A report calling for a new fund for international science and technology (S&T) has already been partially answered by Paul Martin with a $100 million contribution to the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI). But the announcement of new funding by the Finance minister in his so-called mini-budget only responds to a small fraction of the report's wide ranging recommendations, which cuts to the heart of the problems associated with Canadian scientific participation in the global arena, and call for a coordinated effort to restore Canada's standing in the international S&T community.
The CFI funding announced by Martin is a one-time infusion of capital, whereas the report by the expert panel of the Advisory Council on Science and Technology (ACST) recommends that the new fund be financed at a minimum of $150 million annually, an amount representing approximately 5% of annual federal S&T expenditures. The fund being proposed would be open to government and the private sector, as well as academics, and is not intended to replace core funding in government departments and agencies. It is intended for high-level scientific collaboration and while it can be used for new opportunities, it is generally meant to supplement other funding already in place.
Entitled Reaching Out: Canada, International Science and Technology, and the Knowledge-based Economy, the report paints a picture of international S&T in dire need of increases resources and a comprehensive strategy to ensure that the new funding is efficiently and effectively allocated.
The ACST report also recommends that a separate fund be established to assist smaller Canadian businesses in the international arena. It urges the government to consider giving the responsibility for managing the fund to the National Research Council's Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP). The expert panel argues that IRAP's highly decentralized structure and solid connections make it the ideal vehicle for assisting firms in improving market access, negotiating intellectual property rights and preparing submissions for international funding programs.
"The federal government and its partners can no longer ignore or delay the development of a comprehensive strategic plan to enhance Canada's participation in international S&T" - ACST Expert Panel
The Expert panel's third and final recommendation focuses on government policy and is almost certain to cause the greatest degree of debate. It urges the creation of an executive committee to oversee the new funds to be established, define policy and undertake other administrative functions.
The controversial aspect of this recommendation is for the committee to be jointly chaired by the DM's of Industry Canada and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) - a model hotly contested during the consultation phase of the expert panel's activities.
Senior policy officials inside and outside of government express serious misgivings with such an arrangement, arguing that it doesn't resolve the serious lack of coordination that has hampered Canada's international S&T effort.
"That's the idea that was panned at the meeting in Ottawa," says one insider who participated in the consultations. "The vast majority in attendance said it was a bad idea."
A government official familiar with the international S&T portfolio agrees that the joint management scenario is likely unworkable. "Both Industry Canada and DFAIT have had opportunities in the past and they both screwed it up," he says. "International S&T is currently driven too much by industrial interests, rather than science interests. There's no real champion for S&T in government."
The expert panel limited itself to three recommendations, but included a number of other suggestions, including the pressing need for the development of a national S&T strategy and a set of priorities. It also suggested that government consider extending the SR&ED tax incentive program to R&D conducted outside of Canada.