Budget 2018 is just around the corner.

Will there be any new money dedicated to fundamental research?

Why and how you can make a difference?

By Liisa Galea, WHRI Scientist

The Canada Budget 2018 is just around the corner. Why should scientists and researchers care? Because the Fundamental Science Review commissioned by the Honourable Kristy Duncan was released in April 2017 and includes a “big” ask for $1.3 billion over 4 years to return tri-council funding to the levels in 2007. As most of us researchers know, success rates at tri-councils have declined, and average amounts of grant funding have not risen to keep abreast of the rising costs for research in Canada. Canada’s world rankings for GERD (Gross domestic Expenditures on Research and Development) intensity has fallen from 7th to more than 30th over the last 15 years, which is why the major recommendation of the Fundamental Science Review was to restore funding levels in tri-council (CIHR, NSERC, SSHRC) and CFI particularly for investigator-driven, and not priority-driven, research.

The Liberal government has been making a number of major science and innovation announcements since taking office, and lay people could be forgiven for thinking that scientists and researchers are flush with cash. However, as those of us in the trenches know, this is not at all the case. It is important – and in fact necessary – to have priority-driven research in Canada. Canada and other countries need to react to crises that affect Canadians adversely such as unexpected outbreaks in new viruses (SARS, EBOLA, Zika); to offset and reverse climate change damage; and even to battle “fake news.” But it is equally important to balance funding initiatives so that we do not put – as they say – all of our eggs in one basket.

As Dr. Tara Moriarity, so eloquently reports in her letter to Justin Trudeau, she is one of only two laboratories in Canada studying Lyme Disease – and her lack of funding jeopardizes knowledge in etiology/treatment of a disease that afflicts Canadians – not to mention an important investment in training our next generation of Lyme Disease scientists. As one respondent in my survey in 2016 noted:

“…An unfunded period brings an absolute end to continuity. Every lab has unique procedures, research topics and necessary background knowledge that are not immediately acquired by new lab members simply by showing up in the lab on their first day of work. Losing funding for six months doesn’t mean simply a six-month break in research; it can take many years to restore group expertise and knowledge to a lab. I am worried that the current funding situation is going to create this situation en masse for researchers all across Canada. Even a short interruption can set research back by many years.”

-Respondent 28

So, back to what we can do to #SupportTheReport. We need to contact our MPs, write, call and urge our friends and neighbours to do so as well. We need to ensure those around us that support for fundamental science is necessary for the healthy future of Canadian Science and the next generation of researchers. Remind MPs that we create jobs, knowledge and support staff, and students alike with our research, not to mention industry that obtains revenue from research itself.

Let’s face it: we do not know where our next big discovery will come from. Indeed, it was the curiosity-driven science that lead Thomas Brock and Hudson Freeze to study microbes in Yellowstone National Park which led to the discovery of Taq polymerase, a critical ingredient used in PCR needed for genetic testing. Unfortunately, many causal observers miss the critical difference between the funding of Canada150 chairs, Superclusters, and CFERF chairs compared to funding levels for tri-council, and it is important that we make MPs and the public aware of the importance of fundamental research.

We often hear that funds are not unlimited, and that governments need to make hard choices in what to fund that is most important and critical for our communities to be healthy. However, in many ways this is a false dichotomy. Fundamental Research can help Canadians and Canadian society in untold numerous ways – building better roads, safer cars, better schools, providing clean water, preserving Indigenous cultures, spanning the second valley of death, and finding the best ways to implement new policies and procedures to improve climate, and/or health care. Research matters and it important for the Canadian government to invest in the future of research and discovery broadly and diversely to maximize investment and discovery.

The Budget 2018 approaches, and if we want more money for fundamental science, the window is closing to influence those around us in government that make decisions to allocate funding for initiatives all across Canada.

I’ve personally met with Hon. Kristy Duncan, Jonathan Wilkson, Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, Dan Ruimy, Randeep Sarai, Simon Kennedy, Justin To, Kate Young, and Hon. Jody Wilson-Raybould. Most of these individuals we met as part of a trip I took to Ottawa with UBC President Santa Ono, Phil Hieter and Adriaan de Jager to show our support for the fundamental science review.

I am grateful I was included in that group, but we all have to do our part. The time is now.

#SupportTheReport for a better future.

To can find all the MPs who have been visited already you can visit this site, but don’t be shy if your MP has been visited already. It’s important for us to drive the message home.

For tools to approach and speak to your MPs see http://www.acechr.ca/summerofsciencecan.html, or drop me an email: liisa.galea@ubc.ca.