CSMB Trainee Response to Budget 2019

On March 19th, the Liberal federal government announced its fourth budget, ahead of the November federal election. After careful reading of this document, the CSMB Trainee Committee published this response.

Following increases to fundamental scientific research funding in Budget 2018 – including an explicit “focus on the next generation of researchers” – as well as pre-budget submissions by the CSMB-SCBM and several student and postdoctoral organizations, the reaction to Budget 2019 has been mixed amongst the scientific community.

We would like to take the opportunity to summarize the budget’s impacts to our trainee (graduate student and postdoctoral fellow) members, as well as identify advocacy opportunities over the coming year.

Specific to Trainees:

  • Budget 2019 proposes $114M between 2019-2024 (+ $26.5M/yr ongoing) to better financially support graduate students through the Tri-Council Canada Graduate Scholarships program, by creating 500 more MSc and 167 more PhD scholarships, annually. The Tri-councils represent Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).

 

  • As “student researchers are unable to take advantage of parental leave benefits offered under EI” and with EDI (Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) measures in mind, Budget 2019 proposes $37.4M between 2019-2024 (+ $8.6M/yr ongoing) to expand Tri-council parental leave coverage from 6 months to 12 months for students and postdoctoral fellows who receive Tri-council funding.

 

  • Seeking to “boost economic outcomes for the nearly 1.5 million Indigenous Canadians”, Budget 2019 proposes investments in post-secondary education of $327.5M between 2019-2024 for the First Nations-led strategy; $125.5M between 2019-2029 (+ $21.8M/yr ongoing) for the Inuit-led strategy; $362M between 2019-2029 (+ $40M/yr ongoing) for the Métis Nation-led strategy; as well as $9M between 2019-2022 to Indspire.
  • Lastly, beginning this year, the federal government seeks to work with provincial and territorial partners “to improve access to financial supports for graduate students from low-income families”.

 

  • There was no mention of increasing funding for postdoctoral fellowships.

Specific to the Molecular Biosciences:

  • After last year’s termination of the Network Centres of Excellence (NCE) program in favour of the New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF), Budget 2019 has restored and expanded funding to six non-profit organizations:
      • $18M between 2019-2022 to the Stem Cell Network
      • $40M between 2020-2022 to the Brain Canada Foundation
      • $150M between 2019-2024 to the Terry Fox Research Institute
      • $10M between 2019-2024 to Ovarian Cancer Canada
      • $100.5 M between 2020-2025 to Genome Canada
      • $10M between 2020-2022 to Let’s Talk Science

 

  • In response to third-party science and research organizations, Budget 2019 proposes a “Strategic Science Fund” beginning in 2022, with more details forthcoming from the Minister of Science.

In response to this budget, the Trainee Committee of the CSMB-SCBM welcomes the advances in support to Canadian graduate students, to our Indigenous trainee members, and looks forward to increased attention paid to our trainee members from low-income families. We further welcome increased parental leave coverage for our trainee members awarded federal Tri-Council scholarships and fellowships.

Nevertheless, we agree with the growing view that Budget 2019 contains missed opportunities, chief among them a lack of investment targeting our postdoctoral fellow membership, despite Budget 2018 telegraphing increases in trainee support through both “scholarships and fellowships”.

Furthermore, Budget 2018 did not fund full implementation of the Fundamental Science Review (aka the Naylor Report), but in the words of the CSMB-SCBM, represented “a critical first step towards undoing a decade of neglect that has devastated Canada’s fundamental science ecosystem”. As we welcome continued investment in investigator-led discovery science, we optimistically seek a distinction between an anomalous ‘election-year budget’ light on new initiatives/funding and conscious of economic realities, against a worrying possibility of a Liberal government who no longer views fundamental research as a priority for Canadians.

What is next?

If there are lessons to be learned from the successes of Budget 2018, consensus appears that a united front worked to advocate for the findings of the Fundamental Science Review, with common messaging including signature and Twitter campaigns, #supportthereport, #NextGenCanScience and #students4thereport, as well as continual communication with MPs.

Going forward, however, we must advocate for scientific research to be seen as a critical investment essential to the well-being of Canadians, and a powerhouse that will drive its economy forward. As Budget 2019 largely responded to targeted asks from third-party organizations affected by the end of NCE funding, we look forward to renewed and unified advocacy initiatives come election season – and into 2020 – that will drive and maintain political enthusiasm for fundamental science.

We encourage trainees in the Molecular Biosciences all across Canada to join the CSMB-SCBM, and help shape and grow our advocacy efforts, to contribute to a common vision promoting fundamental research for the benefit of all Canadians. We invite you to share your ideas for trainee advocacy (noting that the CSMB-SCBM will support up to 6 trainee events per year with $500 grants), and to view our recent webinar with Evidence For Democracy discussing trainee advocacy targeting the government.

Sincerely,

The CSMB-SCBM Trainee Committee