Except Greens, campaigning parties silent on support for STI
October 9, 2019
Political advocacy for Canadian science, technology and innovation (STI) is being squeezed by a tight federal election race as the parties compete on so-called pocketbook issues while ignoring the critical underpinnings of the knowledge economy.
Analysis of the available political party platforms reveals that, with the exception of the Green Party, scant attention is being paid by parties to STI funding and policy issues, despite growing concern that Canada’s rapid progression towards an innovation branch-plant economy is accelerating.
The governing Liberal Party highlights postsecondary skills training and the environment but has not provided specific details for its platform, nor indicated whether it will extend the breadth and funding of the STI programs it has put in place since being elected in 2015.
The Conservative Party platform has been promised but yet to be released. The PC party, however, has committed to slashing business assistance programs, although it has not indicated whether this would include STI-focused programs or the SR&ED tax credit program.
In one of the few statements on STI from PC leader Andrew Scheer, he told CTV News that “our innovation agenda will absolutely help foster startups and scaleups here in Canada” by “off-loading regulatory burdens to growth and competitiveness.”
[rs_quote credit="Amita Kuttner" source="Science and Innovation critic, Green Party"]We want to see technology as a response to the climate crisis. We want a tech sector that will grow our renewable energy plan as well as developing technologies, like using artificial intelligence to help solve the climate problem.[/rs_quote]
The New Democratic Party fares somewhat better, offering commitments in the areas of manufacturing, the automotive sector, aerospace, and scaling high-tech companies.The NDP criticizes the Liberal strategy of creating a “single pot of innovation money” and commits to a sector-specific approach to invest in innovation and R&D, with a focus on technology development that “the world will need to thrive in a low-carbon future,” according to the party website.
The NDP also promises a review of the federal procurement system to favour Canadian bidders, while fostering entrepreneurship to help firms commercialize new technologies and train/retrain a skilled workforce.
The Green Party, however, is the only party that has announced specific STI initiatives and sent them to the Parliamentary Budget Office for costing. Despite its slim chances of forming a government, the GP could feature prominently in a minority Liberal or coalition government. Its STI commitments include:
- Investing in scientific research and implementing the full funding recommendations from Canada’s Fundamental Science Review;
- Enhancing funding for the granting councils to the tune of $50 million annually;
- Restoring and augmenting Climate Change and Atmospheric Research (CCAR) funding to NSERC and ensure ongoing funding for the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory;
- Committing to full implementation of Scientific Integrity Policies for all government departments;
- Establishing a portal where all government science, including the evidence the government uses to make decisions, is available to Canadians in a comprehensible form; and,
- Supporting NSERC’s Framework on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in scientific research.
In an interview with RE$EARCH MONEY, Green Party Science and Innovation critic Dr. Amita Kuttner says that while her party is somewhat supportive of the Liberal STI record — especially when compared to the Conservative government of Stephen Harper — there are major caveats.
“I’m reasonably happy that [the Liberals] went back and funded science and climate change research comparatively high compared to the Harper administration … They pick to fund certain areas but they miss funding the entire field … There are still a lot of important holes to fill,” says Kuttner, who recently obtained a PhD in Astronomy and Astrophysics from University of California, Santa Cruz and is running in the riding of Burnaby North-Seymour, which happens to be the terminus of the Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion. “We want to see technology as a response to the climate crisis. We want a tech sector that will grow our renewable energy plan as well as developing technologies, like using artificial intelligence to help solve the climate problem.”
Kuttner is also critical of the research focus of Natural Resources Canada, which her party’s platform describes as the “Department of Oil and Gas,” advocating instead for a return to R&D programs focused on climate mitigation. They also are critical of the Liberal government’s record on climate change R&D, committing to “re-fund a lot of the climate plans that have actually been cut, especially in the Arctic.”
Pocketbook issues dominate
[rs_quote credit="Benjamin Bergen" source="Executive Director,Canadian Council of Innovators"]It’s clear Canada needs an updated economic strategy that enables domestic innovators to rapidly scale globally in the 21st century economy. Without such a plan, Canada’s national prosperity is at risk.[/rs_quote]
Given the pocketbook focus of the current campaign, however, STI issues remain virtually invisible and were rarely mentioned in the October 7th English leader’s debate. The only exception was GP leader Elizabeth May, who repeatedly cited evidence-based decision-making as a key driver of her party’s platform initiatives.
“There’s been very little discussion of science and almost no clear commitments from the party leaders to fund research, support open science communication, and ensure that policy decisions are evidence-based,” stated Kim Girling, Research and Policy Director of the science advocacy group Evidence for Democracy, in an October 2 letter to potential contributors.
The tech sector, as represented by the Canadian Council of Innovators (CCI), has also lamented the paucity of STI initiatives in the party platforms, going as far as to issue an open letter signed by more than 100 tech CEOs to the party leaders, calling for a “retooling of the government’s economic toolkit for the 21st-century economy.” More specifically, it recommends a new government develop “economic policies that advance innovative Canadian companies including increasing their access to skilled talent, growth capital and new customers.”
In a press release announcing the open letter, CCI executive director Benjamin Bergen stated that Canada has a “scale-up problem, and therefore it has a wealth creation problem.”
“It’s clear Canada needs an updated economic strategy that enables domestic innovators to rapidly scale globally in the 21st-century economy. Without such a plan, Canada’s national prosperity is at risk,” stated Bergen, adding that the parties should articulate “their plans for managing the digital economy and develop a national data strategy that addresses the economic and non-economic effects of the data-driven economy.”