries of researchers had considerable merit).

Another proposal deserves some attention – the proposal to allocate $105 million to the forestry sector for innovation and market development support. While it is not clear if this is new money, the proposal recognizes that unlike many other sectors of the Canadian economy, the forestry sector has developed technology transfer institutions that effectively bridge the gap between basic research in universities and the application of technology in industry. The technology transfer programs and institutions that make up FPInnovation are an excellent model of the intermediary institutions that all Canadian industrial sectors should have to move knowledge from the research lab to the market; the Budget recognizes this success.

The real problem with the Budget documents is that the actual increments and cuts are not defined by each program. The new expenditures being announced are not new money, but money reallocated from other programs. Only departmental expenditure reduction targets are given, and it is not clear what strategic choices will be made by the program managers, or even what percentage reductions in program expenditures are being proposed. The government is asking the public to take on faith its comprehensive view of the S&T future, something that to date it has failed to enunciate. We still do not know what the implications of this budget will be on Canadian S&T and are unlikely to do so for several weeks or months.

Paul Dufour
Principal, PaulicyWorks
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Paul Dufour is available for interviews in English and French

"On a day when Canada's flagship technology company RIM was announcing yet more disappointing financial results, the federal Minister of Finance in his annual budget once again tried to address the gaping hole in Canada's innovation ecosystem---anemic private sector R&D performance.  Taking as his cue some of the recommendations of the Jenkins expert panel report on federal support for R&D, the Minister lamented the failure of the federal government to incite more R&D  and innovation from industry. This is not news. Canadian governments have tried unsuccessfully to affect behaviour in the private sector for decades now--- even the much-vaunted InnovAction strategy of 1987 launched by the Progressive Conservatives tried unsuccessfully to influence corporate behaviour with respect to innovative activity.  

To be sure, the generous R&D tax credits program (SR&ED) was an obvious target in yesterday's budget given its notoriety prompted by the Jenkins panel. And picking winners to shift federal support from non-targeted instruments like tax credits to grants and contributions is not beyond the pale for the Harper Government. Nor is the question of buttressing university research as surrogates for industrial R&D deficiencies.  Hence, the granting councils will be given new money (from reallocated funds of the spending review) to focus on university-industry partnership programs; the Business-led Networks of Centres of Excellence will be made permanent; and Genome Canada will get another $60M for applied research competition in health.  The "saupoudrage" (sprinkling) across several programs continues with two-year support to CANARIE, a large infusion into CFI, public funds for new venture capital and smart procurement, the usual ongoing support for CIFAR, targetted monies to selected research centres, and some largess to forestry innovation, in addition to the ongoing support to find alternatives to the isotope production technologies that caused a furor both at home and globally.

Expected as well was some action on the National Research Council targeted for remediation when the federal government appointed a new President two years ago. The NRC had been a focus of the Jenkin's panel report, but the budget remains coy about the changes saying only that the government will continue to consider ways to better focus the NRC on demand-driven research consistent with the suggestions of the Jenkins panel (for aficionados, the NRC mandate has always been explicit about serving industrial needs since its origins in 1916).   But NRC's long-standing  flagship Industrial Research Assistance Program (designed to support SMEs in technology assistance throughout the country) remains the “chouchou” [pet project] of the government and will benefit from significant re-allocated funding from the SR&ED.

Oddly, the budget appears silent on the digital economy strategy that was the pet issue of the former Industry Minister, now Treasury Minister. Little is said about public good science (not surprisingly) with a nod to mental health research, food security, NRCan's satellite data facilities, wildlife species at risk,  and national parks. The national science centres and museums do not take a hit, but are not given any new funding. The youth factor is not ignored with more funding for an industry internships program for graduates managed by MITACS, and aboriginal education gets needed attention. But environment and new energy are losers with the closure of the National Roundtable on the Economy and Environment and no new funding for the SDTC, the foundation established by the Liberals that supports clean technologies with private sector partners.

