Statement made on 31 March 2009 by Senator James Cowan
Hon. James S. Cowan:
Honourable senators, when I spoke on February 11 on the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne, one issue I raised was the government's approach to science policy and my concerns about the direction in which we were moving as a country when it comes to scientific research.
Last Tuesday, I launched this inquiry drawing the attention of the Senate to the critical importance of scientific research to the future of Canada and the well-being of Canadians.
Today, I want to expand on my earlier observations on this issue.
I encourage my colleagues on all sides of the house to contribute their thoughts to the debate in the weeks ahead. I hope that in due course our Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology might undertake an in-depth study of this topic.
I begin by stating what I thought was obvious to us all: Namely, that in today's world, science is the renewable energy source that powers a modern economy.
This is the age of technology and innovation, and scientific research is at the core — at the heart — of the ideas that transform how we live. Scientific research affects the health of our citizens, the goods and services people produce and want to buy, how we travel safely and communicate with each other, how we keep our environment clean and how we grow the foods we eat.
Scientific research defines our world today but, more importantly, it is how we can imagine a better tomorrow, and that means it is critical to positioning ourselves for success as a nation.
Frankly, I would not have thought that in 2009, this reality needed to be stated. Of course, bricks and mortar are necessary if industries are to be successful, but most definitely they are not sufficient; not today. Prime Minister Chrétien and Prime Minister Martin understood this reality. Clearly, Mr. Harper does not.
We probably should not be surprised. In retrospect, the Harper government gave us a number of early indications that its approach to science policy would be short-sighted. We witnessed the elimination of the position of national science adviser. We read about the government's repeated sidelining of its own scientists reflected in headlines like this from the front page of The Ottawa Citizen on February 1, 2008:
Environment Canada "muzzles" scientists' dealing with the media.
Then there were the devastating cuts in the recent budget, which I will return to shortly. Then we have a government insisting more and more on inserting itself in the direction of scientific research in this country. That is another issue I will address again.
Choices are being made about funding different scientific pursuits. Genome Canada, the Canadian organization most responsible for funding genetic research — a field inextricably intertwined with scientific understanding of evolution — for the first time finds itself without funding for new projects.
Is the matter a budgetary one or are there other agendas at work here? How can Canadians know if the minister, supported by the Harper government, refuses to answer?
This is where we are now, after three years of a Harper government. However, this is not where we began. Mr. Harper inherited a vibrant, thriving research community. The Liberal governments of Prime Minister Chrétien and Prime Minister Martin invested heavily in the three granting councils that form the bedrock of financial support for scientific research in Canada. These councils are the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, CIHR, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, NSERC, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, SSHRC. The Chrétien government created the Canada Foundation for Innovation, it established Genome Canada, it introduced the Canada Graduate Scholarships and it established the Canada Research Chairs — 2,000 chairs that have enabled our universities to attract and retain the best scientists and researchers from across Canada and abroad. Literally hundreds of top Canadian researchers who had left Canada to pursue their research returned home under this program.
On Mr. Harper's watch, only last month — in February alone — 31,000 jobs were lost in the Canadian professional, science and technology sector. The Chrétien and Martin governments transformed what had been a massive brain drain into a vibrant brain gain. Canada became a "go to" place for scientists and researchers. That situation has now changed. I know, and honourable senators opposite will no doubt remind me, that the Chrétien government was not always so generous in its support of scientific research. Before honourable senators opposite have an opportunity to remind me of that, let me set the record straight.
The early 1990s was not a good time for scientific research in this country. Prime Minister Chrétien and then Finance Minister Martin did not have the luxury that the Harper government had of inheriting a large surplus, which it now plans to run into cumulative deficits of at least $85 billion over the next five years. On the contrary, Mr. Chrétien and Mr. Martin had to make tough decisions and cut back spending on a number of important fronts because the financial house they inherited from the previous Conservative government was a mess.
Instead of the surplus the Liberals passed on to Mr. Harper, the previous Conservative government left behind a massive deficit. However, as soon as they could responsibly do so, the Liberal governments put into action — with strong financial support — their vision for a strong, innovative Canada of the 21st century, one positioned to lead in the knowledge-based economy.
