Last fall, Canadians handed Justin Trudeau the keys to 24 Sussex Drive and sent his Liberal Party to Parliament Hill with a majority mandate. Researchers from across the nation breathed a collective sigh of relief and are now cautiously looking to the future for an end to the “dark age” for science.
The previous Harper government had a contentious relationship with the scientific community. Most notably reported was the censorship of government scientists who were not permitted to discuss their research, while environmental protection became compromised with the shutdown of federal labs and swift gutting of laws and acts packaged in single-vote budget implementation (“omnibus”) bills. Tri-Council and other federal funding agencies saw their budgets stagnate or cut. The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the main federal funding agency for biomedical research, experienced additional restructuring and shifted its spending strategy to focus more on applied, translational, and marketable research. This re-focusing, combined with the highly contested move to an online system of peer review for grant competitions, had a particularly devastating effect on basic science researchers. The devaluing of basic science threatens Canada’s ability to innovate, as the fundamental questions of how natural systems work are no longer being addressed.
Prime minister Justin Trudeau has so far shown willingness to fund and promote basic scientific research in Canada and the recent announcements of new funding projects and grants to post-secondary institutions have left many optimistic. With so many concerns surrounding the existing CIHR funding scheme, it remains to be seen whether the new government will commit to their “sunny ways” in working with the nation’s scientists to improve federal investment in biomedical research.