Budget 2019 Supports the Next Generation of Canadian Scientists

Tuesday, March 19, 2019 - 18:35

Last year, Budget 2018 made an historic investment in science and research, with a more than $1.7 Billion of new funding for fundamental research. Many of these 2018 investments were direct responses to Canada’s Fundamental Science Review in 2017; recommendations made by a panel of experts on how to better support science across Canada.

This year we are pleased to see Budget 2019 expand on that solid investment with continued support for science, research and evidence. We’re especially thrilled to see investments in graduate student scholarships in-line with the Fundamental Science Review Recommendations and new initiatives to make science more inclusive and accessible including more support for parental leave for students and postdocs and new ways to support Indigenous students (details below).

Support for Research Trainees and Access to Post-Secondary Education

Budget 2019 has a strong focus on development of skills and training for Canadians. This includes new funding for research trainees and initiatives to make post-secondary education accessible to all Canadians.

Scholarships

Although Budget 2018 addressed many of the key recommendations from the Fundamental Science Review, one of the key outstanding recommendations pertained to new funding support for research trainees in graduate programs, such as master’s and doctoral students, and postdoctoral fellows.

We were thrilled to see this addressed in Budget 2019, which proposes to provide “$114 million over five years, starting in 2019–20, with $26.5 million per year ongoing, to the federal granting councils—the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council—to create 500 more master’s level scholarship awards annually and 167 more three-year doctoral scholarship awards annually through the Canada Graduate Scholarship program.” (page 48)

This investment fulfils an outstanding recommendations from the Fundamental Science Review Report (the Review recommended $140 million over four years, the budget falls short of meeting this exact figure but is still a significant investment).

Paid Parental Leave for Student Researchers

As well, many students who are receiving federal research grants or scholarships are not a part of the labour market in Canada, and thus cannot necessarily access employment assistance benefits.  

To address this, Budget 2019 proposes to provide “$37.4 million over five years, starting in 2019–20, and $8.6 million per year ongoing, to the federal granting councils, to expand parental leave coverage from six months to 12 months for students and postdoctoral fellows who receive granting council funding” (page 47). This initiative will support young researchers, especially women, and will help them to balance caring for their families along with continuing their research and education.

Support for Low Income Families in accessing post-secondary education

New initiatives to support low-income students in accessing post-secondary education were also announced in Budget 2019. Beginning in 2019–20, “the federal government will work collaboratively with willing provincial and territorial partners on options to improve access to financial supports for graduate students from low-income families”. (page 47)

Supporting Indigenous Post-Secondary Education

Starting in 2019–20, there are also several new investments in Budget 2019 to help support Indigenous people access post-secondary education and succeed in their studies. This includes:

  • $327.5 million over five years to renew and expand funding for the Post-Secondary Student Support Program “while the Government engages with First Nations on the development of long-term First Nations-led post-secondary education models.” (page 49)
  • $125.5 million over ten years, and $21.8 million per year ongoing for an Inuit-led post-secondary education strategy (page 49)
  • $362 million over ten years, and $40 million per year ongoing for a Métis Nation-led post-secondary education strategy consisting of financial assistance for Métis Nations students (page 49)
  • $9 million over three years, starting in 2019–20, for additional bursaries and scholarships for First Nations, Inuit and Métis students through “Indspire”, an Indigenous-led registered charitable organization (page 49)

In line with this, the Budget commits the Government to continue working directly with Indigenous people to ensure these programs work for them.

Canada Student Loans (page 43-45)

In the past several years, there have been several important changes to Canada Student Loans to make them more accessible to students who require financial assistance. Budget 2019 invests $15 million over five years, starting in 2019–20, to modernize the Canada Student Loans Program. New proposed changes include lowered interest rates, new policies to support students who need to take a leave for medical or parental reasons, and supporting students with disabilities.

Although all of these are important and exciting investments for scientific trainees and post-secondary education there are several key pieces pertaining to research trainees and post-secondary education that we still would like to see moving forward, which are not addressed in Budget 2019. These include:

  • Increasing the amounts of graduate scholarships to match inflation and changing enrollment rates;
  • Harmonizing scholarship and fellowship amounts across the granting councils and;
  • Increasing international portability of graduate research scholarships
  • Increased support for postdoctoral fellows

Arctic Science and the Canadian North

Budget 2019 contains many new exciting initiatives in support of the Arctic and Canada’s Northern Communities. Building on ongoing work relating to the Arctic, “Budget 2019 announces more than $700 million over 10 years in new and focused funding to ensure that Arctic and northern communities can continue to grow and prosper. (page 98)

We are very pleased that Budget 2019’s Northern investments make several explicit commitments to Arctic Science. Of note, “$84 million has been invested over five years to build knowledge of climate change impacts and to enhance the climate resiliency of northern communities by improving the design and construction of northern infrastructure” (page 99). What is not clear is whether these investments will directly support atmospheric climate research (such as the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory), not only impacts of climate change.