Beginning in 1997, the Chrétien and Martin governments committed $12 billion in new funding to support research. They more than doubled the budgets of the research granting councils to a total of $1.6 billion in 2004-05. As a result, Canada is now a Group of 7, G7, leader in terms of university research and development. Under the Liberal governments, Canadian gross domestic expenditure on research and development, as a percentage of gross domestic product, GDP, rose significantly to just over 2 per cent, well above the average of 1.5 per cent for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
One publication, Re$earch Money, said last year, on February 25, 2008, that "the Liberal governments of Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin engineered the largest increases to university-based science funding in Canadian history."
We all benefited. Canada is at the forefront of scientific research today. The following examples from the last few years show what can grow in an environment that is well-nourished and supported by the federal government.
In 2003, Dr. Stephen Scherer sequenced chromosome 7, helping to reveal the genetic roots of cystic fibrosis and other diseases. In 2005, Dr. Brett Finlay and Dr. Andy Potter developed a vaccine for E. coli in cattle that has been marketed throughout the world. In 2005, Dr. Heinz Feldmann and Steven Jones developed vaccines that can protect monkeys from lethal doses of Ebola, Lassa and Marburg viruses. In 2006, Dr. John Dick discovered a way to destroy leukemia cells responsible for the recurrence of that disease. In 2007, Dr. Freda Miller used skin-derived stem cells to repair spinal cord injuries in rodents. In 2008, Dr. Stefano Stifani discovered a key mechanism involved in the development of motor neurons, improving our understanding of what goes wrong in neurodegenerative diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS.
Recently, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council funded a project that allowed Hussein Abdullah, a professor of robotics and engineering at the University of the Guelph, to develop robots that help physiotherapists rehabilitate damaged limbs of stroke patients.
NSERC Postgraduate Scholarship recipient Michael Anstey, working with a team of international researchers, in a breakthrough discovery, identified the factor that transforms the desert locust — normally a solitary creature — into one that swarms in the millions, creating locust plagues that devastate crops.
We are only at the beginning of 2009 but we have already seen front-page coverage of extraordinary scientific breakthroughs by Canadian scientists. Dr. Andras Nagy, a Canadian Research Chair at the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, discovered a way to reprogram ordinary skin cells into embryonic-like stem cells without using potentially dangerous viruses, as had been done previously.
A Canadian-led international team sequenced the DNA of brain tumours from 800 children across the world and found a family of eight genes capable of developing into one of the leading types of childhood brain cancer. Childhood brain cancer is, in fact, the leading cause of childhood cancer deaths, after accidents. Thanks to the work of these scientists, treatments can be tested that target these particular genes without having a toxic effect on the child's still-developing brain.
Stephen Harper has proudly pointed to our involvement in Afghanistan to demonstrate our value on the world stage. Yes, joining with other nations to combat terrorism is part of our international responsibility. However, I believe that we would be short-changing Canada and the world if we limited our vision of our international role to a military one. Look at the diseases that may be combated because of Canadian research. Look at plagues that may be halted because of our work here. Look at the lives that could be saved around the world.
Viewed through the narrow lens of economic self-interest, look at the value of the breakthroughs and discoveries that take place because of science — both direct as well as the myriad of spin-offs from commercialization possibilities. Look at jobs that are created directly and through spin-offs and look at the quality of those jobs and the salaries of the workers.
Fernand Martin, Professor of Economics at the Université de Montréal, developed a model to measure the economic impact of Canadian university research on GDP. Back in 1988, he found that the total — including not only the direct impact which he described as "the tip of the iceberg," but also its much greater impact on the factors of production or total factor productivity — Canadian university research fuelled about $15.5 billion of GDP increase each year, and 150,000 to 200,000 jobs.
The most recent update of his model is for the year 2007. The cumulative impact of Canadian university research contributions to the economy through GDP is estimated to be in excess of $60 billion.