Sticking to its five year old S&T strategy, the federal government says little about any new strategy or vision.. meanwhile, Canada's competitors are ramping up their long-term focus on innovation and discovery. The global dimensions of the budget are thin (with large cuts to aid and foreign policy) , and references to the current round of free trade agreements focusing on key markets in Asia and Latin America. There is also a much anticipated international education report to be tabled soon to deepen educational links between Canada and international partners.  

In short, the science, technology and research communities overall have benefited from this budget, but can expect to be on the hook increasingly to show value for money.  Savvy communication to the public and polity will matter."

Richard Hawkins, Ph.D.
Canada Research Chair in the Social Context of Technology, Professor in the Science, Technology and Society Program, and Fellow of the Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy, University of Calgary.
More information on Richard Hawkins

There been  much speculation about whether the first Federal budget from a majority Conservative government would strike out in bold new directions, or simply stay the course. For the most part it seems to have done the latter, especially on the science, technology and innovation file where rather higher expectations were at first indicated. The timely appearance of the Jenkins Report, and the apparent visibility of its sensible recommendations to policy makers in Ottawa, signaled some possibly significant changes in R&D policy at the very least. In the end, and despite moving in the general direction of several Jenkins recommendations, there is little here that indicates significant re-assessment or prioritization of the Canadian science, technology and innovation portfolio at the Federal level.

Most of the Jenkins recommendations that are reflected in the budget concern administrative changes that were long overdue and required no particularly imaginative stroke to address. Accordingly, most of the actions put forward mostly tweak the existing system in some respect. Where allocations are increased, the amounts are relatively minor – and made apparently without reference to any coherent strategy, as evidenced by substantial money trails, for connecting investments in “invention” (because that is all R&D is) with the broad scope and potential of Canadian industry as a whole to innovate, a phenomenon that goes well beyond invention and R&D as such. Contrary to the most visionary of the Jenkins recommendations, it would appear that the fate of the Federal science, technology and innovation portfolio is to remain largely a policy ghetto.  

The R&D tax credit system has been under critical scrutiny since it was begun, and most seem to agree that it has failed to meet expectations. Reforming it is a no-brainer, although it is not entirely clear whether the reforms outlined in this Budget will necessarily result in less federal money flowing to companies via this route, or that it will improve returns on this investment. The rules will change, but doubtless they will continue to reward lawyers and accountants in the accustomed fashion. Moreover, although certainly putting all of the eggs in the fiscal basket was a terrible strategy, simply redistributing them will not necessarily induce a better outcome. The actual evidence on this point, such as it is from rather too few economic studies, does not actually indicate that one form of government subsidy has much of an overall advantage over another. What really makes a difference is who actually does the R&D. As Jenkins rightly stressed, it is the business contribution, not the government contribution, that really counts here.

The most positive indication in the Budget is recognition that, ultimately, new companies don’t need subsidies, they need markets. In every OECD country, government is the biggest single customer. Again, the evidence shows that this is the one form of government investment in R&D performers that can yield consistently high conversion coefficients in terms of inducing innovation-led growth in the private sector. For the Budget to acknowledge this is a positive step, although only a tiny new resource allocation appears to have been added to programs that assist companies in learning to leverage government contracts in this way.

Substantially increased support for IRAP (Industrial Research Assistance Program), one of the few Federal programs that smaller innovative companies generally view with favor, is another positive step. However, the task of transforming the NRC (National Research Council of Canada) as a whole has received a rather disappointing allocation of $67m, an amount that might cover some of the cosmetic costs of conversion, but is completely out of line with what are likely to be the real costs of creating a much needed intermediate tier in Canada’s innovation system, similar to Germany’s Fraunhofer or Holland’s TNO. Under its new leadership, the NRC is finally making this effort seriously. It is a shame that the Budget does not give them more encouragement.

The budget is at its most disappointing with respect to the role of higher education in the innovation system. This is important in that universities constitute the one part of the system the depends almost entirely upon the public purse. Statements about “reallocations” in research councils may be innocent, but they smack of  government setting the research agenda; prioritizing research spending according to assumptions that one form of knowledge has more market value than another. Economies grow largely because they are  able diversify and create new combinations of production factors. In a knowledge economy, diversity is everything, making the notion that you can pick or prioritize knowledge winners the most erroneous of all erroneous assumptions. Moreover, public investment in “blue sky” science has been shown consistently to yield the highest coefficients in terms of stimulating and supporting innovation. This unencumbered exploratory capability is also what virtually every survey has shown to be the principal value of university research to business. The Budget has a decidedly competitive agenda on the business side, but on the basic research side there is more than a tinge of winner picking.

