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Budget 2023: Not much to see for science and research

Today, the Government of Canada tabled its 2023 budget. After spending the past few weeks managing expectations and signaling fiscal restraint, Minister Chrystia Freeland unveiled a budget with new spending focused on health and dental care, as well as clean energy. Against the backdrop of a national affordability crisis, the budget also contains targeted inflation relief measures, including a one-time “grocery rebate” for eligible households.
2023 Federal Budget

So, what does this budget table for science and research-related investments?

To recap: since making significant investments in the overall research ecosystem in response to the Fundamental Science Review in the 2018 budget, the federal government has taken the approach of wide-ranging targeted investments from year to year. These include the 2019 commitments to expand support for research trainees, followed by pandemic-focused funding throughout 2020, and investments in artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, and bioinnovation in 2021. Last year, the 2022 budget prioritized measures to accelerate innovation and build intellectual property, including the creation of a federal innovation and investment agency (newly coined the Canadian Innovation Corporation).

When it comes to science and research in the 2023 budget, there are investments in a few targeted areas — namely, natural resource development, new investments in the Canadian Space Agency, and an expansion of the College and Community Innovation Program. There are also investments related to transparency and data infrastructure, including investments to improve data collection for health and dental care.

But when it comes to the long-standing challenges in Canada’s science and research ecosystem, budget 2023 more or less kicks the can down the road. The federal government leans on the new Report of the Advisory Panel on the Federal Research Support System as an IOU of sorts, stating that it “is carefully considering the Advisory Panel’s advice, with more detail to follow in the coming months on further efforts to modernize the system.”

We note that this budget does not include increases to the base funding for the federal funding agencies, nor an announcement of the third-party science and research organizations to be supported through the Strategic Science Fund. Between the Advisory Panel Report, the Report from the Standing Committee on Science and Research, and the calls by the grassroots Support Our Science campaign, the federal government has many sources to call on for inspiration when it comes to next moves on investing in science and research in Canada.

Below, we highlight key science and research-related investments in Budget 2023.

Investments in science and research

  • $108.6 million over three years to expand the College and Community Innovation Program, administered by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, to help Canadian businesses access expertise, research and development facilities.
  • $3 billion over 13 years to Natural Resources Canada to:
    • Support regional priorities and Indigenous-led projects through the Smart Renewables and Electrification Program, and add transmission projects to the program’s eligibility;
    • Create new investments in science-based activities to help capitalize on Canada’s offshore wind potential;
    • Renew the smart grid program to continue to support electricity grid innovation.
  • $368.4 million over three years, with $3.1 million in remaining amortization, to Natural Resources Canada to renew and update forest sector support, including for research and development, Indigenous and international leadership, and data. ($30.1 million will be sourced from existing departmental resources).
  • $333 million over ten years for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to support investments in research and development of new products based on solids non-fat (SNF), as well as market development and processing capacity.
  • Investments supporting new and enhanced federal initiatives under the Action Plan for Official Languages, 2023-28, including:
    • $117 million to ensure the prosperity of official language minority communities, which includes the promotion of French-language research; and
    • $22.1 million for a centre of expertise to ensure federal institutions fulfill their duty, under the Official Languages Act, including supporting data and research on the number of children who have a right to be educated in the minority language.
  • $16.7 million over five years to Public Safety Canada to continue to support research on work-related trauma and injuries through the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment.

Investments in space

  • $1.1 billion over 14 years to the Canadian Space Agency to continue Canada’s participation in the International Space Station until 2030.
  • $1.2 billion over 13 years, starting in 2024-25, to the Canadian Space Agency to develop and contribute a lunar utility vehicle to assist astronauts on the moon.
  • $150 million over five years to the Canadian Space Agency for the next phase of the Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program to support Canada’s space industry and help accelerate the development of new technologies.
  • $76.5 million over eight years to the Canadian Space Agency in support of Canadian science on the Lunar Gateway station.

Investments in data infrastructure

A number of data access and infrastructure-related commitments have been outlined in the 2023 federal budget, including the following:

  • $505 million over five years to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, Canada Health Infoway, and other federal data partners to work with provinces and territories to develop new health data indicators, support the creation of a Centre of Excellence on health worker data, advance digital health tools, and support provincial and territorial efforts to use data to improve the safety and quality of health care.
    Note: this complements a commitment outlined in the health transfers ($195.8 billion over ten years) to provinces and territories — specifically, that in exchange for this funding, provinces and territories have been asked to improve how health information is collected, shared, used, and reported to Canadians, and adopt common data standards.
  • $15.3 million over three years to Public Safety Canada to create a publicly accessible online portal where Canadians can access information on their exposure to flooding.
  • $23.1 million over two years to Statistics Canada to collect data on oral health and access to dental care in Canada, which will inform the implementation of the Canadian Dental Care Plan.

Proposed Legislation

Canada Innovation Corporation Act: a proposal to introduce legislation to establish the Canada Innovation Corporation, a new Crown corporation with a mandate to increase Canadian business expenditure on research and development across all sectors and regions of Canada.
Modernizing the National Research Council: a proposal to introduce legislative amendments to the National Research Council Act, as well as any other consequential, coordinating or transitional amendments as necessary, to provide the National Research Council with operational flexibilities to better ensure it can provide hands-on support to Canada’s innovators through timely access to specialized facilities and expertise.

Opportunities for science and expert advice

  • The federal government is exploring new ways to be more efficient and effective in the development and production of the vaccines, therapies, and diagnostic tools that would be required for future health emergencies. This will involve consulting Canadian and international experts on how to best organize readiness efforts for health emergencies.
  • In Budget 2022, the federal government announced its intention to review the Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) tax incentive program to ensure it is providing adequate support and improving the development, retention, and commercialization of intellectual property, including the consideration of adopting a patent box regime. The Department of Finance is continuing to engage with stakeholders on the next steps in the coming months.
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