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What does the 2016 federal budget mean for science?

The 2016 federal budget announced on March 22nd marks a significant turning point for science in Canada.
Trudeau in a lab.

With increased support for the granting councils (NSERC, CIHR, and SSHRC) as well as government research, this budget represents a vast improvement over recent budgets. In addition to increased funding for science and research, there is a renewed commitment to support basic research with funding that is not tied to industry driven projects. Perhaps most promising, there is a commitment to evidence-based decision-making and a general recognition of the importance of science and innovation in Canada’s economy and society.

Below we’ve outlined the specific areas where science and smart decision-making are supported in Budget 2016.

I have no doubt that this significant change is due to the impressive and tireless work of the research community in advocating for science in the lead up to and during the 2015 federal election. This is the kind of change that is possible when the research community comes together with one voice to push for science and its role in society.

One thing missing from the budget was any mention of the Chief Science Officer. The Liberals have committed to creating the new position with a mandate to support open science communication and evidence-based decision-making. The Minister for Science recently consulted a number of organizations for input on the scope and structure of the new office (you can read E4D’s response here), so it’s surprising that the position wasn’t included anywhere in the budget.

While this budget represents a huge improvement after a decade of stagnant or decreased funding for research, there is still much work to be done to make Canada a global leader in research and smart decision making.

2016 Budget Highlights


Infrastructure for Post-Secondary Institutions (pg. 111)

Budget 2016 proposes to create a new Post-Secondary Institutions Strategic Investment Fund that will provide up to $2 billion over three years to support infrastructure projects at post-secondary institutions. The fund aims to enhance and modernize research and commercialization facilities on Canadian campuses as well as improving the environmental sustainability of these facilities.

Granting Councils and Academic Research (pg. 113)

The budget increases funding for the granting councils by $95 million per year starting in 2016. This is on top of the $46 million increase included in the 2015 Budget. The $95 million will be allocated as follows:

  • $30 million for the Canadian Institutes of Health Research;
  • $30 million for the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council;
  • $16 million for the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council; and
  • $19 million for the Research Support Fund to support the indirect costs borne by post-secondary institutions in undertaking federally sponsored research

In addition to this increased funding for the granting councils, the budget follows through on the mandate letter commitment to create two new Canada Excellence Research Chairs (pg.152). The budget provides $20 million over eight years, starting in 2018–19, for the two additional Chairs that will focus on clean and sustainable technology.

Fundamental Research Funding Review (pg. 115-116)

While not specifically a spending announcement, Budget 2016 included an announcement that the Minister of Science will undertake a review of how fundamental science is supported by the federal government to ensure that spending is strategic and effective. The review will:

  • Assess opportunities to increase the impact of federal support on Canada’s research excellence and the benefits that flow from it;
  • Determine the rationale for current targeting of granting councils’ funding and bring greater coherence to the diverse range of federal research and development priorities and funding instruments;
  • Assess the support for promising emerging research leaders; and
    Ensure there is sufficient flexibility to respond to emerging research opportunities for Canada, including big science projects and other international collaborations.

Specific Research Programs (pg. 114)

The budget includes funding for a number of specific research organizations, programs and institutions.

  • $14 million over two years to the Mitacs Globalink program to support 825 internships and fellowships annually
    $237.2 million to Genome Canada
  • up to $32 million over two years, starting in 2017–18 for the Centre for Drug Research and Development to translate promising health research discoveries from universities across Canada into new medicines and therapies
  • Up to $12 million over two years to support research, training and outreach activities at the Stem Cell Network
  • $50 million over five years to the Perimeter Institute to strengthen its position as a world-leading research centre for theoretical physics
  • $20 million over three years for Brain Canada Foundation’s Canada Brain Research Fund to supports competitively awarded, collaborative, multidisciplinary brain health and brain disorder research projects

Federal Government Research

A number of specific departments and research areas received support in Budget 2016:

  • $379 million over eight years, starting in 2017–18, for the Canadian Space Agency to secure Canada’s participation in the International Space Agency (pg. 116)
  • $30 million over six years, starting in 2016–17, to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to support advanced research in agricultural genomics (pg. 118)
  • $109.1 million over five years to Environment and Climate Change Canada for science, data reporting, policy and regulations to help meet Canada’s domestic climate change objectives (pg. 157)
  • $197.1 million over five years, starting in 2016–17, to Fisheries and Oceans Canada to increase ocean and freshwater science, monitoring and research activities and to provide support for the Experimental Lakes Area (pg. 163)
  • $19 million over five years, starting in 2016–17, to Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada to collaborate with researchers and Inuit communities to gather existing research and traditional knowledge of the Arctic environment and conduct new research where gaps in knowledge exist (pg. 167)

Investments in Federal Research Infrastructure (pg. 124)

  • $87.2 million for Natural Resources Canada projects across the country that support research in forestry, mining and minerals, earth sciences and mapping, and innovation in energy technology.
  • $8.7 million for Canadian Space Agency projects, including the rehabilitation of the anechoic chamber used at its Shirleys Bay, Ontario facility
  • $18.5 million for National Research Council of Canada projects, including a leading-edge wave-making system at the St. John’s towing tank, which is used to evaluate the performance of marine technologies and vehicles

Evidence-based Decision-making

In addition to specific funding commitments to support science and research, many sections of the budget reaffirm the government’s support for evidence-based decision-making.

The section on investing in ocean and freshwater research states that “scientific evidence is the foundation on which the Government develops policies around the management and protection of the oceans, coasts, waterways and fisheries to ensure that they are healthy, sustainable and profitable for future generations (pg. 163).” The true test will be seeing if the Fisheries Act will be amended to reflect this sentiment.

There is also a section on strengthening Canada’s Environmental Assessment Process (pg. 165) that states “Robust environmental assessment processes support evidence-based decision-making for major projects.” Following on the interim principals to guide environmental assessment announced in January, the budget provides $16.5 million over three years, to the National Energy Board, Natural Resources Canada and Transport Canada to support public and Indigenous participation in consultations for projects undergoing reviews by the National Energy Board (pg. 166).

Science and Technology Museum (pg.187)

The budget includes $156.4 million over three years for the Canada Science and Technology Museum to construct and new collection and conservation centre.

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