I remind honourable senators that prominent economists have estimated that the Harper-Flaherty stimulus package will create or retain 120,000 jobs. That is tens of thousands fewer jobs than are generated by university research in this country.
Honourable senators, the fundamental question is: What is our vision of Canada for the 21st century? Are these the kinds of discoveries and contributions that we want to continue to produce? Do we want to be a nation that pushes the frontiers of knowledge, where Canadians are encouraged to think big and imagine new solutions?
These discoveries do not happen overnight. They are the result of years of work and investment. They often require close collaboration both within a laboratory and across nations — indeed, sometimes across diverse disciplines.
Our job as policy-makers is to build and maintain a strong foundation that allows this research to thrive. This requires modern physical infrastructure, but it also demands funding for the research itself. It makes no sense to build state-of-the-art laboratories at the expense of funding the research that is to take place within them, yet that is precisely what the Harper budget proposes.
The three granting councils — CIHR, NSERC and SSHRC — must cut spending by $148 million over the next three years. The National Research Council, which already cut more than 100 jobs in 2007, including scientists, has to cut another $27.7 million over the next three years.
Instead of investing more in our future at this critical time, the Harper government is taking money away from our researchers in order to fund other admittedly important subjects. These funds will now be spent on infrastructure, on scholarships and on commercializing research. These are all good causes, but does it make sense to take money away from operating research grants to fund them?
It is great to build modern research facilities, but who will work there? It is great to provide additional scholarship money for graduate students, but who will they study with if the best professors have left Canada to go to other countries where they can pursue their research. What will they do when they finish their graduate work? Are we investing Canadian taxpayers' money to train scientists for the United States and other countries where scientific research is valued and supported? It is great to give money to commercialize research, but first you need the research to commercialize.
The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, AUCC, is a highly respected organization that I am sure is familiar to many of us. That organization appeared before the Standing Committee on Finance in the other place. While grateful for the Harper government's attention to the infrastructure needs of post-secondary institutions, they were very clear about the problems posed by the cuts to the granting councils. They said in their presentation:
We share the disappointment of our research community in the reductions of granting council funds. We must keep pace with the competition given the international context in which our research community operates. As part of their stimulus packages, countries around the world are now making significant investments in their research enterprises. In particular, the new U.S. administration has just approved an injection of billions over the next 18 months in its R&D enterprise, including large increases in the amount of funding available to researchers. Canada's investments through the multi-year S&T strategy will determine Canada's ability to compete on the world stage.
Even a former senior cabinet minister in the Harper government has expressed his disagreement with the short shrift given to science and technology in the budget. David Emerson told the Vancouver Sun on February 17:
What we do now in the short run shouldn't be short-sighted. . . . Now is the time when you've really got to keep pushing resources into research and our educational institutions.
James Drummond has been the chief scientist at PEARL, the Polar Environmental Atmospheric Research Lab in Eureka, Nunavut, 1,500 kilometres above the Arctic Circle. He holds a Canada Research Chair in remote sounding and atmospherics in the Department of Physics and Atmospheric Sciences at Dalhousie University. At first, he was pleased when he saw the budget had committed $85 million to upgrade Canadian research facilities in the Arctic, but then he realized that none of that money could actually be used to run the facility at PEARL.
The two key sources of federal money that keep Mr. Drummond's lab and its science going are drying up. As he told CanWest News, the approximately $200,000 a year they receive in operating funds from NSERC ends on March 31; and PEARL is on the last instalment of a $5.5 million, five-year grant from the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences.
That foundation, established by the Chrétien government in 2000, took over funding of climate and atmospheric research at Canadian universities from several government programs that were being phased out. The foundation, which received $60 million in 2000 and another $50 million in 2004, has financed 160 projects and 24 research networks. It was looking for a $25 million-a-year lifeline from the Harper government and it got nothing.
As reported in The Globe and Mail on March 2, without new funding, the foundation will shut by March 2010, one year from now, and 25 research networks that have studied climate change and related issues will close down with it. While the foundation's mandate extends to 2011, with no new money being given out, the foundation will only have a bare staff to complete paperwork and keep the lights on. No real research will be done.
