Budget 2022 Puts the Health Research Community in Waiting

Budget 2022, A Plan to Grow Our Economy and Make Life Affordable, has put the health research community in waiting for Budget 2023, where we hope to see greater investments in Canadian health research. This is not to say that there were not important investments that some of Research Canada’s Members will benefit from, such as the investments through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research in the long-term effects of COVID-19 and dementia research, monies to the Public Health Agency of Canada for the Centre for Aging and Brain Health Innovation and investment in the Canada Excellence Research Chairs (CERC) program.

Ensuring and advancing inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility in health research and health innovation by supporting scholarships and fellowships for promising Black student researchers was an extremely important investment that our community can applaud.

Investments in health innovation—including the establishment of a new Canadian Innovation and Investment Agency and a promise to review the Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) program to modernize and simplify the program and ensure that it is effective in encouraging research and development (R&D) that benefits Canada—are welcome to our health and biosciences community.

While we know that the government is interested in re-aligning and/or consolidating federal funding envelopes and probably wants to get this right before it pours more money into research, there are significant risks associated with delayed investments and policy development. We can lose R&D opportunities and highly-qualified people with this “start and stop” approach to our endeavour.

“Perhaps we should be communicating the risks of inconsistent funding and inadequate policies in support of Canadian health research and innovation,” said Hill+Knowlton’s Michelle McLean in a recent post-budget webinar for Research Canada’s Members. We in the health research and health innovation communities have focused our advocacy on extolling the benefits of Canadian health research and innovation, but have we said enough about the tremendous risks of not supporting investigator-driven fundamental research and researchers through sustained investment above current levels?

Perhaps the example of a depleted biomanufacturing sector in the wake of the recent pandemic will remind government of what not to do with research. It does seem that it is time we begin to have some sobering discussions with decision makers about the risks associated with “stop and start” policies and investments that I know are giving us collective indigestion and sinking our confidence in the federal government’s ability to get this right.

Take a look at Research Canada’s 2022 Budget Analysis below and let us, as a community, put our “risks to health research” thinking caps on and arrange our advocacy ducks in order as we look to Budget 2023. I still have confidence it can be a budget that will demonstrate not just in words, but through investment and policy action, that fundamental research is our nation’s true diamond in the rough.