British Columbia Budget provides funding in key areas of knowledge economy
March 16, 2006
Major turnaround for S&T
After years of focusing on enhancing the general state of the economy, the British Columbia budget has delivered a budget late last month with several major S&T initiatives in areas where it aims to have a major social and economic impact. The initiatives target health research, the life sciences and digital media, as well as specific diseases such as Alzheimer research. The Budget also provides fresh evidence that the S&T portfolio is beginning to be consolidated within the Ministry of Advanced Education, and to a lesser extent the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Small Business and Economic Development.
The Budget measures include $50 million to jump start a new endowment for natural resources and applied sciences, and $40.5 million to launch a graduate program in digital media as part of the recently established Great Northern Way Campus. Located in downtown Vancouver, the Campus is jointly founded by four post-secondary institutions. The Budget also completes a Feb/05 commitment to provide $100 million over three years to the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research (MSFHR), which is emerging as a major force for building provincial health research capacity.
"The Budget's investment in research is absolutely critical," says Jim Mutter, president of the Premier's Technology Council (PTC). "It's becoming a very competitive world out there and we need to start investing today for outcomes down the road. The government is looking for ways to have a real impact with targeted outcomes."
The decision to step up investment in provincial S&T follows a turnaround in BC's economy, driven by higher energy prices and signs of real strength in sectors such as life sciences and digital media. It also marks a new, more proactive approach to stimulating innovation after years of planning and strategizing.
"With a new minister, new deputy minister and this Budget, it signals that BC understands the importance of knowledge, innovation, research and science" says Dr David Dolphin, CEO of the BC Innovation Council (BCIC). "In the past the province has come up to the plate but this time there is a more significant emphasis on research and education."
The BCIC was created in 2004 through the merger of the Science Council of BC and the BC Advanced Systems Institute. It has been groomed to take on more responsibilities and the Budget hands it the role of administering the natural resources and applied sciences endowment. Dolphin says the endowment, which is intended to focus on the resource sector and applied research, will initially have about $2 million available annually.
"It's still being worked on. It will start off small because we have to live off the interest, but there's hope that this is the first tranche," he says. "It's similar to Alberta's Ingenuity Fund but on a smaller scale. Alberta is going to be competitive on a grand scale so I hope it will wake the competition up in other provinces."
MICHAEL SMITH FOUNDATION SCORES BIG
In the health sector, the second installment of the government's commitment to the MSFHR marks a major increase in the Foundation's budget. Created in 2001 by then premier Ujjal Dosanjh, the MSFHR was funded with $110 million over five years. The latest announcement provides $100 million over three years, which increases to $130 million when added to a $15-million carryover from its initial mandate and previously announced $15 million from the current government.
"This is a novel approach. It represents a strong government endorsement of a multi-year plan up to 2010," says Dr Aubrey Tingle, MSFHR president and CEO. "Our new strategic plan will continue with our personnel programs but it also contains a shift towards developing province-wide planning across institutional lines and marks the beginning of inter-provincial collaboration. The new flagship program is for developing province-wide technology and methodology platforms."
The MSFHR's strategic plan was developed through a bottom-up approach that involved six months of extensive consultation with the stakeholder community and others. Tingle says the presence of three DMs on the Foundation's board of directors was critical in conveying its key thrusts to government. As part of its mandate to serve BC, the MSFHR is forging ties with other provincial organizations and is a founding member of the National Alliance of Provincial Health Research Organizations (NAPHRO).
"We are a catalytic, capacity building organization as opposed to a granting council," says Tingle, comparing his organization to Quebec's Fonds de recherche en sant‚ de Qu‚bec. "The provinces recognize that because health care delivery is a provincial responsibility, they have to play a bigger role in health research."
The Budget also provides $15 million in funding to the Pacific Alzheimer Research Foundation, to be used to carry out the Foundation's mandate.
"The premier of BC is the first political leader to step up to the plate. This is the first provincial initiative for Alzheimer disease ever in Canada," says Dr Patrick McGeer, the Foundation's secretary-treasurer and a world renowned researcher of Alzheimer and other neurodegenerative diseases. "I hope the feds will finally start to do something in this area .... There have been many proposals made to the federal government and they have all been rebuffed. Their response is nothing short of scandalous."
The Foundation supports the relatively few Canadian scientists conducting research into ways to eradicate Alzheimer and related dementias.
|BC BUDGET - MAIN S&T INITIATIVES|
|Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research||70.0 ||Over 3 years|
|World Centre for Digital Media graduate program||40.5 || |
|Genome British Columbia||45.0 || |
|Pacific Alzheimer Research Foundation||15.0 ||lump sum|
|Natural Resources and Applied Sciences Endowment||50.0 ||endowment|
|Annual increase to Venture Capital Program||5.0 || |
|PST exemption for labour associated with computer software||N/A || |