OTTAWA – Nearly 100 of Canada’s top researchers and scientists are facing layoffs in what the NDP science and technology critic says is just the “tip of the iceberg” in what appears to be the Conservative government’s plan to slash funding for basic research and focus instead on research that’s industry-driven.
“There’s a much larger game afoot but it’s being rolled out in a really stealthy way,” said Kennedy Stewart, the NDP critic for science and technology. “When we look back in a couple of years we’ll see that it really is part of a larger plan and it will probably have an impact on our international standing.”
On Thursday, 94 National Research Council employees across the country received notification letters that their services “may no longer be required,” according to a statement released that day by the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada.
Those employees include scientists, researchers and business development officers who work in the life sciences, engineering, and business management divisions. They are located in Halifax, Moncton, Fredericton, London, Regina, Winnipeg and Ottawa, the union’s statement said.
“This is another example of the government’s wrong-headed approach to the NRC,” the union’s president Gary Corbett said in the statement.
“Future NRC activities will be dictated by market demands and by what can be commercialized, instead of being focused on the benefits Canadians receive from public research, and the economic spinoffs which can be leveraged from cutting-edge studies.”
In 2010 the government asked an independent, expert panel to look at the effectiveness of Canada’s business research and development. The panel’s 2011 report – coined the Jenkins report – said Canada was lagging in business investment in innovation and recommended more of a focus on commercialization. Last March, Minister of State for Science and Technology Gary Goodyear pointed out that the National Research Council is a “Canadian icon” but said it has “weaknesses in its operating model.”
“We are working to make the NRC a world-class organization that is more effective in generating new jobs and growth for Canada through science, technology and innovation,” Goodyear said in a speech at the Economic Club of Canada.
It appears that money is now being shifted from basic research to applied, industry-driven research, Stewart said Sunday. And, aside from layoffs, this shift could also scare international scientists from coming to Canada, have a major impact on the training of our next generation of scientists, and cause a decline in the NRC’s peer-reviewed research, he said.