The main focus of the Budget, however, is not on basic research, but on knowledge transfer, commercialization and industry partnerships. The problem is that there seems to be no awareness at all of how closely these outcomes are related to increasing our strengths in basic research. One cannot be prioritized and not the other. This is a lesson that our principal competitors learned long ago, but that we in Canada has yet to learn, so it seems.

The biggest overall winner in the Budget is the fossil fuels sector and the biggest loser is the environmental sector. The tragedy is that nobody seems to be making a connection between the goal of becoming an energy superpower and the goal of becoming a knowledge economy.  Indeed, with the curious exception of Forestry, none of Canada’s huge resource and agri-food industries are mentioned in the same breath as R&D and innovation. If someone does not start connecting the resource, environment and agriculture files to the innovation file significantly and soon,  a budget ten years from now is likely to begin with the exactly the same dire statistics about business R&D performance in Canada as appear in the present one. If the goal is to be an energy super-power, and that is a reasonable goal, someone needs to look long and hard at what kind of superpower we want to be. Do we want to look like the US or Norway, who have leveraged energy resources intelligently to create knowledge industries, or like Venezuela and Saudi Arabia, who have not? If anyone would simply look, they would find that many Canadian companies are already very successful in this space. These should be our models.

The most significant omission from the Budget statement is any sense of overall strategy or plan for the future, based upon what Canada’s current strengths and weaknesses are. A great opportunity has been  lost here, in favor of a rather helter-skelter assemblage of measures and allocations based upon a lot of dubious and sometimes spurious assumptions about innovation as an economic phenomenon and how it contributes to growth and employment. We can only hope that somewhere down the line someone will realize that new engines of growth are not created merely by turning the knobs on old engines.

Peter W. B. Phillips
Professor, Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, University of Saskatchewan
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Peter Phillips is available for interviews

The focus on science, technology and innovation (STI) in yesterday's federal budget surprised me—really!

While the Conservative government has been quietly talking about and studying our investments in science and their impact on the economy, it was far from clear until the budget speech that they would actually do anything.

As a scholar who studies innovation policy in Canada, I had the feeling that this government was never going to make any decisions.  The structure of federal STI institutions, programs and spending is mostly a holdover from the Chretien government, and it is beginning to show its age.  While the Conservatives in minority set up a range of expert advisory groups—such the Science and Technology Innovation Council (STIC) and the Jenkins expert panel on R&D—and got significant advice that things can and should be changed, they seemed to be indifferent to the policy issue.

During the general election in 2011, the Conservative Party platform was silent on the area of STI—moreover, there was virtually nothing said about STI during the campaign itself.  So it was hard to get a sense of what the government might do in this field.

In some ways, the details are secondary to the shift in message.  The budget—or as they style it 'Action Plan'—is entitled 'Jobs, Growth and Long-Term Prosperity' and the first set of substantive measures in the plan relate to supporting entrepreneurs, innovators and world-class research. Compared to past budgets, this is a dramatic shift in focus.

What that means in practice is less clear.  There were 17 specific measures the government announced in the budget details, ranging from $6.5 million over three years for research at McMaster University into health care delivery to $500 million over five years to sustain the Canadian Foundation of Innovation.

A quick scan of the 17 highlighted items suggests the government is seriously taking the advice it was given.  The key message of most of the expert advisory groups in recent years is that Canada's significant investments in science in the past decade have led to research excellence, but that too little of the results have been translated into use. In short the economic returns on the investment are inadequate.

This budget starts to address that.  First, core funding for science infrastructure (such as the CFI, the granting councils, Genome Canada, CANARIE and CIAR) has been sustained. But somewhat surprisingly, the rumored changes at the National Research Council appear to be proceeding, with $67 million allocated to refocus the institutes to become business-led and industry-relevant. Given that the NRC is Canada's single largest R&D organization, this will have a significant long-term impact on Canada's performance—some are enthusiastic and many are skeptical about the new direction.

