I talked to Dr. Ted Hsu, listened to Minister Goodyear, and missed Madame Hélène LeBlanc who has been “promoted” to Industry. I liked what I heard, which reminded me of my long-held view, that it is often more rewarding to deal directly with accountable politicians than with entrenched bureaucrats. My conversation with Dr. Ted Hsu, freshman MP for Kingston and the Islands, and Liberal Party critic for Science and Technology, was delightful and heartening. I also liked most of what Gary Goodyear had to say here, especially his respectful attitude and his constructive response to the reaction of the scientific community to the termination of certain Tri-council programs.
Torn between his national duties in Ottawa and his young family in Kingston, Ted Hsu is an accomplished yet humble scientist, who is determined to use his academic background and professional expertise to make a positive difference both in the House of Commons, and on the national discourse regarding scientific research and development.
Dr. Hsu would like to see discussions on national policy for Science and Technology that transcend partisanship and political divide. He is hoping to engage his colleagues in the other political parties in a constructive debate about research and innovation. He is very precise, analytical, and constructive in his understanding of the various issues at hand. “Some cuts/reallocations are more significant and need to be dealt with more urgently than others …”
In his –worth listening to– CBC interview, Gary Goodyear was very respectful of research scientists and their role in society, whether in Canada or elsewhere in the world. He was not dismissive of their concerns. “I personally don’t like to see our scientists worried about their next level of funding,” Goodyear said. “We are trying to make sure that our scientists have the ability to do the best quality of work with the best equipment.”
He had none of the “shpeel” about scientists having to pay their fair share in the “government’s effort to return to balanced budgets”. To the contrary, he stressed that “this government doesn’t see Science and Technology spending as a cost, we see it as an investment in job creation and our economic stability.” This is quite remarkable and commendable.
Yes, Mr. Goodyear did try to change the subject on some of the questions, by repeating that the Government had actually increased its support for R&D. This is true over all, but the problem here is about a deliberate and consistent pattern of re-allocating funding away from certain programs and not about cuts.
Goodyear also mentioned that –just like what Government did lately with its support for business oriented research– this year’s budget decision for the Tri-council was mostly a consolidation exercise because there are too many redundantly similar funding programs. He said that he would like to see “scientists spend their valuable time doing research and not filling applications and writing proposals.” Goodyear was obviously referring to the Jenkins panel, which spent a whole year consulting and researching before recommending a serious consolidation of many of the 70+ government programs to support business-oriented R&D. What is puzzling here is that it was this consolidation (à la Jenkins), which was expected to be announced in Budget 2012, and not a consolidation of programs supporting university research, which are yet to be independently reviewed.
Two other comments by Goodyear also caught my attention.
He did say that they are looking for other ways to replace or compensate for the lost funding for RTI, one of them being through the “indirect costs of research”. It would be interesting to know whether Government is actually considering an increase in their support of indirect costs for universities, with an expectation that the latter would pick up the tap on instrumentation and equipment for their researchers, or that they simply expect the universities to use their current indirect cost allocation to cover for the loss of programs such as RTI.
The other point is his assertion that what is happening now is simply “a moratorium for one year as we seek counsel from the scientific community.” It was certainly the first time that such a narrative has been used ever since the budget was announced. I guess it didn’t seem necessary then, in view of the avalanche of budget-praising press releases that emanated from universities’ PR offices.
Whether credit should be given to David Bryce and his scientists colleagues for this welcome announcement by Goodyear remains to be seen. More important is whether Canada’s scientific community will use such a golden opportunity to make itself heard. After all, there is still $74-million in the pipeline of cuts that are planned for the Tri-council in 2013-15.