What of James Drummond and the PEARL research project in the Arctic? According to The Globe and Mail:
The paradox, Dr. Drummond says, is he will be able to improve a lab that he cannot afford to operate.
The article goes on, in a quote from Dr. Drummond:
As a citizen, I have to question whether upgrading facilities is a good idea if there's no one to run them. I don't want to demonize anybody, but you have to question the wisdom.
The Globe and Mail article, by the way, is entitled "Researchers fear 'stagnation' under Tories." It appeared on the front page, right under the banner headline and story about the extraordinary Canadian breakthrough in stem cell research. I am sure the irony was not lost on Canadians.
It does not take long for the impacts of these cuts to be felt. Dr. Drummond has already lost a post-doctoral student to a NASA contractor in the United States. He is afraid more will follow. President Obama, in stark contrast to Stephen Harper, understands the importance of this work and plans to spend more than $400 million on climate change at NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Richard Lawford at the University of Manitoba manages the four-year-old Drought Research Initiative, which has been funded by the same Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences. That initiative works to prepare for the country's next water crisis. As reported by Margaret Munro of CanWest, the last drought, from 1999 to 2004, cost an estimated $6 billion and 41,000 jobs.
According to the article, which appeared in the February 16 issue of The Ottawa Citizen:
Lawford says the team is keen to build on the project in a bid to ensure there is enough water for farmers and cities. But with CFCAS running out of cash, so is the project.
Young scientists and technical staff will be hardest hit. "That's where the real pain comes in," says Lawford, who fears many highly educated young scientists working on the drought project will head to the U.S. where science is expected to undergo a renaissance under President Barack Obama.
"We may have just trained them for the U.S.," says Lawford. "And expertise, which Canada will need to prevent rivers and reservoirs from running dry when the next drought hits, will be lost with them," he says.
Our scientists are also going to Australia. Katrin Meissner has been described as a "celebrated young scientist." Her field is climate change, understanding how it affects everything from permafrost to bird migrations. She has held a tenure-track position at the University of Victoria but is now packing up and leaving with her young family for Australia.
According to Margaret Munro's article that I referred to earlier:
The University of New South Wales made her an offer she couldn't refuse — a position as a senior lecturer, research opportunities and guaranteed daycare for her one-year-old son, which was the perk that sealed the deal.
Honourable senators, I cannot help interjecting to note how important a real child care policy is, and the consequences of the Harper government's stubborn refusal to help young working women. Back to the newspaper article, Ms. Meissner said:
I didn't really want to leave. . . .
But she says that the opportunities in Australia seem much more promising. She says:
Long-term it looks quite scary in Canada.
Dr. Meissner is not alone. A number of graduate students, all of whom studied here in Canada, are leaving with her to join a new climate change initiative research centre in Australia.
The perils of investing in infrastructure without also investing in the research to be done in the facility can be seen in the example of the labs of Dr. Charlie Boone and Dr. Brenda Andrews at the University of Toronto. Let me read to you from The Globe and Mail article on March 2:
If labs are like race cars, Charlie Boone drives a Lamborghini. Canada Research Chair in Proteomics, Bioinformatics and Functional Genomics at U of T, Dr. Boone works inside the award-winning tower of the Terrence Donnelly building.
Together with Brenda Andrews, chair of U of T's Banting and Best Department of Medical Research, they run one of the world's few systems-biology labs, tackling how life works at the molecular level.
But with flat funding to CIHR grants and no new money pledged to Genome Canada, the agency that routinely backs large-scale science, the Boone-Andrews labs — which support more than 50 staff — will run out of money in December.
Said Dr. Andrews, "We have a fairly short time frame in which to come up with a solution."
Said Dr. Boone:
I think it's a fundamental philosophy of the Conservative government that they don't see the value in basic research. We'd like to stay in Canada, but there are only two options. You stick it out and wait till the government changes or you go somewhere else.
These concerns are being felt at universities right across the country. Neurobiologist Samuel Weiss at the University of Calgary, who last year won the prestigious Gairdner Award for his work discovering the brain's ability to make new cells, has struggled to understand why the Harper budget offers no new money for research operating grants at the three federal granting councils, and indeed is forcing them to make cuts over the next three years.