Second, the budget has indicated the government intends to invest heavily in translating research results into use.  The government announced $400 million to spur creation of large-scale venture capital funds, another $100 million for the Business Development Bank of Canada, a federal agency, to support venture capital and $110 million to double resources for the NRC Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP), which offers support for small and medium sized businesses to adapt and adopt technology.  A half dozen other extended, renewed or new programs will spend $226 million to accelerate commercialization of science.
How does it add up?  The budget identifies almost $1.6 billion of discrete targeted spending (compared with a federal budgetary base of $10 billion annually on research related investments). But at the same time it  announced a set of changes to the Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SRED) program, including revising some of the rules and lowering the tax credit rate, with the plan to reduce the tax expenditure by about $1.3 billion, about one-third of the cost from 2011.  While some companies may be unhappy, there is significant support in the research and business community for the intent behind the changes, if not the impact.

If there is one take home message, it would be that science, technology and innovation policy and programming is now at the core of the government's fiscal plans and changes are happening. While the changes may be slow and small at the start, they could be the most important measures in the budget that will define the future of Canada.

Robert Dalpé
Associate Professor, Department of political science, Université de Montréal
More information on Robert Dalpé

1.  Les principales annonces concernent le soutien à l’entreprise visant à augmenter les dépenses en R-D et accélérer  l’innovation. Ceci est tout à fait convergent avec les interventions du gouvernement  conservateur depuis son arrivée au pouvoir. La priorité est accordée à l’entreprise.

Ces mesures visent à répondre à un problème structurant de l’industrie canadienne, identifié déjà dans les années 70 : le niveau relativement  bas de ses dépenses de R-D. Certaines de ces mesures sont souhaitées depuis longtemps, notamment une augmentation du budget du Programme d’aide à la recherche industrielle du CNRC.

Pour la science et les universités, c’est plus modeste. Toujours dans l’optique du gouvernement conservateur, des nouveaux fonds sont attribués pour la commercialisation de la recherche et des projets spéciaux intéressant spécifiquement l’industrie.

Je souligne deux limites. La première est que le gouvernement accorde beaucoup d’importance au secteur des ressources, mais il est quand même dommage que la science, la technologie et l’innovation ne fassent pas davantage partie des grandes orientations du secteur des ressources. A cet égard, le Programme d’innovation forestière me semble une très bonne idée. La deuxième est l’appui à la recherche universitaire que je garde pour mon deuxième commentaire.

2. Pour ce qui est de la recherche interne au gouvernement et du financement général de la recherche universitaire, il est trop tôt pour se faire une idée. Le budget ne donne pas de précisions sur les réductions budgétaires des organismes les plus actifs en science et technologie. C’est certainement l’enjeu principal du budget.

Le Budget fournit des chiffres quand même assez précis sur les cibles de réduction. Cependant, lorsqu’il s’agit d’indiquer où elles seront réalisées il y a uniquement quelques projets qui sont pour la plupart insignifiants. L’abolition de quelques organismes de consultation ou la fusion de quelques agences de contrôle représentent des économies faibles.

Dans les prochains mois, il faudra rester vigilant. Les cibles de réduction sont autour de 6% pour la santé et l’industrie, principaux bailleurs de fonds de la recherche universitaire. Quelles seront les priorités ? Idem pour la recherche interne avec de fortes concentrations à l’industrie, aux ressources naturelles (cibles de – 10%)  et à l’environnement (cible de – 8%). Le gouvernement devra s’assurer de maintenir cette importante infrastructure de recherche.

Digvir Jayas
Vice-President (Research and International) at the University of Manitoba. Dr. Jayas is a Distinguished Professor and former Canada Research Chair, who sits on many scientific boards such as ArcticNet, Agriculture Institute of Canada, and Engineers Canada.
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Dr. Jayas is available for interviews

Regarding the federal government’s investments in research and scientific programs:

The focus of the federal government’s budget on jobs growth and long-term prosperity is not only in the caption of the budget document but is also through its actions and investments in research, innovation and commercialization.   The federal government should be commended and congratulated for its long-term vision to increase productivity and prosperity for Canadians through investments in all aspects of research, development and commercialization (RDC).  This is of particular significance because the government has done this under tight fiscal conditions.  