Some key investments include:

  • Providing Natural Resources Canada with up to $10 million, over two years, starting in 2019–20, to help the Polar Continental Shelf Program to respond to growing demand.
  • Providing Environment and Climate Change Canada with up to $21.8 million over five years, starting in 2019–20, for the Eureka Weather Station on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut. (page 103)
  • Providing $49.9 million over fifteen years ($2.2 billion on a cash basis), starting in 2020–21, to Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada to create the Northern Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program in order to manage contaminated sites in the North. (page 103)
  • Exploring the potential creation of a marine conservation area in the High Arctic Basin or Tuvaijuittuq (which means “the ice never melts” in Innu)—the last portion of the Arctic region expected to retain summer sea ice until at least 2050. (page 104)
  • Providing Natural Resources Canada with up to $7.9 million over five years, starting in 2019–20, to continue to provide scientific support for Canada’s claim to its continental shelf in both the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans. (page 104)
  • To foster Indigenous knowledge and education, Budget 2019 proposes to provide $13 million over five years, starting in 2019–20, for the Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning in the Northwest Territories. This funding will support the delivery of culturally appropriate and community developed curricula to enhance access to and success in higher education for Indigenous and northern students. (page 101)
  • The Budget also commits to “continuing to work with its partners to finalize the Arctic Policy Framework, set common objectives, and reach agreements on ways to collectively invest to meet these objectives.” (page 100)
  • Up to $26 million over five years, starting in 2019-20, to Yukon College for the construction of a new campus science building in support of their efforts to become Canada's first university in the North (page 101)

Support for S&T Organizations and the Strategic Research Fund

Budget 2019 makes new investments in several third-party science and research organizations. This includes:

  • $18 million over three years to the Stem Cell Network, starting in 2019–20. (page 121)
  • Up to $40 million over two years, starting in 2020–21 to Brain Canada Foundation’s Canada Brain Research Fund. (page 121)
  • Up to $150 million over five years, starting in 2019–20 for the Terry Fox Foundation, to help establish a national Marathon of Hope Cancer Centres Network. (page 122)
  • $10 million over five years beginning in 2019–20 to Ovarian Cancer Canada (page 122)
  • $100.5 million over five years to Genome Canada, starting in 2020–21. (page 122)
  • $10 million over two years for Let’s Talk Science, starting in 2020–21. (page 122)
  • $195.9 million over five years to TRIUMF starting in 2020–21 (page 123)

In line with this, following recommendations from Budget 2018 which stated that the government would come up with a new process for making decisions surrounding the funding of third-party science and research organizations, Budget 2019 announced the establishment of a new Strategic Science Fund, beginning in 2022-23, following a series of consultations with third party research and science organizations.

The new fund will use a principles-based framework to make decisions about allocating federal funding to third party organizations. The framework will be applied by an independent panel of experts. Decisions will be made by the Science Minister, with support from the panel through the Fund’s new competitive allocation process.

This is an exciting development. The new fund will introduce coordination and transparency with regard to funding decisions pertaining to third-party research organizations, and will help ensure these decisions are made with strong evidence to support them, and will promote research excellence.

Protecting Democracy and Fighting Misinformation

Earlier this year, the government provided Canadian Heritage with $75 million for the Digital Citizen Initiative, which aimed to support digital, news and civic literacy in advance of the election, and help combat misinformation.

Budget 2019 further commits to several new initiatives, investing $30.2 million over five years with several new measures:

  • up to $4.2 million over three years, starting in 2019–20, to provide cyber security advice and guidance to Canadian political parties and election administrators.
  • providing Global Affairs Canada with $2.1 million over three years, starting in 2019–20 to setup a Rapid Response Mechanism unit.
  • providing the Department of Canadian Heritage with $19.4 million over four years, starting in 2019–20, to launch a Digital Democracy Project

Bringing new research and evidence to important initiatives

Budget 2019 also makes several new investments in initiatives that aim to bring more scientific evidence to issues that impact many Canadians. These include:

  • 2.4 million over three years, starting in 2019–20, for additional research specific to reducing barriers to the donation of blood plasma, which supports crucial treatment for patients with immunodeficiency, leukemia and a wide range of other illnesses (page 157).
  • $20.1 million over five years to Veteran’s affairs starting in 2019–20, with $5 million per year ongoing to create a Centre of Excellence on Chronic Pain Research (page 176) and
  • $80 million over four years, starting in 2020–21, to support three or more Canadian cyber security networks across Canada that are affiliated with post-secondary institutions (page 179), selected through a competitive process.

Kimberly Girling

Research and Policy Director

Kimberly Girling started her career as a scientist, completing a PhD in Neuroscience at the University of British Columbia where she developed novel therapeutics for Huntington's Disease, a neurodegenerative illness. During her work in science, she learned that good science must move beyond the bench, linking evidence to effective policies and accessible products.