S&T leaders pressure government to maintain timetable for Innovation Agenda

Guest Contributor
October 24, 2001

The resolve to stay the course with the federal innovation agenda received plenty of ammunition recently when a series of high-profile representatives from the S&T community appeared before the House of Commons Finance Standing Committee. Despite a dwindling federal surplus and the added expense of boosting domestic security and participating in military action against terrorism, the S&T leaders spoke loud and clear on the importance of continuing to finance the Innovation Agenda.

With the notable exception of the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA), a succession of submissions to the Committee earlier this month underlined the need for increased investment in a wide variety of areas.

By far the most costly requests were made by Robert Giroux, president of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC). Giroux placed his comments directly within the context of moving from 15th to fifth in R&D spending and proceeded to outline the area of greatest urgency and their accompanying price tags: indirect costs of university research ($400 million annually); research capacity building in smaller universities ($20-30 million annually for 10 years); doubling the budgets of the three granting councils and redressing the funding imbalance of social science and humanities research (at least $1 billion annually when fully implemented); and, additional direct support for masters and PhD students (no cost estimate).

“We believe there are ample grounds at the moment for postponing the launching of these initiatives until the budget surplus is in better shape.” — David Paterson, CATA

And Giroux went even further, calling attention to the accumulated cost of deferred maintenance, and proposing a one-time fund lasting several years with a federal investment of $1.2 billion annually. Joining Giroux at the Committee hearings was Dr Robert Lacroix, the AUCC’s board chair and chief administrative officer of the Univ of Montreal. It was Lacroix who acknow-ledged the “current economic uncertainty” facing the government. But he countered that one way to achieve stability was “to use part of a potential surplus and invest in university infrastructure”.

“I believe — and I believe this firmly — that delays, reversals, decreases, and cancellations in doing as a nation what we consider important would be a victory for the terrorists. They may never know what we’ve done, but we would know, and we would pay the price.” —

Dr Thomas Brzustowski, NSERC

Next to the AUCC, the cost of other requests paled in comparison although the message of remaining on track was repeatedly reinforced.

Dr Tom Brzustowski, president of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) was most forceful in his defence of staying on schedule, going as far as to state that any delays, reversals, decreases or cancelations in the Innovation Agenda would be “a victory for the terrorists”. Brzustowski reiterated NSERC’s long-standing request for additional funding and singled out indirect costs as a particularly urgent issue.

“If we impose high standards of administrative competence and high standards of accountability and reporting, the universities may not be able to meet them,” he stated.

“To turn things around, I believe that investing in university infrastructure and regular research budgets are the best avenues for eliminating uncertainty, stabilizing the economy, and increasing Canadian economic growth over the long-term.” — Robert Lacroix, Univ of Montreal

Dr Marc Renaud, president Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, joined the chorus for increased granting agency funding, pointing out that social sciences and humanities account for “55% of the professoriate”. He noted that SSHRC does not yet have a masters program and decried the heavy levels of debt incurred by students in the university system.His presentation was capped by a plea to continue investing in universities despite “the troubled times we’re living in”.


Perhaps the most compelling argument for continued new investment in innovation was presented by Dr Arthur Carty, president of the National Research Council (NRC). He couched his statement in the context of the September 11 attacks and argued that ongoing support for innovation was critical in times of national uncertainty.

“When a national emergency or major crisis strikes, there is always a widespread realization that the technological resources the country needs to respond depend upon decisions that were made, or should have been made, 10 or more years ago,” he explained. “We must absolutely ... look beyond immediate problems to new possibilities, a positive future, and the interests of our children’s children.”

Carty noted that many of the technologies Canada is now using in the war against terrorism came from NRC labs and stemmed from research that was funded years ago when there was no imminent threat.


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