He is reported in the January 30 issue of The Globe and Mail:
The tri-council funding is the bedrock of advances in health and innovation. The government has invested in buildings and training bright people, but without operating money what are they going to do? If the funding taps do not flow, we could start losing the best and the brightest. They will do something else — or they may just go somewhere else.
David Colman, a neuroscientist recruited in 2002 from the United States to become the Director of the Montreal Neurological Institute, one of seven Centres of Excellence in Canada, sees Canada at a crossroads. In the Ottawa Citizen on March 7, he said:
A country as strong and sophisticated as Canada should have a direct and clear understanding of where it has to go to lead the world in terms of science. You have to look forward with vision, but here the (grants) agency funding is flat or worse. The priorities change and change dramatically every budget year. If, with every budget, you are going to change your view, you are not giving your country a chance to be the best in the world.
Dr. Colman was speaking from personal experience. As described in the article, in 2005 he:
. . . helped recruit a young star researcher from the U.S. to continue his work on the brain that might help design artificial visual systems for the blind. But the pair then got a shock when the grant for the star researcher's proposal was cut by 44 per cent because of budget constraints, making it impossible for him to fully develop his project.
Colman still believes in Canada's potential, saying that if we continue to invest in "curiosity-driven science," the country will flourish. He says:
We have a great advantage here, but not much money. What is needed in Canada is not to build more buildings, but to fill those buildings with the smartest people in the world and allow them to work. This is a great country and it can do this with little effort. It just needs a little push.
Sadly, the Harper Conservatives seem determined to push away from excellence in Canada. Several years ago, 30 neuroscientists at York University, the University of Western Ontario and Queen's University teamed up to combine their diverse areas of expertise. They shared expenses like running expensive brain scanners and collected data faster. They created a team with the potential to compete with the best in the world.
Most recently, they received funding under a special "team grant" provided by CIHR specifically to encourage this kind of group work, giving individual researchers access to resources they simply could not afford on their own.
Honourable senators, that Open Team Grant Program is one of the programs that is being eliminated by CIHR to meet the budget cuts demanded by Mr. Harper and Mr. Flaherty.
Dr. Doug Crawford of York University told The Globe and Mail that it felt like the rug has been yanked out from beneath them. "Instead of reaching for the sky, we are scrambling to stay afloat."
In The Globe and Mail on March 11, Dr. Crawford said:
I started out as a professor in the mid-nineties and times were tight. Since then, we have always been building and improving and bringing Canada up to a place where it is not just keeping pace, but leading in the world, in our case, of neuroscience research.
To suddenly see so much of that investment and so much of that work being set back like this really is both frightening and disturbing for us.
These scientists were studying the roots of Parkinson's disease and attention deficit disorder, amongst other neurological problems. This is critical research, honourable senators that could impact thousands and thousands of Canadians and their families, to say nothing of countless people around the world. But clearly, and sadly, these are not matters of value to the Harper government.
That article in The Globe and Mail concluded with this quote from Dr. Crawford:
We are going head first into a cement wall. The very best scientists will leave. We will lose the very best ones.
The Canadian Medical Association Journal — in the words of the Edmonton Journal, "hardly a radical pamphlet" — took the unusual step of publishing an editorial devoted to the impact of the Harper budget. The title is: "The budget's message to medical science: Quick, get a shovel!"
The editorial asks whether all the billions of tax dollars committed in the budget to the stimulus package will help Canadians compete globally in tomorrow's economy. Will this budget help stimulate innovation, support knowledge-based sectors and prepare Canada for the new economy that will emerge? Their answer, sadly, is not optimistic, and I quote:
There is a great cause for concern that it will not. With a stroke of a pen, the 2009 Budget could instead erase seven years of brain gain after the years of brain drain in the mid-90s.
In saying yes to deficits and stimulus, yet being lukewarm to science, the unmistakable message from Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is that science is unimportant in Canada's economy.
The editorial goes on to say, "Budget 2009 may foreshadow the decline of the science and technology strategy."
