Province pulls plug on research funding

“A kick in the shins” was how one university official described the recent abrupt suspension by the Ontario government of a joint federal-provincial research funding arrangement, reported the Toronto Star Aug. 14. At the Council of Ontario Universities, the current Chair warned that “the potential loss to Ontario is staggering.”

The McGuinty government says the uproar is only a temporary hiccup and that new financing arrangements are being put in place. Unless that happens within weeks, however, Ontario universities fear they will lose some of the top-flight scientists lured here by the startup funds promised this spring, said the Star.

The province’s economic development ministry eliminated the $300 million originally set aside to match federal research grants this year after only $55 million had been handed out. There has been no public explanation, but university officials have been told that the funds were sacrificed as part of the general belt tightening in the wake of a $5.6 billion provincial deficit. And if Ontario universities can’t somehow replace the dollars missing from Queen’s Park, they’ll also forfeit the federal grants.

The upheaval threatens to dull the lustre of a program that has been the brightest jewel in the crown of a major federal effort to upgrade Canada’s research capacity –the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI). The arm’s-length CFI provides 40 per cent of the money requested by faculty at universities and teaching hospitals to upgrade research facilities and buy new lab equipment. Traditionally, another 40 per cent has come from parallel granting agencies that the provinces set up in response to CFI and the remaining 20 per cent from private sources, often corporate discounts on the equipment.

So far, the foundation has awarded $2.8 billion, with researchers in Ontario garnering 31 per cent, the largest provincial share. Yet, the CFI usually has qualified applications for three or four times more funds than available in the periodic withdrawals from its dwindling $3.7 billion endowment.

The response from Dalton McGuinty and his fellow Liberals at Queen’s Park, was to suspend the existing matching fund arrangement sometime in late June, without warning. The action happened just as the CFI announced grants to help new researchers set up labs at 40 institutions across Canada, including: U of T (12 projects), University of Ottawa (eight), Waterloo, Guelph and Carleton (five each), Western (four), Laurentian and York (three each), Brock, Lakehead, Queen’s, Ryerson, Trent and Windsor (two each), and Nippissing (one).

It’s these modest grants, most ranging from $100,000 to $200,000, that are immediately in limbo because of the McGuinty government’s suspension of the matching funds. Also sidelined are infrastructure grants that supplement the salaries awarded to the nation’s research elite, holders of the Canada Research Chairs created under a separate federal program.

Lazar appointed to expert panel on water treatment

Professor Fred Lazar has been appointed to a new provincial expert panel expected to advise on how best to manage water and wastewater systems, reported a press release carried by Canada News-Wire Aug. 16. Lazar brings the perspective of an economist to the panel. He is an economics professor at York University’s Schulich School of Business. He has a PhD from Harvard University. Lazar has written extensively on a wide variety of economic policy issues, including water industry investment and regulation, and employment and trade. The Ministry of Public Infrastructure Renewal, which issued the release, is spearheading the development of a strategic water and wastewater infrastructure investment and financing plan to ensure the safety of Ontario’s drinking water.

Citizen writer lauded for legal series

Ottawa Citizen senior writer and York grad T. Dan Gardner has won a prestigious national award for writing on justice issues, reported his employer Aug. 16. Gardner, 36, won the 2004 Justicia Award for seven columns that critically examined conventional wisdom in the police and justice systems. The Justicia Awards are co-sponsored by the Department of Justice, the Law Commission of Canada and the Canadian Bar Association. Gardner graduated from York University with a BA in 1990 and an MA in 1995 in history and a law degree in 1992 from York’s Osgoode Hall Law School.

What makes a good judge?

In a Winnipeg Free Press opinion piece Aug. 17 about the process of choosing Supreme Court judges, lawyer Harold Buchwald asks what are the qualities that are wanted in a judge? At the very top of the list should be an innate and intuitive sense of fairness, followed by the ability to maintain an open mind and listen to all arguments – the so-called judicial temperament – as well as legal and social understanding. Added to these, especially for Supreme Court appointees, as recently enunciated by the dean and former dean of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, are the highest level of proficiency in the law, superior analytical and written skills and soundness of judgment.

Chavez’s Canadian adviser studied at York

Canadian and York grad Sharmini Peries was in the middle of the pandemonium that broke out inside the Miraflores presidential palace Monday morning when the head of Venezuela’s electoral body announced on television that President Hugo Chavez had survived the recall referendum. “The atmosphere was electric,” Peries, 44, a foreign affairs adviser to Chavez, said in a cellular phone interview, reported Canadian Press Aug. 16. Chavez hired the Sri Lanka-born Peries after she stumped him with several trade-specific questions during an interview in February for the Indian English-language news magazine Frontline. Accepting his offer meant leaving behind her PhD studies with York University and her three children. Peries earned an MA in economics from York in 1985.

York football star will return

After sorting out two more twists in his busy life, Andre Durie is ready to return to the football field, reported the Toronto Sun Aug. 17. The dynamic York Lions running back, who set the OUA on its ear with a record-breaking 349-yard rushing game during his rookie season last year, looked like he was in danger of dropping out of school after his three-year-old son, Malcolm, was diagnosed with autism in January. But Durie, 23, has found help for young Malcolm and also has hit the books this summer to obtain the credits he needed to remain at York after a rocky winter semester. As a result, the second-year arts student expects to be in uniform when training camp starts next Wednesday. “There are always obstacles in life, but it makes you stronger,” he said. “For sure, I’ll be ready [for training camp].” Durie, who set a York record with 1,058 rushing yards last year, begins the 2004 season on Sept. 6 in Guelph against the Gryphons. “He is the key for us,” Lions coach Tom Gretes said. “He’s coming back in a much better frame of mind.”

Football coach teaches Cree children

For three days this week, the children of the Cree Nation of Mistissini gathered at the track and field complex near the centre of their town to participate in an event their elders called “part of our history book,” reported The Ottawa Sun Aug. 14. They were introduced to the game of football by a group of coaches who made the 800-km trek north just because they care. The coaches – including York assistant football coach and sport administrator Andy McEvoy – delivered a message of hope to a generation of young people who need as much positive reinforcement they can get.

New administrator for Catholic board

John Mackle has been appointed to guide the future direction of the Peterborough Victoria Northumberland and Clarington Catholic District School Board, reported the Port Hope Evening Guide Aug. 14. A superintendent of schools in charge of curriculum and student services, Mackle was a course director at York University’s Faculty of Education in 1986-87.

On air

  • Allan Hutchinson, associate dean of research and graduate studies at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, argued against a Canadian Association of Police Chiefs proposal to impose a surcharge on phone, cell phone and Internet bills to pay for cost of wiretapping, in a CanWest on City-tv and Global TV news programs Aug. 16. Hutchinson told CanWest Global, “The risk of giving the police more money is not a problem in itself. If the police want more money then they can seek it through the usual budgetary ways. But it seems to me a little rich to ask people to fund searches of their own property, to fund, in this case, wiretap evidence by increasing the levies or taxes on telephones.”
  • Fred Fletcher, political scientist in York University’s Faculty of Arts, discussed Western Canadian alienation on “The Bill Good Show” on CKNW-AM in Vancouver Aug. 16.