OTTAWA - The Harper government is telling the National Research Council to focus more on practical, commercial science and less on fundamental science that may not have obvious business applications.
The government says the council traditionally was a supporter of business, but has wandered from that mandate in recent years — and will now get back to working on practical applications for industries.
The council has become a loose web of individual fiefdoms, each pursuing its own goals, Gary Goodyear, minister of state for science and technology, told a news conference Tuesday.
The result, he said, was an inflexible agency that had lost its ability to respond to the demands and needs of industry.
"Today, the NRC embarks on an exciting, new journey — a re-direction that will strengthen Canada’s research and innovation ecosystem for many years to come," Goodyear said.
The revamped agency will concentrate on industrial research, new growth and business development, he added.
Council president John McDougall said the NRC will become a more attractive partner for business.
"We have shifted the primary focus of our work at NRC from the traditional emphasis of basic research and discovery science in favour of a more targeted approach to research and development," McDougall said.
"Impact is the essence of innovation. A new idea or discovery may in fact be interesting, but it doesn't qualify as innovation until it's been developed into something that has commercial or societal value."
It's a matter of going for concrete results, he added. "We will measure our success by the success of our clients."
Kennedy Stewart, the NDP critic for science and technology, called the move a bad one that will hurt core research, while offering a boon to companies reluctant to invest in research.
"The best part of our chain in terms of the innovation supply chain is the academic side of things," he said. "Where we're having a lot of trouble ... is on the business investment side. Businesses in Canada simply don't invest in (research and development).
"Their solution is to punish the side of the supply chain that's working very well and reward the side of the supply chain that is not functioning very well."
Some agency staff will lose their jobs in the changes, McDougall said, but additional hiring will ensure the restructuring is job-neutral.
But Stewart worried that researchers will simply move to place such as China or India, which are hungry for scientists.
"Once you have a brain drain it's pretty hard to reverse it. I'm really worried about our smartest Canadians packing up and leaving."
Goodyear dismissed suggestions that the changes are part of what opposition critics like Stewart have described as a Conservative war against science, insisting that his government has been a leader in science and technology investment.
"By helping Canadian businesses develop and bring technically advanced products to market, the NRC is supporting the creation not only of jobs, but good-quality, high-paying, long-lasting jobs," Goodyear said.
"We will continue to support basic research, but the use of that knowledge is the next step," he said.
The day is past when a researcher could hit a home run simply by publishing a paper on some new discovery, he added.
"The home run is when somebody utilizes the knowledge that was discovered for social or economic gain."
Also on HuffPost:
Cuts To Science In Canada
A selection of programs and research facilities being closed, downsized or in jeopardy due to federal funding cuts or policy changes made by the Conservative government.
Advanced Laser Light Source Project (Varennes, Quebec)
May be forced to close in 2014 if new funding isn't secured due to moratorium on the Major Resources Support Program (MRS) at Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). Several of the following MRS cuts are detailed in a <a href="http://kennedystewart.ndp.ca/sites/default/files/kennedystewart.ndp.ca/field_attached_files/mrs_program_moratorium_impact_report_0.pdf" target="_blank">report by the office of NDP MP Kennedy Stewart</a>, opposition critic for science and technology.
Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre (Bamfield, B.C.)
Losing a third of his research budget, worth about $500,000 a year. The money runs out April 1, 2014 due to MRS moratorium at NSERC.
Canadian Coast Guard Ship Amundsen Research Cuts
Canada’s only icebreaker dedicated to research has received $2.8 million in total MRS funding. Moratorium on MRS will result in far less research and higher costs to charter; loss of four technicians out of six.
