Last month, the Chemical Institute of Canada (CIC) submitted a brief to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance (FINA). Our recommendations reflect those that most readers working in research — especially academics — would make, if they had the chance: increased financial support in the 2014 federal budget for basic research and programs that support hiring young professionals. My question to you is: will you get directly involved to help make this happen?
Some of you will ask, “Isn’t that the responsibility of university executives and societies like the CIC, its Constituent Societies and organizations like the Partnership Group for Science and Engineering (PAGSE) and Canadian Consortium for Research (CCR)?” Indeed CIC, PAGSE and CCR are extremely active in government relations — and not just at budget time. We constantly meet and strategize with senior level government bureaucrats, granting council executives and MPs. For example, PAGSE runs eight Bacon & Eggheads Breakfasts on Parliament Hill that are regularly attended by MPs and senators in an audience of up to 165 people. This is highly effective as a means to educate and convince Ottawa of the importance of increased financial support for research.
However, when it comes to the federal budget process, we become one of more than 600 organizations that submit a brief to FINA. Even if FINA allows CIC, PAGSE or CCR to present a brief in person this October, we would be one of half a dozen groups per session. Each of these groups would receive about four minutes for their presentation. If lucky, we might be asked one question by committee members.
I am trying to put our efforts into perspective. Organizations such as the Association of Universities and Community Colleges (AUCC) and their members (post-secondary presidents) and other executives that chair influential bodies like the Science, Technology and Innovation Council (STIC) carry a lot of weight with those directly involved in shaping the budget, including cabinet ministers. This is fine but when funding for basic research has lost ground over the past several years due to not keeping pace with inflation as well as cuts to programs, where does the blame lie? I suggest that blame lies with all of us, including individual academic researchers. Ask yourself, “What have I done to influence the decision makers?”
My personal viewpoint is that allocating tax dollars for research does not win the federal government significant votes. It falls to us to help MPs understand what research and university/industry collaboration is all about. It is not about the research community asking for and getting billions in funding support. Rather, it is about informing our elected leaders about the key role that research and development plays in economic growth and job creation in Canada. I am asking you to set up an appointment with your local MP and take a few graduate students and post-doctorate researchers to the meeting. By meeting face-to-face with policymakers, you will enable them to relate research dollars to the salaries of real people, and help them see the money as a critical investment in human and intellectual capital, rather than just another billion-dollar budget item that could be pared down. The betterment of our country and the future of our best and brightest youth depend upon you helping to get the message out.
Roland Andersson is the executive director of the Chemical Institute of Canada. To respond to his column write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.