Mr. Speaker, when I was first elected in 1997, it was a worrying time in the health research community in Canada.
That first year, researchers living in my riding, one by one made appointments to see me, from Alan Bernstein to Tim Murray,, to urge me to have the government intervene. We were losing our brightest and our best. We needed to understand that Canada was way behind in the amount of public dollars invested in research.
I remember the caucus meeting in Shawinigan. MP after MP went to the mike and repeated similar stories from the researchers in their ridings. Prime Minister Chrétien joked that he thought that while he had been out of the country, his brother Michel must have come and talked to every one of us. There was no question that the research community had mounted a campaign, but there was no question that its case was poignant, evidence-based, and we were impressed with the arguments. We had to do something urgently.
Alan Rock, as health minister, conspired with passionate scientists like Henry Friesen and I still remember sitting in the deli behind the university hospital in Winnipeg while Dr. Jon Gerrard, the former minister of science and technology, drew on a napkin the skeleton of what would end up being the CIHR, our NIH north. Learning from our neighbours to the south, it would be interdisciplinary and collaborative. It would cross institutions, cross disciplines, and it would collaborate around the world.
I remember the lobbying that went on for the institutes in terms of mental health and world science. I remember the appointment of Dr. Allen Bernstein as the first president, someone who was totally gifted in being able to put complex scientific concepts into language that Canadians could understand and support.
I remember the dinner that launched CIHR at the NAC, and the dream of building to $1 billion a year of annual funding. Year after year the confidence in the health research community climbed. Year after year the funding increased. Not only were Canadian researchers coming home but we were now able to attract some of the best and the brightest from around the world.
Then something happened. A Conservative government was elected. From the actions and the words of the Conservatives, the increase in support for science and research stopped. The Conservatives seemed to use research as a swear word, although their favourite target is liberally-funded social science research, usually said as though it were one word. All research seems to be in the cross-hairs of this government's obsession of ideology over science.
Science rarely, if ever, proves the ideology, so why fund it? It follows very much the Bush administration approach that the NIH could not fund any HIV-AIDS research proposal that included the words “gay, homosexual, prostitute or condom”. As the government policy was abstinence, why would it fund research into things that were against government policy?
The recent budget announcement that the funding from the social science research council should be aimed at projects in the business sector is a case in point. This is the beginning of a slippery slope of governments deciding what is worth research dollars and what is not worth research dollars. We have money for this; we do not have money for that. It goes against everything that was in the dream of the CIHR and the purpose for having granting councils in the first place.
One would assume that elucidating best practices in mental health and support in these tough economic times is not important and therefore SSHRC should only be funding research into business.
I was shocked to see that the granting councils were not exempted from the program strategic review. The sole purpose of granting councils is to allocate funds for research. I am unclear how the government expects to find efficiencies there. The only answer that is very clear now from the performance report is that there will be less dollars for research.
When we compare the new approach south of the border, we are even more astounded. The U.S. is looking to the future, to the new jobs that will be created by investing in science and research.
In the budget for basic research in Barack Obama's stimulus package, we find $25 billion. In Canada, for science in the stimulus package, we find zero dollars and, if we look carefully, there are $148 million cut from the funding councils, and $27.6 million cut from the NRC.
A 1999 study estimated that, through its contribution to increase productivity, the benefits of university research and development were $15 billion or about 2% of Canada's annual GDP. The government has it wrong. Research and development is not a cost centre. It is truly an investment that pays off.
In this week's University of Toronto Bulletin there is a terrific article by Anjum Nayyar called “Innovation, not outsourcing, is real threat”. The premise is: Is Canada losing its technological edge? Professor Daniel Trefler says that in today's global economy he is very concerned that innovation itself is the risk that could shift to other countries.
We have good evidence in Canada that investments are truly investments and actually have a positive effect in the economy. Recently, CFIA, the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, that was launched in 1997, completed a study to look at the number of spinoff companies that have been created as a result of CFI investments.
When the CFI was created in 1997 to fund research infrastructure at Canadian institutions, its mandate was to build the capacity for innovation, a mandate that remains to this day. For this study, CFI project report data for 2006, which is data submitted in 2006, were used as a baseline augmented by data submitted in 2007 to clarify, if possible, any uncertainties in the 2006 data.
For this sample, there were 155 positives for the question on spinoff companies and of these a total of 5 were approved by CFI in 1999, 35 in 2000 and the remaining 115 approved between 2001 and 2005. Most infrastructure awards approved in a given year take time to negotiate, procure and be developed and sometimes this can take well over a year. Thus, the great majority of projects had their start within the five year time period of 2000 to 2005.
To eliminate double entries, in which different researchers might cite the same spinoff project company if more than one research is involved and verify that these were actual spinoffs according to the definition above, the Cooper database was used and this cross-verification was completed as it was determined for the period of 1999 to 2005.
According to the report from CFI, 94 university spinoff companies were identified citing research infrastructure as significant. Of these, 57 companies were already documented in the Cooper database, 37 companies from the CFI data were independently verified and 89 researchers were involved. It is imperative that the government have a look at research and development as an investment.
In fact, the new report on the panel on return of investments in health research from the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences has a very strong recommendation that if the government does not believe this, it must at least invest in the panel recommendations, recommendation 4, for example, that says that Canada should immediately initiate a national collaborative effort to begin to measure the impacts of Canadian health research. If it is measured, it gets noticed and if it gets noticed, it gets done. This is a very good case but we need to start counting.
In the recent BIOTECanada parliamentary report, there was an increasingly worrying message that said that 50% of the biotech firms will be out of dollars by the end of the year because of the lack of venture capital. U.S. states are already prospecting here. These firms will ask the companies and the startups to move to them because these companies can re-emerge with new dollars elsewhere.
This weekend in the Toronto Star there was a totally wonderful celebration of the research champions in that city, people like Derek Van der Kooy, Tom Hudson, Janet Rossant, Gordon Keller, Jeff Wrana, Peter Zandstra, Bill Stanford and Freda Miller. These people are world champions. I do not want to put words in their mouths but we know that the community is worried.
In the recent report from MaRS, which is the research discovery district in Toronto, there is a wonderful report on the Ontario bio-pharma cluster report. Every day we ask ourselves what if. From insulin to pablum to Zlotkin sprinklers, Canada has been a leader in innovation--