Mr. Speaker, the amendment put forward at the report stage of the bill is of such a nature as to satisfy numerous criticisms from various people in connection with accountability and improves the act. I would however like to speak about the reasons why we are opposed to Bill C-17, even with the amendments.
Understandably, everyone is in favour of supporting research and development, and innovation. I sit on the standing committee on industry and as the matter progresses, we begin to wonder if there is not something other than a financial strategy behind the funding of R and D efforts.
At this time it seems to me that there is one aspect that is totally lacking. For example, there are the post-secondary institutions, which are key figures in R and D support and in the training of the people involved in it. The bulk of the funding for post-secondary institutions, which are administered by the provinces, comes from the provinces, but of course there are federal transfer payments for post-secondary education.
All the additional funding since we have moved from a context of zero deficit to a context of surplus has been via initiatives such as the budgets allocated to bodies outside the government, such as the foundation. Non-governmental structures are being created in various fields and then they are given funding.
On the one hand, the government is putting money into human genome research, which is desirable, praiseworthy and correct. Yet there is one essential key element that must not be lost sight of: the funding of basic services and the necessity to increase the budget for transfer payments to the provinces, which in turn have to increase their budgets for post-secondary education accordingly. This is where the first problem with basic activities lies.
There is a second one as well. I have had the opportunity to mention it several times in a parliamentary committee and I once again want to make my message very clear to the government. There is another shortfall in terms of research and development and I am talking about the indirect costs related to the need for post-secondary institutions to submit projects and funding proposals to the Canada foundation for innovation or granting councils. For instance, universities have to pay additional indirect costs related to these proposals while their core budgets remain relatively stable. There have been cuts, but now their budgets are stable and have not been adjusted accordingly.
I understand part of the government's reasoning on this; although I do not agree with it, I understand the logic of it. It believes that this money is not as visible as direct investments in granting councils or agencies like the foundation. These investments are also necessary, extremely important and a top priority at this time. We have to stop thinking in terms of politics and start thinking about efficiency.
One fact remains: we have to be more open about the investment objectives set for research and development. There is no problem with setting a target and saying that investments in research and development will double over the next ten years, but our priorities need to be defined more clearly. If such a vision does exist, it should be more transparent.
The auditor general himself has, on several occasions, criticized the fact that there seemed to be a problem in terms of follow-up, as well as a lack of transparency with regard to R and D investments.
We sense that there is some kind of agenda because huge sums are being invested in this area, but effectiveness should not be measured merely by the amount of money invested. In this case, the bill will authorize an extra $750 million for the foundation on top of the $500 million announced last fall and on top of previous measures. This is a lot of money.
I am convinced that all these people do commendable work. In most cases there are peer review panels where people from the scientific community play a very important role in the selection of projects. However, there is a certain amount of criticism regarding the overall strategy and also regarding the ability of small universities, those located in less populated areas outside the large urban centres, to compete with larger universities. This kind of criticism cannot be ignored.
As a member representing a region, I know what this means in practical terms. We know the importance of post-secondary institutions and of their ability to generate research and economic activity in our communities. A post-secondary institution is an extremely important tool for the economic development of a community. It is also a tool for social development because research is not limited to the economy, but also takes in social and other fields.
Nor must we forget basic research, which is extremely important in increasing our knowledge in all fields. This requires research which is more basic. Educational institutions are far more oriented toward basic research than private companies often are even though it is in their interest and certain companies are very good at it. Unfortunately, they are all too rare because we have a problem here.
The research and development efforts of private companies are not what they should be, with the result that there are often problems of competitiveness which are not solely due to public under-investment in research and development.
The approach needs to be rethought in order to ensure that private sector stakeholders do more and are more aware. There is perhaps also a message here that small companies have trouble qualifying for government programs, which are often geared more toward supporting the research and development efforts of big business.
There are therefore concerns for small communities. There are also concerns for small businesses which often have some very clever individuals. We should make better use of them in order to improve our research and development efforts and bring about innovation.
We are far from being opposed to a research and development timetable, but we do not like it when political objectives take centre stage and funding does not proceed according to a timetable readily understandable to everyone, while at the same time, a very important aspect, that of basic funding through transfer payment programs, is being neglected.
As for the other provisions of Bill C-17 and the amendment moved, the latter will likely set to rest a number of fears expressed by other opposition parties at second reading and in committee. We do not have much to add on this particular amendment.
There is one aspect of the bill which leaves us basically unsatisfied however. Although the amendment is positive in nature it does not change the essence of the bill, nor will it change our position.