Canada’s Budget Puts Money Where Its Science Is

The 2018 federal budget adds $3.8 billion in science funding over five years, a welcome departure from the trend in recent years.


Cautiously optimistic Canadian scientists heard the announcement they’d been fighting for when Finance Minister Bill Morneau made his 2018 budget speech earlier this week.

“Budget 2018 represents the single largest investment in investigator-led fundamental research in Canadian history,” said Morneau to the House of Commons on Tuesday.

Morneau’s multi-year plan extends approximately $3.8 billion in new federal science funding, spread out over the next five years (scroll to the table at the bottom of the following link to see the full list of how much is being allocated to various programs and when).

Some of the highlights of the new research funding include:

  • $925 million to Canada’s tri-council funding agencies: the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC); this funding will support investigator-led basic research, giving them the freedom to pursue topics of their choice without having to gain support from commercial or corporate partnerships;
  • $275 million for a new fund, administered by SSHRC, to foster “international, interdisciplinary, fast-breaking and higher-risk” research, much of which will be earmarked for early- and mid-career researchers;
  • $210 million to boost the Canada Research Chairs program;
  • $763 million for the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI) to invest in research equipment, making the CFI funding pool permanent instead of adding funds to it sporadically; Morneau pledges an annual CFI budget of $462 million by 2023.

In particular, the emphasis on investigator-led research is a welcome one. Basic research, with no particular commercial interest in mind, underlies groundbreaking innovation.

“We’re in a climate where scholars are increasingly encouraged to get funding from private sources,” says Deborah Cowen, professor of geography at the University of Toronto. “But for many of the most important questions we have, it’s a kind of public interest that’s at stake. Their importance is not defined by whether they’re immediately relevant to the private sector.”

Canadian researchers explain why public funding is so important to the future of scientific discoveries in our country.

“We all understand that science has led to major changes in the way we live day today, and in the general well-being of society. But it’s almost never done so with that aim originally in mind,” adds Aephraim Steinberg, professor of physics at the University of Toronto.

“Science can be turned into practical applications, but only by valuing the science itself at the same time, by thinking of it as a creative endeavour which will lead to unanticipatable discoveries that may then turn into the next computers, or the next spaceships.”

Canadian researchers reflect on the long term benefits of investing in science & innovation research.

Morneau also reiterated his commitment to diversity and gender parity in the sciences.

“We’ll make sure that the new money for research supports the next generation of researchers, so that we can build a science community that looks more like Canada—more diverse, and with a greater number of women,” said Morneau.

For years, Canada had been falling behind on federal research funding. In the 2015 election, frustrated scientists rallied to make science an election issue.

Then 2017 saw more signs of hope: the federal government appointed a new Chief Science Advisor after years without one; Science Minister Kirsty Duncan commissioned a panel of experts to review Canadian research, and they produced Canada’s Fundamental Science Review (commonly called the Naylor Report after the panel’s chair, former University of Toronto President David Naylor). The report details a roadmap of recommendations to build a world-class federal research program.

But 2017 also saw no significant boost to research spending. The funding issue was later placed at the core of the Naylor Report recommendations, putting forth a suggested annual boost of $1.3 billion to the federal research budget.

For months, researchers, students, universities, and other stakeholders have been vocal in their support of the Naylor Report (#supportthereport), hoping to influence Budget 2018.

While Budget 2018 falls short of the amount recommended in the Naylor report, it’s a step in the right direction, and confirmation that the voices of Canada’s science community were heard.

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Karyn Ho is a science animator and engineer who thrives at the interface between science, engineering, medicine, and art. She earned her MScBMC (biomedical communications) and PhD (chemical engineering and biomedical engineering) at the University of Toronto. Karyn is passionate about using cutting edge discoveries to create dynamic stories as a way of supporting innovation, collaboration, education, and informed decision making. By translating knowledge into narratives, her vision is to captivate people, spark their curiosity, and motivate them to share what they learned.