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Science gets profile, few details, in budget

Any attention paid to research is good for agriculture, says 
the CEO of the Agriculture Institute of Canada

The recent federal budget gives science and research more attention than usual — but details on new funding remain to be decided on, says Serge Buy, CEO of the Agriculture Institute of Canada.

The budget did allocate $80 million over five years to replace the Centre for Plant Health in Sidney, B.C. with a new research facility to support agri-food safety. It will assist trade and national economic growth and Buy said the move is good news for agri-food.

At the same time, questions remain about the long-term future of other research facilities that were underfunded by the previous government, he said.

“Overall, the budget contains some very good news,” he said. While it will take time for the decisions on many announcements to be reached, “things are shaping up well.”

While a lot of funds were announced in the budget, there will still have to be plenty of discussion and consultation before the money is spent, Buy said.

“Choices will have to be made before we see who gets what,” Buy said.

The AIC will be ready to pitch its ideas once the budget bill is passed. Among the decisions is an independent review, announced last year, on funding for fundamental science and research. It will report sometime this year. Then the government will decide which of its proposals it will implement.

Then there’s the appointment of a Chief Science Officer announced in 2016 and still to be filled. The CSO will have a secretariat and a $2-million-a-year operating budget.

The government has decided the CSO will advise the prime minister and minister of science instead of reporting directly to Parliament as originally proposed. That means the CSO won’t have the independence of the Parliamentary Budget Officer.

Also in the works for this year is a new federal science infrastructure strategy for the government. It will review existing federal labs and related facilities and recommend what’s needed for the future. No timeline for that report was set. Also in line for a review is the National Research Council’s funding and its innovation support activities.

The science innovation strategy will examine the existing federal science infrastructure, “including federal laboratories and testing facilities, and provide a road map for future investments. The strategy will offer a more integrated and effective approach to federal laboratories, information technology and human resources in the federal science community, and will seek to ensure that federal scientists have access to the world-class infrastructure, innovative equipment and computer networks they need to produce the best results for Canadians.”

The National Research Council will have its funding set at $59.6 million for the current fiscal year to support its business innovation initiatives.

“As part of the review, the government will also examine what future role the NRC could play in supporting innovation, creating more opportunities for women researchers and innovators, and supporting mission-driven, breakthrough research in collaboration with the new Impact Canada Fund,” the science strategy reads.

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