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Public-interest science missing from new federal science strategy

The federal government has just released the revised and updated Science, Technology and Innovation (ST&I) strategy along with details of the Canada First Research Excellence Fund, originally announced in the 2014 budget.
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Dr. Katie Gibbs, Executive Director, Evidence for Democracy

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“It is unbelievable that the federal government could release a science strategy that only pays lip-service to the research done by government departments and agencies,” says Dr. Katie Gibbs, Executive Director of Evidence for Democracy. “Government research is the core of public-interest science in Canada and crucial for the protecting the health, safety and well being of Canadians.”

The main highlights released as part of the updated Science, Technology and Innovation strategy were details of the Canada First Research Excellence Fund. The new fund is open to all institutions in Canada and the first round of funding will provide $350 million in funding for research in the government’s top redefined priority areas: environment and agriculture; health and life sciences; natural resources and energy; information and communications technologies; and advanced manufacturing.

The new Canada First Research Excellence Fund only funds research that aligns with the government’s priorities and demonstrates clear economic benefit. “While it is welcome to see additional funding, the degree to which this government is tying research funding to industrial priorities is alarming,” says Dr. Gibbs. “It is also worrisome that the fund’s steering committee includes two deputy ministers which could open the door to political interference.”

“This type of very prescriptive research funding doesn’t fund the kind of public-interest science needed to keep Canadians safe and healthy and it also isn’t the best way spur innovation, says Dr. Gibbs. “History has shown us that society gets the most benefit when we fund the best science, not by making scientists squeeze their research to narrow industry-driven funding requirements.”

Despite the government’s claims that this funding highlights their continuing strong support for research, Canada still has a long way to go to be a research and innovation leader on the world stage. A recent report showed that Canada ranks 12th out of OECD countries for our research spending.

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