The 2021 Federal Budget provides new funding for quantum technology, artificial intelligence, clean energy technologies, life sciences and student internships.
Author: Daniel Banks, President, TVB Associates Inc.
Originally published: Canadian Association of Physicists (Apr. 20, 2021)
Physicists working in quantum research and development are sure to be pleased with $360M announced in the budget to launch a National Quantum Strategy, which aims to amplify Canada’s significant strength in quantum research, as well as related quantum technology and innovation. Others working in photonics may benefit from $90M to retool and modernize the Canadian Photonics Fabrication Centre at the National Research Council. Those in artificial intelligence will welcome $444M for renewal of the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy for 10 years. Notably, over $200M of this amount is for programs that will be delivered by CIFAR.
By far, the biggest new investments in research and innovation this year are in the two areas of clean energy technologies and of life sciences and technologies. Physicists working in clean energy technologies may benefit indirectly from over $5B in new funding invested in the Strategic Innovation Fund’s Net Zero Accelerator. Since this Fund and several other initiatives in the Budget encourage industry to implement projects that support clean energy technologies through this Fund, demand for research that enables these technologies is likely to continue to remain strong.
While COVID-19 has driven the focus on life sciences, not all of the new investments are directly related to the pandemic. Of over $2B in new investments in life sciences, three investments are mostly likely to be of interest to biophysicists: (1) The Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) will receive $500M for funding of bio-science infrastructure. (2) The tri-councils will receive $250M for a new biomedical research fund. As a tri-council fund, it is clearly positioned to encourage interdisciplinary collaboration and physicists working in such collaboration could access these funds. (3) The budget provides $400M for Pan-Canadian Genomics Strategy, including $137M for programs delivered by Genome Canada.
In fact, these are the only new funds provided to either of the two agencies that physicists most rely on—the CFI and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC)—except for a $47M investment in the NSERC to applied research and development projects led by Canadian businesses in collaboration with colleges, CEGEPs, and polytechnics.
Budget 2021 provides some good news for students and post-docs in research fields. Mitacs will receive over $700M over five years to create at least “85,000 work-integrated learning placements,” through its internship programs that focus on research-based innovation in industry. Students in all science and technology fields could benefit from these on-the-job learning opportunities. The budget also pledges to adjust the tax code to enable post-docs to earn RRSP room on their income.
While these targeted investments may be timely and of strategic value, it is clear that Canada’s Fundamental Science Review in 2017 is no longer driving the budget decisions. This review led to a large focus on science in the 2018 budget. The last budget in 2019 (there was no budget in 2020) made some smaller steps that could be connected back to the Review. The Review recommended a new approach for funding so-called “third-party science and research” organizations, such as Genome Canada, Mitacs, and Brain Canada, that operate outside the jurisdiction of the granting agencies. Budget 2019 announced that the Minister of Science would create a new “Strategic Science Fund” that would rationalize funding for the growing number of such organizations. However, two years later, no such Strategic Science Fund has been established, and Budget 2021 continues ad hoc investments in Genome Canada and Mitacs. Furthermore, Canada no longer has a Minister of Science to deliver on that commitment.
Relevant excerpts from the 2020 federal budget are provided in the original article.