Without greater investment in science and technology, Canada's future will start looking perilously like Russia's present — a country that has vast resources but outmoded technology.
Let us be clear. Science and technology and commercializing the research cannot be started, stopped and started again on a whim. Our advantage, once lost, will not easily or quickly be regained. Many observers, both inside and outside of the United States, believe that the cuts instituted by President Bush to the National Institutes of Health cost that country a generation of young scientists.
Honourable senators, policy matters. The president of the renowned Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel wrote recently about the temptation to bring in budget cuts during a time of financial crisis and follow it up later with increased funding when times are better. He said, "excellence does not follow such a path. It is easy to slip into mediocrity, but far more complicated to scale the mountain of excellence once again."
It is striking that President Obama, who faces a far more serious economic crisis than we do, is responding not with cuts to science and research but by reasserting investments in scientific research as a top priority. In his inaugural address, he promised Americans that he would "restore science to its rightful place." In his address to the Joint Session of Congress on February 24, he pointed first to science and technology as holding the keys to turning around the economy. He said the following:
The weight of this crisis will not determine the destiny of this nation. The answers to our problems don't lie beyond our reach. They exist in our laboratories and universities; in our fields and our factories; in the imaginations of our entrepreneurs and the pride of the hardest-working people on Earth.
Indeed, the Obama administration is investing billions — $10 billion U.S. — in the National Institutes of Health, to give one example. The National Science Foundation is requesting a budget of $7 billion for 2010. Some estimates put the proposed new total investment in basic research as high as $25 billion. Other calculations put it even higher. New Scientist magazine calls it "the biggest bet on science and technology in history."
Honourable senators, President Obama is not alone. Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown also believes in the power of investing in science and technology, even and perhaps particularly during a recession. He has vowed to "entrench investment in science as a national priority." The London Times reported these remarks of Mr. Brown at the Romanes lecture at Oxford University on February 28:
"The economic role of science will be of even more importance than before," Mr. Brown said. "Some say that now is not the time to invest but the bottom line is that the downturn is no time to slow down our investment in science. We will not allow science to become a victim of the recession, but rather focus on developing it as a key element of our path to recovery."
This presents an additional challenge for our own universities and research institutes. Not only are they facing cuts to research grants from the federal government because of this budget, but there are ready and eager markets for our researchers just south of the border and overseas.
Harvey Weingarten, President of the University of Calgary, is well aware that Canadian universities will now have to actively compete with the United States for the best and the brightest:
We have come off a very good period compared to the States and now we are in danger that they will just drive way past us.
University of British Columbia President Stephen Toope was unequivocal: "We could be left in the dust."
Honourable senators, the contrast between the Harper government and that of President Obama does not end with the comparison of dollars. In his first hours of office, President Obama made it clear that he plans to reverse the Bush-era ban on stem cell research. In the words of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, he was "signalling to the world that the United States will value scientific inquiry over ideology." A clear vision is emerging. Science and research, not political beliefs, are the keys to a better health future.
Senator Stratton: What is your point?
Senator Cowan: Fortunately, we do not have a ban on stem cell research in Canada, but many scientists worry that the Harper government is asserting too much control over research dollars, micromanaging the granting process in such a way as to actively direct the scientific agenda. In other words, just as the U.S. is freeing itself from the yoke of ideology strangling scientific research, we appear to have a government that believes that politics can and should direct science.
We saw the success of that policy during the Bush years. Scientists raced to come to Canada. We benefited. My fear is that by emulating George Bush, Mr. Harper will drive our best scientists to the new-found freedom of the U.S. labs under the Obama administration.
Let me give honourable senators some examples of the concerns being expressed by scientists here.
Andrew Weaver, who holds a Canada Research Chair in climate modelling and analysis at the University of Victoria, has expressed concern over competitions run through the federal Networks of Centres of Excellence. These would provide $5 million grants over five years but are posted for very particular projects. Examples cited by Dr. Weaver included "energy production in the oil sands" and "new media animation and games."
