Increases to NRC and IRAP budgets permit modest advances in several areas
March 7, 2003
The National Research Council (NRC) has received a modest financial boost to its regional innovation cluster strategy with $10-million boost to its base budget. The new funding will be used four ways by allowing the agency to establish technology centres in Charlottetown and Regina (R$, February 5/03), as well as clearing the way for participation in two international astronomy projects.
The NRC’s Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP) fared better in over all dollar terms, receiving $a 25-million increase to base funding to expand its core programming. But the increase is largely illusory and falls far short of the doubling of its budget that IRAP was seeking to implement its new strategic plan.
After initial confusion, both NRC and IRAP have received “strong assurances” from the central agencies that the new funding is permanent.
“We have stable funding as a result of the new money,” says IRAP DG Margot Montgomery. “I take the budget wording as support for the basic core of our network. We are challenged to show how we can strengthen the network and undertake our new strategic direction effectively without new resources.”
The funding permits little more than undertaking an expensive repatriation of IRAP’s industrial technology assistants (ITAs) and replacing sunsetting money provided by the regional agencies within the Industry Canada portfolio. Currently, two thirds of IRAPs 260 ITAs are employed by partner organizations with financial support from IRAP. Bringing them in-house will cost between $11 million and $13 million annually, while the sunsetting regional agency support amounts to $12 million.
Under its strategic plan, IRAP was planning to fund larger projects directly and increase the number of small firms receiving assistance under its joint program with Technology Partnerships Canada. Montgomery says the immediate focus will be on implementation of the early stages of the strategic plan “in the context of what the Budget gave us” combined with internal reallocation and increased partnering.
The NRC’s Budget increase provides a green light for regional cluster development in two cities, fewer than requested before the Budget but good news for researchers in Regina and Charlottetown. The NRC will spend $2 million annually in Regina to implement plans to develop a Sustainable Communities Institute in conjunction with the City of Regina and the Univ of Regina. Annual funding of $4 million will be devoted to establishing a regional innovation centre for bioactives in human and marine health in Charlottetown –— a first for the NRC in Prince Edward Island.
Canadian participation in two major astronomy projects will absorb the remaining portion of NRC’s Budget allocation. The NRC will spend $4 million annually on the Extended Very Large Array project in New Mexico and the Atacama Large Millimetre Array project in Chile. Without the funding was, Canada was in danger of being excluded from these cutting-edge astronomy projects.
In a letter to staff, Dr Arthur Carty acknowledged that the NRC did not achieve all of its objectives in the Budget. But he noted that new spending in other areas offered significant potential for additional activities.
“Through other Government initiatives and investments, we will have new opportunities to pursue priorities in areas such as health, sustainable development technologies, to build new partnerships with researchers in universities and to encourage industrial innovation,” Carty wrote.