Unequivocally, the Skills component is excellent. The money for Indigenous peoples is a great step, as is the commitment to provide more help for mature students. The biggest investment, on skills training, properly goes to the provinces through the existing Labour Market Transfer arrangement and the amalgamation of several of these transfers means that provinces will have more flexibility in designing new programming. One could quibble about the lack of detail on some programs (e.g. the CSLP “pilot projects”), but that would be churlish. And the one initiative that had the potential to be a disaster (FutureSkillsLab) has been hedged in such a way that the government can take several more months to get the essentials right (which means spending lots of time with the provinces). Overall, the Government has done good work here, and unlike last year, their efforts cannot be derided as solely university-focused; colleges will do well out of the training provisions.
An aside here: universities and colleges have not got what they asked for on Work-Integrated Learning, but I think the government has done the right thing by putting all its eggs in the MITACS basket. Effectively, the government has said it is happy to play a role in Work-Integrated Learning, but only for graduate students, where the outcomes are tied to other policy goals around innovation. Undergraduate students? College students? No thanks, that’s a provincial responsibility. That’s both shrewd and respectful of provincial turf.
The Innovation section is not great, but the thinking on display is a lot better than it has been for most of the last 12 months. The government still confuses growth policy with innovation policy, but at least it has realized that innovation is mostly about firms. There are all sorts of justifiable trepidation about government “picking winners,” and no doubt regional jealousies will play an outsized and unwarranted role in the final set of decisions, but you know, baby steps.
Where the budget really falls down is on Science. Between the unconscionable stalling on the publication of David Naylor’s report on Fundamental Science and now the funding freeze – not to mention the ongoing fiasco at CIHR – the nation’s academic scientists are going to be at war for funding. Any goodwill the government fostered from last year’s bump of council funding is almost certainly gone. For a government that prides itself on being pro-science, they have a big communications challenge ahead of them for the next 12 months, even if they do intend to make big investments in the area next year, as some have suggested.
On the whole, there is more to like in this budget than not. Students in particular will be happy. But the government has squandered an enormous amount of goodwill among scientists. Expect a lot of sniping from this quarter: and it’ll be aimed not just at government but at the university administrators. Universities Canada’s decision to not criticize the government, even a little, over the granting council snub will almost certainly not play well in laboratories across the country. Stay tuned.