His concerns were described in The Globe and Mail on March 2:
"Governments have always had a say in research, but this is getting down to micromanagement, this is really specific," said Dr. Weaver.
What is worse, he said, is that academic researchers must have an industrial partner to qualify for the grant, "so the taxpayer is being used to subsidize Canadian corporate research."
"They're cutting the [basic research] funding system and also stipulating what you can do," he said. "This is unbelievable — this is Orwellian."
The President of NSERC admits that about 30 per cent of the NSERC budget is "directed" rather than open. Dr. Weaver believes that this is too high a proportion, given the small size of the funding pie in this country.
The Canada Foundation for Innovation will also feel the Harper government's controlling arm. As described in The Globe and Mail:
The government also wants input to help determine the type of research infrastructure projects the Canada Foundation for Innovation funds. Eliot Phillipson, CFI President and CEO, explained that $600-million of the agency's whopping $750-million increase will back one or more new competitions in which "there's going to be a little more direction" from Ottawa. The government is to help draft the call for proposals to ensure it fits with its priorities.
Honourable senators, this is astonishing. Scientists must be free to research without political control.
There was a very telling op-ed piece by Preston Manning in The Globe and Mail on March 17. I do believe that Mr. Manning means well, but I found his proposal to advance the cause of scientists in this country simultaneously astonishing and illuminating. He suggests having a one-day forum, a kind of dog-and-pony-show, that would bring our top scientists to Ottawa to strut their stuff in front of MPs, senators, senior public servants and the media and demonstrate their worth to Canada. The message he says they should communicate is the following:
Canada's science and technology community stands ready and willing to do its part to assist in coping with the recession if given the direction, opportunity and resources to do so.
He repeats that several times in the article — top scientists should gather at this forum and give short addresses "in the areas of greatest concern to the government and where the community has the greatest contributions to make." He tells scientists to "avoid complaints, government-bashing, excessive Obama-worship . . . and partisanship."
Honourable senators, as I say, I believe Mr. Manning truly is trying to help the science community, but that is what makes this even more frightening. Mr. Manning clearly knows Stephen Harper. Mr. Harper used to work for him, and he evidently believes that the way for science to succeed under Harper's watch is by kowtowing and researching only what Mr. Harper and, presumably, what his minister in charge of science policy, Gary Goodyear, want researched.
Honourable senators, we see the worth of our scientists in new therapies for debilitating diseases.
I look forward to Senator Tkachuk's contribution to this debate, as well as that of Mr. Goodyear. It would be interesting to know whether the honourable senator shares Mr. Goodyear's view of this matter.
Surely, we do not need to bring our top scientists to Parliament Hill and compel them to prove their worth. That sounds medieval to me.
I spoke earlier about the Harper government's failure to provide funding for the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences. That foundation has supported critical projects researching climate change, drought, air quality, detecting ice on the wings of an airplane and ways to improve forecasts of extreme weather conditions — important, highly relevant research with concrete applications to improve Canadians' lives.
Why is the government abandoning this foundation? Is it because of a political agenda? Is climate change something the government would rather not have researched?
Honourable senators, I was struck by a chill among members of our science and research community. In preparing these remarks over the past month or so, I spoke with a large number of Canadian scientists. Time and again, I heard expressions of shock and disappointment at the government's lack of support for science and research; but I also was asked repeatedly not to quote the individuals expressing those concerns. Why: The answer is fear of retribution.
Some Hon. Senators: Oh, oh.
Senator Cowan: Honourable senators will notice that I have confined myself in these remarks to quoting only statements that appeared in the press. Many members of our scientific community do not feel free to express their views openly for fear their laboratories or universities will be targeted for cuts by a government that wants to hear only expressions of support.
I was not as shocked as I might otherwise have been to read of the meeting between the Harper government's Minister of Science and Technology, Senator Tkachuk's friend, Mr. Goodyear, and representatives of the Canadian Association of University Teachers. CAUT is a well-known, established organization. I am sure many of us are familiar with the organization and have received representations from them on one or another issue that has come before the Senate. CAUT represents some 65,000 staff at 121 colleges and universities.
