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Talent and creativity essential for Canada’s innovation blueprint

March 29, 2017
By: 
Christine Tausig Ford
Interim Executive Director
Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences

With a focus on skills and innovation, the federal government’s Budget 2017 aims to position Canadians for a changing economy and society. And while we might have wished for more details on future funding for discovery research and knowledge infrastructure, the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences was pleased by the Budget’s recognition that skilled, talented and creative people are essential in a rapidly changing economy and society.

Budget 2017 set the stage for the release of the independent panel reviewing federal funding for fundamental science, chaired by former University of Toronto president David Naylor. The panel’s report is eagerly awaited by the university and science policy community. Canadian researchers in the humanities and social sciences hope it will demonstrate a recognition that sustained long-term increases in federal funding for university research, across all disciplines, are essential to maintaining and enhancing Canada’s influence in the world.

In the meantime, budget announcements concerning 25 new Canada 150 Research Chairs (funded by existing Canada Excellence Research Chairs program resources) and a renewed commitment to establish a Chief Science Advisor suggest that the government continues to value Canadian research and expertise. In fact, underpinning the government’s approach in the budget is a strong recognition that our country’s ability to thrive in a rapidly changing world will depend on our capacity to innovate, adapt, communicate, acquire new knowledge and continue to produce world-leading research.

Canadian researchers in social sciences and humanities lead the world in many areas. They’re helping to build new creative industries, to preserve our country’s linguistic and cultural heritage, and to work with Indigenous communities in areas such as self-governance. The humanities and social sciences are also integral to many of the innovation priorities identified in the budget, including artificial intelligence, affordable housing, clean growth and climate change, smart cities, financial services, and Canada’s digital future.

The federal government also used Budget 2017 to recommit to improving the economic security of the middle class, with attention on historically disadvantaged groups, such as women, Indigenous peoples, people with disabilities, older workers and young Canadians. The government’s plan involves fostering Canadian innovation, with a strong focus on skill development, specifically stating that “Innovation starts with smart, creative and skilled people.”

Budget 2017 includes funding commitments to expand post-secondary education opportunities for part-time students, students with children and the unemployed. It also announces a significant funding boost for Mitacs to help that organization realize its goal of offering 10,000 work-integrated learning placements a year (up from 3,800 in 2015-16). This program offers important opportunities for students from all disciplines to develop the skills and experiences required for advancing an inclusive innovation agenda.

The Budget includes vital investments to help more Indigenous students access post-secondary education and training. New federal funding is committed to the government’s Post-Secondary Student Support Program and to the non-governmental organization Indspire to support post-secondary access for more than 16,000 Indigenous students over five years. Furthermore, the government has pledged to undertake a comprehensive review of federal programs that support Indigenous post-secondary education in collaboration with Indigenous partners. The commitment to Indigenous collaboration was also made in the context of new funding to support and revitalize Indigenous languages and build a new Indigenous Languages Act. These are highly positive developments, and the Federation looks forward to engaging with these processes and contributing to their success.

Overall, Budget 2017 firmly acknowledges the role of Canada’s researchers and educators. It is based on a vision in which ideas and talent spur the innovation the country needs to succeed in a rapidly changing world. Canada’s many research communities – across all disciplines – have much to offer to help realize this vision.

According to Budget 2017, many Canadians are facing pressures resulting from rapid technological change and new global conditions. Canada’s social sciences and humanities research community will be needed more than ever to provide Canadians with the knowledge, creativity and talent necessary to adapt, innovate and thrive in the years ahead. Budget 2017 got the ball rolling. The Naylor report will likely add momentum. The research community is poised to engage and play its part.