Today’s blog is a quick tour of the House of Commons Finance Committee report – released last month – as it relates to science and post-secondary education.
For the uninitiated, the Government of Canada’s budget process goes something like this: starting in late spring – maybe two months after the pervious budget – the political side of the Finance Department starts canvassing around government for big ideas (“themes” as they are known in the business). MPs spend some of their time over the summer listening to constituents and trying to suss out what ideas might play well, and this is fed back into the planning process via the governing party’s caucus retreat in August. Over the course of the fall, there are two parallel tracks: the “inside game” of Ottawa lobbyist types lining up to lovebomb ministers – principally the Finance Minister, but line ministry support matters, too–and the “outside game” of making representations to the House of Commons Finance Committee. The latter is a slightly more open process than the former – you tend to get smaller community groups and more regional perspectives there – but with the longstanding trend of power shifting from the legislature to the executive in Canada, it’s substantially less powerful and consequential.
Still, the Finance Committee report is worth reading because occasionally, some ideas pop up here which eventually percolate into the budget. Not often, but enough to pay attention. And if nothing else, it gives one a sense of what is resonating with MPs rather than cabinet ministers.
Here’s the rundown:
First, I think it’s fair to say that the Naylor Report is not wildly popular with MPs. The committee only sort of endorsed it, to wit:
Use the Fundamental Science Review (the Naylor Report) as a framework for long-term support of science and research. In particular, the government should invest in investigator-led research, the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, applied sciences research institutions, as well as in agricultural research. The government should also expand access to the Canadian Graduate Scholarship program.
Got that? Money for fundamental research is OK, but apparently it should go through every funding mechanism other than the councils. Which is basically the opposite of Naylor’s message but whatever (note to #supportthereport types: consider that maybe it’s not fundamental research which has an image problem, but the councils).
Second, the Committee seems really eager to create microtargetted interventions in higher education. Now I get that to some extent they are simply parroting Ottawa-based stakeholder groups who have some frankly bizarre (and self-interested) notions of how section 93 of the constitution works, but come on. Increase undergraduate students’ access to research opportunities (recommendation 16)? More money for student entrepreneurs via federal “investments” in post-secondary incubators (Rec 18)? Pilot projects on Open Education Resources run by (of all people) the three granting councils (Rec 19)? None of this makes sense.
Third, some of the recommendations are just baffling, such as recommendation 22:
Support the Atlantic Partnership for Literacy and Essential Skills by providing stable, adequate and predictable funding to their literacy programs.
Um…really? All the literacy programs and this one gets singled out? What the hell? Makes you wonder what would happen if Parliament operated more like the US Congress.
And finally, there’s the motherhood stuff about apprenticeships (“work with all stakeholders, targeted investments, evolving needs of economy, yadda yadda”) and the excellent and quite correct “Increase funding for Indigenous students pursuing post-secondary education and increase the number of students eligible for support under the Post-Secondary Student Support Program.”
So as you can see it’s a mixed bag. But at least they’ve got that last one right.