According to The Globe and Mail, CAUT wanted to raise concerns about the government's handling of research money in the budget. Let me read to you the report from The Globe and Mail of what happened.
"The minister was very angry," said David Robinson, associate executive director of CAUT. "He was raising his voice and pointing his finger . . . He said everyone loves their federal budget and we said, 'A lot of our members don't love it' . . . and he said, 'That's because you're lying to them, misleading them."'
The talks, Mr. Robinson said, went from bad to worse. In 15 years on the job he "never had a meeting like that."
The article continued:
James Turk, CAUT executive director, said the meeting with the minister typifies the chill many scientists feel coming from the government, calling the reception "nasty pit-bull" behaviour.
"If they treated us like that — and they have no control over us — you can imagine how they're treating the presidents. . ."
— of the federal granting councils, said Mr. Turk.
"Their intention is to intimidate their critics."
The article went stated later:
When CAUT staff said the Conservatives have a spotty record on science and noted they abolished the office of the national science adviser, Mr. Robertson said, the minister's assistant screamed at them to shut up.
"Then the minister said, 'You've burned all your bridges with us!' and they stormed out.
"In all the meetings I've been in like this, I've never been shouted at and told to shut up," Mr. Robinson said. The civil servant who escorted them to the elevator suggested it would not even be a good idea to return to the minister's office to collect their coats, he said. Instead, she retrieved them.
Senator Stollery: Honourable senators, there will be an election soon. All of this information should be broadcast nationally.
Senator Cowan: Honourable senators, is this how this government consults with concerned Canadians? Is this how it is making public policy to address the economic crisis? What is happening to the open and free pursuit of ideas — values that are fundamental to Canadians and absolutely essential to scientific research?
Honourable senators, I will close with this thought: Most scientific research in Canada is done in universities and at institutes associated with universities. Our scientists are facing what has been called a "perfect storm." The universities' endowments, built up over years through generous donations, have lost significant value because of the plunging stock market. Meanwhile, they are not being replenished as those individuals who donate money to support research are themselves facing difficult times in this recession.
This is the time, honourable senators, when Canadians need their government to step in to fill the void. Yet the Harper government is choosing to do exactly the opposite. Instead of increasing operating grants for research, this government is cutting the budgets of the granting councils and diverting research money to other purposes.
This is bad policy, honourable senators. We will pay the price for these bad decisions for many years to come.
I invite the government to reconsider its approach to this issue. Yes, the physical infrastructure requires investment, but not at the expense of the operating funding. These investments must proceed in balance if we are to build a strong foundation for our country's future.
That, honourable senators, is the key: balance. Several scientists I met spoke of four pillars that are required for a strong research environment: people, direct project support, indirect institutional support for research costs, and infrastructure. If one of those pillars, such as infrastructure, is supported but the others are not, the structure will not be stronger; it will collapse.
The consequences for Canada are significant. As a number of leading scientists emphasized to me, negative short-term funding decisions can have long-term consequences. Young outstanding Canadian scientists will leave and establish themselves elsewhere. We have learned from the last brain drain that it is not an easy or quick task to persuade them to come home again. World-leading research groups that have been built up painstakingly over many years will be dismantled. The previous excellent investment in science research will be downgraded. We will lose a generation of scientific leaders. Who will remain to train the next generation?
Honourable senators, it is not necessary to proceed down this path. Paul Martin, who played a key role in successfully steering Canada through five financial crises during his time as finance minister and then Prime Minister, and left the finances of this country in a healthy surplus, said in a recent interview with The Globe and Mail:
"The failure to put money into science and technology was a huge mistake, in my opinion," he said. "Because everybody understands that there's a new economy coming out of this and for us to be cutting the lifeblood to that new economy — which is research and development and the sciences — I think is a backward move."
Honourable senators, I agree. I fear that this government is trying to come through this economic crisis by throwing money at whatever is fastest and easiest. There is no plan; there is no vision.
In conclusion, I remind colleagues of the words from Proverbs, carved in the Peace Tower of the building where we now stand: "Where there is no vision, the people perish."
Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!