Mr. Speaker, I rise to support the motion by the hon. member for Westmount—Ville-Marie regarding the slashing of federal support to scientific research in Canada.
The government fails to understand the importance of scientific research to the Canadian economy, to our competitiveness, to our long-term sustainability and to our quality of life.
The Conservative budget, regrettably supported by the Liberals, includes significant cuts to the critical work of Canada's scientific community. Three National Research granting councils, the Canadian Institute of Health Research, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council will suffer major cuts over the next three years.
Their collective budgets are to be reduced by an aggregate of more than $100 million over the next three years. All three councils play a vital role in funding the scientists and their trainees who conduct the research at our universities, hospitals and our research institutes in Canada.
Ironically, as the government commits more money to fund science infrastructure, it is handicapping research capabilities by slashing investments in the researchers and operating costs, the very purpose of science pursuits. Grand buildings with plaques do little to advance science or health.
What kind of economic or science advancement strategy sets out to replace researchers and their trainees with temporary construction jobs?
On NSERC, our Natural Science and Engineering Research Council, I have heard from polar scientists and other noted Canadian scientists, working in the field of contaminants, water and Arctic studies, expressing grave concerns with declining federal support for science and engineering research, for their polar work, for water studies, for tracking contaminants, for innovations in energy generation and efficiency and for students, the very foundation of our hope for a sustainable future.
Just last week many of the members of the House attended a presentation by Dr. Warwick Vincent, an internationally renowned polar scientist. He presented his research findings on life, climate and the vanishing ice on the top of Canada. It was an absolutely incredible presentation, where we discovered that right at the point in time where the funding of the polar research was coming to an end, they were discovering such things as natural biota that created the fuel that could run our economy.
Instead of taking our dollars in the Department of Environment and putting them into companies like Imperial Oil to build a pipeline to the north and potentially threaten the Arctic, we should be replacing and expanding the money for polar scientists who are working with scientists around the world. However, no, the government has decided to end those programs.
At the same time in the budget, the government has chosen to end all of the research funding and support for the development and deployment of renewable technologies, technologies that President Obama has come out and endorsed and given hundreds of millions of dollars, which the International Energy Agency is endorsing and telling all governments of the world they should be supporting. The United Nations is supporting this.
All the world's thinkers and major investors are saying that if a country is smart, if it is going to come out of the recession ahead of the game and be able to be competitive, it should be putting its money and investments into the new energy stream. What is the Conservative government doing? It is cutting the funding.
In the area of health research, I heard from Dr. Ian MacDonald, chair of Ophthalmology at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton and one of North America's acclaimed clinical researchers, expressing his grave concerns with the cuts to the federal health research program. Dr. MacDonald was invited back to Canada from the renowned U.S. National Institute of Health to direct the clinical research program at the Royal Alexandra. The clinic conducts research of direct value to the health of Canadians. Yet his funding is threatened to be cut, an absolutely leading stellar Canadian scientist who could be contributing to Canada, giving us the international acclaim and the benefit for Canadians and worldwide of the results of his research. However, no, the government is cutting funding to health research.
I heard from neurologists at the University of Alberta who are concerned, at a time when medical research is already suffering, that federal funding is to be cut. I am told that every dollar lost means cuts to thousands of jobs for senior researchers and students alike, our future brain trust. Many students already subsist at the poverty level. I am advised that the cuts will result in thousands of jobs losses and the closing of research programs across our country.
We must share their consternation that at the very moment in time the Obama administration is infusing 700-plus millions of new research dollars to eye research alone, our federal government has chosen to cut its support for health research.
In a time of recession, it is not reasonable to download an even greater burden on the health NGOs that are trying to raise funds from the public for competing health priorities: cancer, heart attacks, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, macular degeneration, and the list is endless. We all receive their funding pleas.
At a time when Canada is in a leadership position in many fields of science, we are about to suffer a serious brain drain of the very scientific expertise we invested tax dollars in to develop that in-demand expertise. These will be significant losses, not only to our science reputation, but also to our economy and our health.
The budget promises almost $500 million for the Canada foundation for innovation to hold a research infrastructure competition by 2011, with the priority areas to be set by the federal industry minister, not by scientists or those who understand where needs are, and where additional research could be most strategically focused. Yet, CFI is a flawed concept if no researchers are hired to use the equipment. A great deal of expensive equipment already sits idle due to the lack of skilled scientists to operate it.
These cuts come on the tail of the complete elimination of the senior scientist position at Health Canada, a position created less than a decade ago to enhance science capacity at the federal level. It may be recalled that the first scientist filling that position left to head the heritage health institute in Alberta.
At the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, similarly, the government proposes to spend 70-plus million dollars over three years for 500 new doctoral and 1,000 new master scholarships under the Canada graduates scholarships program, but an unspecified percentage is designated for business-related degrees. The very generous grants are allotted over one year, though the pursuit of the degrees almost always carries over into other years thought the funding cannot be carried over.
By cutting funding to the research granting agencies, the federal government has betrayed the research community and damaged the ability of Canadian universities to undertake innovative research. Losses to the base budgets of granting councils more than offset the gains made by the Canada foundation for innovation and graduate students under the Canada graduate scholarships.
In addition to measures designed to ease the financial burden faced by American students, the U.S. stimulus package proposed by President Barack Obama includes: a $3 billion investment in the national science foundation, $3.5 billion for the national institutes of health and $50 million for the national endowment for the arts. In total, President Obama is recommending increasing research funding in the United States by more than $12 billion.
Our government has chosen to interfere in the grant selection process and ignore the advice of researchers.
The national graduate caucus of the Canadian Federation of Students represents more than 60,000 graduate students. That is 60,000 jobs at risk.
We must come forward and give greater support to scientific research. The government must fund discovery-based research, not just targeted research. The government has changed its priorities twice in two years. It cannot even decide its own priorities. There is no real strategy for science and engineering.
We need to fund basic research, not just buildings, equipment and the stars. It is like building ski hills and rinks, and buying a spanking new Zamboni, but denying the funds to hire anyone to flood the rink, run the Zamboni or coach the kids.