Executive Director, Research & Innovation, HealthCareCAN
Integrated Vice President Health Research London Health Sciences Centre and St. Joseph’s London, HealthCareCAN Research Co-Chair
President & CEO, HealthCareCAN
Federal Budgets tell an interesting story for research and innovation when they are explored longitudinally. Over the past 10 years, nearly every second or third federal budget has had some statement about initiating or awaiting one review or another. This has important advantages and challenges in advancing the science and technology agenda. Federal Budget 2017 brings many of these to light.
Consider that Federal Budget 2010 announced the Review of Federal Support to R&D. Federal Budget 2013 announced a review of the Federal Indirect Costs Program. In Federal Budget 2015, the Government flagged the imminent release of the results of the Federal Health Innovation Advisory Panel that had been struck in 2014. Federal Budget 2016 announced consultations for an Innovation Agenda and a Science Review of Government support to fundamental science programs. Budget 2017 indicated it would release the Science Review “in the coming months” and announced a horizontal review of federal innovation programs to be delivered in 2018.
The positive aspects of these reviews are due diligence. Research and innovation measures in Federal Budgets are not trite. They cost tax payers money. They can make or break the research and innovation ecosystem. They need buy-in to work. Reviews are important. However they can also bring a sinister side if they ‘press pause’ when desperate action is needed.
Consider that many of the innovation measures in Budget 2017 echo the excellent recommendations of the Economic Advisory Council. This is very positive. It is a no surprise and transparent-logic strategy. However, Budget 2017 also reaches as far back as 2011 to implement some of the recommendations that were published by the Federal Review of R&D. For example, the R&D Review expressed concern about more than ‘60 innovation programs across 17 departments’ and recommends a ‘concierge service’ to streamline these. Budget 2017 echoes this concern and proposes a ‘horizontal review’ of innovation programs and the creation of Innovation Canada to consolidate access to them. Research and innovation policy, much like research and innovation itself, needs a long runway.
A harder hitting example of the challenges of Federal Reviews referenced in successive Budgets occurs in consideration of the granting councils. In 2016, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the other granting councils received the largest unfettered increase in its base budget since their inception (CIHR received an additional $30M ongoing per year). This was a good start towards addressing a large and growing shortfall. Budget 2017 is silent on any further action that will be taken to modernize the budget of the CIHR, possibly given that the results of a Science Review are yet to be released.
However, this has consequences. Consider that in 2017, an international panel, headed by Sir Peter Gluckman, Chief Science Advisor for New Zealand, felt it would be remiss to make recommendations per its mandate on peer review processes, without flagging the effect of the severe funding shortage at CIHR. The question is how long can Canadian scientists, especially early and mid-career health researchers wait? How quickly can a review be released? More importantly, how quickly and appropriately can it be assessed and implemented?
Canadian health researchers have had a hard and stressful year, full of uncertainties. They were hoping, and continue to hope, for some serious help from the Federal Government. There is no shortage of numbers or narratives to showcase the return on investment in health research. In this regard, we were pleased to see health and life sciences identified as a key sector for Canada to compete globally. Further, health researchers share the Government’s objectives, as they are expressed in the Budget, when it comes to women in science and encouraging students in Science Technology Engineering Mathematics subjects. However, such measures, without sufficient funding throughout the research and innovation ecosystem, can actually have the reverse effect.
Federal Budget 2016 and 2017, when taken together, may have helped stabilize the traumatized patient of health research in Canada, by continuing the yearly cumulative commitments to increasing the granting council base budgets. However, we can’t press pause too much longer. The question upon release of the Science Review will be whether Canada can keep the storefront of health research opened, even if it chooses to renovate the shop. Like the Federal Government did in 2016, its Economic Update would be a good opportunity to increase funding for health research and ensure that scientists can deliver their goals for the benefit of patients, the public, their workforce and students.
Scientific talent is a mobile resource, and has finite patience before seeking a more appreciative environment outside of Canada. We stand ready to work with the Federal Government to give serious consideration to the recommendations coming forward from the Federal Science Review.
By Tina Saryeddine, Executive Director, Research & Innovation, HealthCareCAN; David Hill, Integrated Vice President Health Research London Health Sciences Centre and St. Joseph’s London, HealthCareCAN Research Co-Chair, Bill Tholl, President & CEO, HealthCareCAN. HealthCareCAN is the national voice of patient care organizations in Canada including the majority of the country’s research hospitals. www.healthcarecan.ca