These investments will help Canada in retaining the best and the brightest in Canada and in attracting the best minds from around the world at all levels: undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, researchers and knowledge workers.    

Investments in research and innovation are through granting councils, Genome Canada, Canada Foundation for Innovation, CANARIE, Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, Industrial Research and Development Internship program, National Research Council’s Industrial Assistance Research Program (IRAP) and other federal departments.  All of these investments will contribute to different aspects of the RDC.     

Most entrepreneurs will tell you that in the process of taking an idea to a commercial product, the most difficult step is to raise funds in the early stages.  The government’s investment of $400 million in early-stage risk capital to support creation of large-scale venture capital funds led by the private sector is an excellent and visionary move.  It mirrors what has been done in other successful innovative and knowledge economies such as Israel.  

Benefits to Students

First and foremost commercialization activities help students to learn about what is involved in commercialization.  It gives them opportunities to develop entrepreneurship skills through which they contribute to the growth of economy in Canada and the world. If an idea results in a product through a spin-off company, that company provides part-time and full-time job opportunities for students.  If the idea is licensed to an existing company which then could grow a new product line and thus creating additional job opportunities.

Converting an idea into a product or process could pose many challenges which provide further opportunities for students to learn while finding solutions to these challenges.
Pascale Lehoux
Professor, Department of Health Administration
Chairholder, Canada Research Chair in Health Innovation
Institut de recherche en santé publique de l’Université de Montréal (IRSPUM)
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Phone: (514) 343 7978

En matière de R&D et d’innovation en santé, le budget fédéral 2012 impose aux contribuables des choix à court terme qui ne permettront ni de soutenir une pratique scientifique qui serve le bien commun, ni de cultiver un entrepreneuriat qui puisse générer une prospérité durable au pays. L’idéologie sous-jacente à ce budget est fortement imprégnée du modèle américain au sein duquel l’instauration du Bayh-Dole Act, il y a 30 ans, a donné une impulsion sans équivoque aux universités: la commercialisation de la recherche.

Or, tenter de transposer au Canada cette idéologie et son “système d’innovation”, qui entremêle les intérêts et confond les rôles de l’industrie, de l’État et de l’université, revient à vouloir cultiver des palmiers dans les rocheuses (voire, dans les sables bitumineux ?). Non seulement notre contexte n’est pas propice à ce système d’innovation, mais la pelouse sera toujours plus verte au sud, là où le tissu industriel, le capital de risque et l’entrepreneuriat seront nécessairement toujours beaucoup plus aptes à tirer profit de ce modèle de R&D.

Imaginons un exemple. Des universitaires et des cliniciens canadiens, financés à même nos fonds publics, s’attèlent à développer une nouvelle technologie médicale. Ils choisissent de créer une spin-off et d’obtenir du capital de risque afin de poursuivre la R&D et d’effectuer les essais cliniques qui leur permettront d’obtenir l’autorisation de commercialiser leur nouveau produit. À un moment ou l’autre, la pression des investisseurs qui voudront récupérer un substantiel retour sur leur mise de fonds initiale les amènera à intensifier leurs efforts de commercialisation. Tôt au tard, le constat sera brutal: il leur est impossible de conquérir le marché américain. Ils doivent alors mettre en vente leur jeune entreprise. Qui l’achètera? Un large manufacturier d’appareils médicaux bien établi et jouissant d’une immense force de vente aux États-Unis.

Dans cet exemple, les contribuables ont payé de leurs poches la R&D et ils payeront à nouveau lorsque le manufacturier américain viendra vendre à nos hôpitaux une toute nouvelle technologie ... pensée et conçue au Canada. De plus, entre le moment où la R&D aura été amorcée et le moment où les patients canadiens y auront accès, les emplois créés par cette entreprise au Canada auront fondus comme neige au soleil et nos universitaires et cliniciens n’auront pas consacré 100% de leur temps à faire le métier pour lequel ils sont payés: produire des connaissances fondamentales.

