As a taxpayer and someone who has been in the private sector (manufacturing) his entire career, I believe that the federal government must continue to fund basic research as well as support the various business sectors with new technology.
The May 7th announcement by Gary Goodyear, Minister of State (Science & Technology) is not a welcome new direction if the role of research into basic science goes missing in Canada.
Is basic research best delivered by the NRC, Universities or private sources? Probably all of the foregoing have a role. Universities are heavily into private – public partnerships and as regional academic bodies tend to specialize in areas of local industry interest. Think University of Waterloo and computer/digital/mobile giant Research in Motion or the excellent medical research at the University of Toronto in conjunction the Toronto Health Sciences community.
The NRC has for many years reached out to the private sector; one example would be IRAP, their shared funding program with local manufacturing initiatives. The NRC website lists eight private sector collaboration success stories since Jan. 1 2013 (not since the May 7th announcement). I’ve personally contacted them on the fly for technical support and quickly received help without red tape or fees. And that was many years back so they have been helping the private sector for a long while.
It may be that their basic research needs more focus, however I am sure that access to international research, which Canada needs, is facilitated by reciprocal access to meaningful new knowledge from Canada. A parasitical approach to gaining innovative research is unlikely to be welcome in the global community. Measure them on their contribution for sure but do not drop basic research from their mandate.
The last thing we need in Canada is an NRC tasked with generating news releases meant to demonstrate support for a politically motivated government policy. Connecting the dots, is this meant to off-set the federal government’s pull back from its Scientific Research & Experimental Development program (SR & ED is administered through the CRA as a tax break and until recently a massive private sector boondoggle)? If so, it’s a mistaken approach with disastrous long term consequences.
Selective, well-funded, with global recognition for excellence, basic research, must continue to be part of the NRC mandate regardless of which political party is in power.