Experimental Lakes Area (Kenora District, Ontario)
The government announced the closure of the Experimental Lakes Area run by Fisheries and Oceans Canada in northwestern Ontario. The cuts will save it about $2 million a year — although <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/03/19/experimental-lakes-area-tories-scientists_n_2910022.html" target="_blank">sources told The Canadian Press</a> the actual operating cost of the facility is about $600,000 annually, of which a third comes back in user fees. (The Ontario government, working with Ottawa, Manitoba and others,<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/04/24/ontario-ela-open-for-year_n_3146662.html" target="_blank"> announced April 24 that it would help keep ELA open</a>). The facility, an outdoor laboratory consisting of 58 lakes, laboratories and living quarters, has been in operation since 1968 and is credited with helping solve North America’s acid rain problem in the 1970s and 1980s among other breakthroughs in areas of toxic contaminants, algae and flooding by reservoirs.
Canadian Neutron Beam Centre, Chalk River, Ont.
$1.27-million shortfall due MRS moratorium. Training for users and students will be scaled back significantly.
IsoTrace AMS facility (University of Ottawa, Ontario)
High precision measurement of radiocarbon and other trace radionuclides for geological dating and tracing in the earth and environmental sciences. Operation in jeopardy. The facility recently received $16 million in funding from the Ontario government and Canadian Foundation for Innovation to set up new geoscience labs at the University of Ottawa. It was counting on $125,000 per year from MRS to maintain operations. That funding was to increase with new facilities. "It is shameful that our main funding organization for the sciences has decided that it should withdraw from supporting solid empirical research through funding laboratories," a spokesperson said.
Kluane Lake Research Centre, Yukon
The Kluane Lake facility, one of Canada's oldest research facilities, lost $106,000 due to MRS cuts. The facility is run by the Arctic Institute of North America, a joint U.S.-Canada research operation that is administered by the University of Calgary along with the University of Alaska, <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2012/07/10/f-kluane-glacier-research.html" target="_blank">CBC reports</a>.
Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences, Ottawa
Launched by the Liberal government under Jean Chrétien in 2000, the foundation awarded more than $100 million in grants for university-led research. In 2011, the federal government’s first omnibus budget bill killed the foundation. At the time, the government said it would replace some of the funds with $35 million to be distributed through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) over five years for all climate research activities.
Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (Nunavut)
Located on Ellesmere Island near Eureka, Nunavut, it is one of the most remote weather stations in the world and does key research on climate change, ozone and air quality. Closed after it lost $1.5 million in annual funding due to the closure of the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences.
The Canadian Centre for Isotopic Microanalysis (University of Alberta, Edmonton)
MRS moratorium means the centre no longer has an open door policy for Canadian researchers or a special reduced NSERC rate for research conducted by Canadians in the labs. "The long-term prognosis for the geochronology labs is not good," a spokesperson said.
The National High Field Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Centre (Edmonton, Alberta)
Program in jeopardy due to MRS moratorium, <a href="http://kennedystewart.ndp.ca/sites/default/files/kennedystewart.ndp.ca/field_attached_files/mrs_program_moratorium_impact_report_0.pdf" target="_blank">according to the NDP</a>.
The National Ultrahigh-Field NMR Facility for Solids (University of Ottawa)
The facility will close without MRS funding, leaving $10 million in capital equipment idle, including the only Canadian-based 900 MHz Bruker Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometer,<a href="http://kennedystewart.ndp.ca/sites/default/files/kennedystewart ndp.ca/field_attached_files/mrs_program_moratorium_impact_report 0.pdf" target="_blank"> according to the NDP</a>.
Office of the National Science Adviser
The office, created in 2004 by the Liberal government of Paul Martin and led by Arthur Carty, pictured, was intended to provide independent expert advice to the prime minister on matters of national policy related to science, ranging from nanotechnology, high energy particle physics and ocean technologies to climate change and the environment. The Harper government closed the office in 2008.
National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy
Funding for the arm's length, independent advisory group was cut in the 2011 budget and the group wound down in 2012. Since 1988, it had been producing research on how business and government policies can work together for sustainable development — including the idea of introducing carbon taxes. The <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/05/14/national-round table-on-the-environment-and-the-economy-funding_n_1516240.html" target="_blank">Tories confirmed they cut funding because of the group's focus on carbon taxes</a>.