Par ailleurs, l’idéologie sous-jacente au budget fédéral 2012, comme celle endossée depuis quelques années par notre principal organisme de financement de la recherche en santé —les Instituts de recherche en santé du Canada— confond les rôles et les compétences des scientifiques et ceux des entrepreneurs. Demanderiez-vous à un mécanicien de s’improviser coiffeur, et vice-versa ? Et pour obtenir quel service: une mise en pli ou une vérification annuelle de votre automobile ?

Il est grand temps de reconnaître qu’une des raisons principales pour laquelle les entreprises désirent se rapprocher des universitaires réside justement en leur capacité d’innover, de réfléchir et de repousser les frontières de la connaissance et, ceci, dans le terreau le plus propice qui soit : celui d’une université soutenue et valorisée par l’État. Notre bien commun s’y loge, tout comme l’opportunité de repenser le tissu industriel et l’entrepreneuriat dont notre pays a besoin pour assurer sa propre pérennité.

Michel A. Bouchard
Professor, Departments of Civil, Geological and Mine engineering, École Polytechnique de Montréal; Senior Associate, McGill-UNEP Collaborative Center in Environmental Assessment
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While there are some positive initiatives in the recently announced federal budget, it can hardly be qualified as an advancement in environmental protection in Canada. Built-in consultations with aboriginal populations is one of the positive feature, if however, consultation is understood as a real participatory involvement. The most visible "improvement" is certainly the principle of "one project-one review" and binding timelines; this is highly welcomed because it should bring to an end the inefficient systematic duplications and overlaps between provincial regulations and the federal review process, at least, in theory.

Practically, this may however be seen as a setback if provincial or territorial regulations being applied are not checked and upgraded to the highest previous federal standards in recognized federal responsibilities, such as Freshwater and Fisheries protection, and others.  Seemingly, efforts will be concentrated  towards big projects where the federal process would still apply. However, it is hardly conceivable that for those same projects, provinces would forfeit their legal obligations, with the results that in fact, duplication and overlaps would still remain, but paradoxically only for those same projects that the federal government would like to see processed more rapidly. Introducing binding time lines to the review for those projects can also only be applied to the federal process;  it could not be binding to the provincial or territorial regulation.

The decreased role of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency is also seen as a setback, as it opens the door to possible variable methodological approaches, and perhaps, variable standards, for different project's assessment. Perhaps the most troubling perspective in the announced measures is the importance of what was not included and the missed opportunities to develop an integrated approach to environmental assessment. While the federal government may pull back from "small projects" assessment, it should have strengthen and formalized the practice of strategic environmental assessment, and chosen to formally examine at a strategic level, upstream even from large projects, the environmental implications of various patterns of development including energy choices, long-term environmental protection targets, or climate change mitigation.

Meinhard Doelle
Associate Professor of Law
Associate Director, Marine & Environmental Law Institute
Dalhousie University, Schulich School of Law
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The biggest hurdles for the timelines in most cases that I have been involved with has been inadequate information provided by proponents in the review process.  I recently served on an EA panel, which took about 2.5 years from the time we were appointed to the time we released our report.  Two years of this time was spent trying to get information we needed for our process from the proponent.  We had 45 days to conduct our hearings and 90 days to write our report.  I should point out that the two governments took over six months to respond to our report, longer than we took to conduct the hearings and write our report.  This is not a criticism of the two governments, it is rather a sign that the issues are complex, and that it is important
to take the time to understand the complexity of the issues.

The biggest concern I have with artificially putting time limits on the process is that it will further erode the quality of the information available to decision-makers.  The bigger and complex the project, the greater the risk that a proper assessment simply is not possible.  The level of public interest also has an impact on the time required to do good EA.  Public engagement should be seen as a valuable contribution, which means that the more people are interested in a project the better.  This means we should accomodate high levels of interest, not artificially limiting the time for an environmental assessment.

Last Updated on Monday, 02 April 2012 15:43