New investment in fundamental research signals shift from the previous Harper administration

The Canadian government has announced an additional C$465 million (£267 million) for fundamental research, saying that it recognises the economic benefits of science and the importance of making sound policy decisions on the environment and health. The new investment, announced by Canadian science minister Kirsty Duncan, at McMaster University in Ontario, is seen as highlighting key science policy differences between the current Justin Trudeau and previous Stephen Harper administrations.

The money will be used to fund more than 4000 research grants awarded under the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council’s (NSERC) 2016 competition. Initial installments have already been dispensed.  

‘Today’s investment will allow many of Canada’s scientists and engineers to explore the frontiers of knowledge where they can make exciting new discoveries,’ Duncan stated. ‘Our government is committed to investing in these future research leaders and in the cutting-edge ideas that will lead Canada to social and economic growth for a better tomorrow.’

The announcement showcased the research of Leyla Soleymani, an engineering physicist at McMaster University, who is working to create miniaturised handheld devices that can help manage disease, or monitor health, using molecular markers like genes and proteins.

‘This is the biggest investment in fundamental and discovery-type research, it is very significant because it gives the message that the administration sees value in science and in doing fundamental research, not just translational research,’ says Soleymani, who received a discovery grant along with a special C$120,000 supplement in recognition of her promising research.

There were complaints from the scientific community that the previous Harper administration cut science funding and had disproportionately directed research dollars toward applied work with clear and deliverable commercial goals. ‘Through this announcement, we got the message that the current administration sees the value in more discovery-type research, which gives the scientists more freedom to work in a more fundamental space and do more discovery-type research that has longer-term benefits to Canada,’ Soleymani tells Chemistry World.