VPRI reports on the research impact of the 2012 Federal Budget

headshot of Robert Hache

Robert Haché, vice-president research & innovation, has issued this commentary providing more details on the impact of the 2012 federal budget on research funding agencies and what it means for the York research community:

Vice-presidents of research from across Canada converged in Ottawa on April 13 to meet with the presidents of the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), Natural Sciences & Engineering Council (NSERC), Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), regarding the impact of the 2012 budget on their funding programs.

While the complete details of the consequences of budget 2012 remain to be fully worked out, the overall tone of the message emphasized the efforts being made by Tri-Council to protect and promote fundamental research, to describe where the new investments in the budget will be rolled out, and to give a first look at where the mandated cuts in programming and operations will occur.

Initial discussion emphasized new investments being made and the expression of support for basic research in the budget language (if not directly in the dollars being distributed). Not only was the overall budget to Tri-Council preserved in a budget cycle where five to ten per cent cuts in overall budgets were the norm, but new investments were committed to support a number of new and existing programs. Thus CANARIE, Genome Canada and the CFI all received major infusions of funding that were accompanied by focused investments (in mental health etc.). While there is no explicit new funding for basic research in this budget, the lack of an overall funding reduction place Tri-Council in rare company around the federal budget table this year.

Over the last number of years, Tri-Council agencies were asked to undertake a strategic review of their expenditures, a process which required a review of all program spending and assessment of savings. The review process identified areas where savings could be achieved in order to redirect funding within the organization for new initiatives or to other government priorities.

While these are clearly no longer the heady times of the early 2000s, when Tri-Council budgets grew rapidly in a largely unrestricted manner, overall support for university-led research by the federal government remains comparatively strong and researchers should be encouraged by this. However, it is clear that at all levels, the funders of university research continue to move towards an emphasis on how the results of university-led research translates into tangible benefits for Canadian society and the Canadian economy. Here it is important for researchers to continue their efforts to explain and educate government and other funders on the need to support fundamental research as the bedrock on which university-led research is built.

It is also crucial to emphasize the need for programing that provides funding for making connections amongst researchers and sustaining the basic infrastructure needed for individual research programs. We can all, in following up on the steps presently been taken by Tri-Council, encourage the continued protection and development of core people and basic research programing within Tri-Council, and emphasize at every opportunity that the development of Canada’s Innovation Agenda can only be successful if done in partnership with development of our discovery agenda.

For the full commentary, which includes specific details of anticipated programming changes, please click here.