Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for St. Paul's.
I am privileged in my riding of Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca to have truly some outstanding researchers, from the NRC Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics, as well as Camosun College, Royal Roads University and the University of Victoria. Some really outstanding work is done there, such as the Neptune project and the climate change modelling. In fact, Dr. Andrew Weaver from the University of Victoria was on the world-class, Nobel-winning, international panel for climate change. In that kind of milieu, it is inspiring to see the work that these men and women do.
Therefore, it was with a great deal of sadness—and dismay, I might add—that we saw in the budget an absence of recognition of the importance of publicly funded research in Canada.
We know that in these harsh economic times the government has an obligation to provide a short-term stimulus package that is going to deal with the acute needs of our country, but it is also very important for the government to think into the future. What kind of vision, what kind of Canada, do we want to have in the future?
If we answer that question, we have to come to the conclusion that public funding of basic research is absolutely essential for a vision that enables our country, our nation, to be able to capitalize on the economic challenges in the future. Conversely, the absence of addressing this challenge will put Canadians at a huge disadvantage in terms of the economic and social needs of our country and of our world.
Said another way, the absence of funding into basic research is going to severely cripple the ability of our country, our workers, our economy, and our post-secondary institutions to be able to maximize the opportunities that do exist now and will exist into the future.
The government rightly, for which I compliment it, has put money into infrastructure in science. The problem is this: If we look at infrastructure as being the car, what actually does the research is the driver. What the government has failed to do is invest moneys into the driver. It has failed to invest moneys into those who do the research in our nation.
One of the first things that the government did when it came to power, which was actually shocking, was to eliminate the actual role and position of the national science adviser in Canada. Arthur Carty is an extraordinary scientist. Unfortunately, the government actually eliminated the position of the science adviser to the Prime Minister. What kind of a decision is that, and why on earth would the government actually do that?
If we look at the input in terms of what of research and development does, public research funding of our universities has a ten-to-one outcome. In fact, it can represent 2% of our GDP. Back in 1999, this represented over $15 billion and over 200,000 jobs. In our country today, that represents a much larger amount of money.
The government rightly gave the three granting councils—the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, or NSERC; the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada; and the CIHR—money for their infrastructure. What the government failed to do was to enable these granting councils to implement and invest money in those who do the actual research.
In fact, I might add that the government is asking these three research councils to actually cut $146 million from their budgets over the next three years. Why on earth is the government asking our research councils, in this time of economic need, at this time when we need to make these investments into research, to cut moneys?
Compare this to the United States. President Obama is actually investing over $10 billion into basic research. What that is going to do is cause a significant challenge for us to be able to retain the scientists we have in our country right now. This is a serious challenge, because we cannot manufacture these scientists overnight. They will go to where they have the greatest opportunities.
As I said before, we have more than 121 post-secondary institutions and 65,000 academic researchers in Canada.
In advancing the needs of our nation, I want to draw the attention of the House to a few very specific requests. One is for a 30-metre telescope. I think many Canadians would be very surprised to know that our nation is always in the top three in astronomy in the world. The Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics laboratory, in my riding, is the number one centre in all of Canada for the type of research in optics and applied research and engineering. Investment in the telescope, which is $150 million over three years, is critical to maintain our ability to be at the forefront of applied science and research in this very technically difficult area. The benefits to our country are ten to one for the investment.
In terms of high-tech parks, high-tech parks have been built all over the world. China is building dozens of high-tech parks. In our country, there is a very cogent request from Dale Gann, who is the president of the Canadian Association of University Research Parks. This very modest investment would enable our high-tech parks to expand and take advantage of the collaboration that is necessary for us to capitalize on the research that exists. The absence of investing in these high-tech parks will actually cripple our economy in the future.
In regard to the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences, at this time when we know the challenge of global warming, would Canadians not find it shocking to know that the government is failing to invest in this area of excellence? However, that is what the government has done. In fact, the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences will have to close its doors in 2010, and the more than 12 research networks it has built will be eliminated.
We have people such as Dr. Andrew Weaver, as I said before, who was on the Nobel-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Why on earth, during one of the great challenges of our world, climate change, do we have a government that will actually cut funding for this organization, for this group of scientists who do cutting-edge research to deal with one of the most pressing challenges of our time?
Genome Canada is a group that funds world-class research in proteomics and genomics. At its heart is the ability of that research to be applied to some of the great diseases that affect humankind. We have some of the best scientists in the world, at the University of Toronto, at the University of British Columbia, at the University of Victoria, Winnipeg, Montreal, and in other centres, who do cutting-edge research into genomics and proteomics.
If we do not allow these researchers to be funded, it will cripple the ability of our nation to be at the forefront of dealing with some of the great diseases of our planet that affect our population. I think most of our citizens would be shocked to hear that the government has not invested new moneys into these groups that would enable our researchers to deal with the diseases that affect Canadians and their families.
The other issue I want to address is the issue of government interference. Public research should not be influenced by the minister in terms of meddling in who should or should not be able to do research. Basic research is fundamental for commercial research in the future, but it is also a cornerstone for many other types of research in our society. Not all research is for commercialization. Our public institutions, our universities and colleges, and other public research facilities do research in order to broaden the scope of our understanding and to create that base so that commercial research can take place.
However, the minister is actually saying that the government will have a hand in the crafting of the types of proposals that CFI, the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, can actually fund. That kind of interference is appalling because it will affect the type of research that will be supported. In other words, the government is saying to the scientists that only research that is done with the priorities of the government of the day will be funded.
The issue, though, is that research, basic research in particular, does not take place over a month or a couple of years, but over several years, if not decades. That is the length of time it takes to make sure the research is taking place. That is the kind of surety and confidence that our researchers need to have in terms of their funding to undertake some of the great challenges our world faces.
In closing, I have to say this. The government has an enormous opportunity. It has failed to execute and articulate a vision for our researchers and for basic research in Canada. It can change it, and I demand that it changes it now.