The relatively modest investment in research described in Canada’s new federal budget could make it harder for the nation to hire and retain scientific talent, Canadian science fears.
The multi-year spending plan announced on April 19 includes $ 2.2 billion in mostly new funding for life sciences, but much of the money is aimed at boosting biomedical applications and developing vaccines. Many research groups had hoped for greater investment in basic research at a time when, just across the border, U.S. President Joe Biden was proposing large increases for the basic sciences.
Three major Canadian research councils will allocate 250 million CA for a new joint biomedical research grant program, and an additional 250 million will be allocated to Canadian Institutes of Health Research to fund clinical trials. Universities and research hospitals will receive $ 500 million for bioscience infrastructure such as equipment and buildings. The government also plans to provide new funding for an existing funding program – known as a national strategy – for artificial intelligence, as well as create two new national strategies for genomics and quantum science, each of which will receive about 400 million CA. Approximately 17 billion CA will go to efforts to develop low-carbon technologies, support green jobs and meet conservation goals such as protecting 25% of Canadian land and water by 2025.
Proponents of the research welcomed the focus on science as a way to fight the pandemic and rebuild the economy after it. “The 2021 budget is trying to balance the urgent challenges of a pandemic with a long-term view of recovery and growth,” said Otawa, the Canadian science advocacy group Evidence for Democracy. But the group also noted that the budget did not include significant increases for basic research, led by investigators.
The budget continues the government’s investments in science, which began in its budget for 2018. (Canadian spending plans often cover multiple years.) But the focus remains on targeted, boutique funding, rather than on the broad support for research in general that Canadian scientists have long advocated. “Politicians like to choose investment targets because they want to invest in things that can quickly lead to results,” says Abraham Fuchs, an immunology researcher at McGill University in Montreal. “But the science that helps the most is longer-term,” he added, noting that Canadian scientists have made a significant contribution to the basic science behind the current COVID-19 vaccines over several decades.
Before releasing the budget, Fuchs and his colleagues called on the government to provide large increases for basic science at the country’s three main research councils to keep pace with the United States in recruiting and retaining the next generation of scientists. This budget does not meet that requirement, he says, although he welcomed funding for bioscience infrastructure and especially clinical trials. “We don’t see a big investment in basic science that we think is necessary” to sustain research that may not pay off in years, he says.