If Justin Trudeau's Liberals were aiming to change the tone of Canada's troubled relationship with science, scattering the words "data" and "science" more than 50 times each throughout the new federal budget is one way to do it.
In fact, there are plenty of buzzwords in Trudeau's spending plan, released to the public on Tuesday: Ottawa pledges more money for electric cars, greater broadband access for remote communities, even initiatives to build a Silicon Valley of the North. It will be a lot to live up to.
The Liberals are consciously striking a different chord than their predecessors under Stephen Harper, who were accused of muzzling scientists and crafting laws that favored ideology over research. Still, this budget is spotty on detail. For one thing, it promises $800 million over four years to encourage technology incubators and accelerators—but it's unclear what exactly it will do.
These tech-oriented funding projects are aimed at turning Waterloo, Ontario—which Finance Minister Bill Morneau signalled out specifically—into Canada's answer to Silicon Valley. But there's no word on how Waterloo will stand out compared to Atlanta's, New York's, London's, or the Middle East's own "answers" to the modern tech bro's Mecca.
This budget throws millions at small research projects related to climate change
One of the biggest-ticket science items will pad the pocket of Genome Canada, the not-for-profit tasked with studying the human genome. They'll be getting a one-time grant of more than $230 million in this budget.
Importantly, communities in Canada's far north might finally be relieved of dial-up modems and finicky satellite internet. The government is dedicating $500 million over five years to "a new program to extend and enhance broadband service in rural and remote communities," though it won't reveal any details, which seems to be a recurring theme.
It's good to know how much of the Liberals' $1.5 billion pot for infrastructure will go to broadband improvements, a number that was previously a mystery. But staying mum on how it will be spent is par for the course. The federal government's track record on rural broadband isn't great, particularly in First Nations communities. Ottawa has promised for years to improve rural access to broadband without much to show for all the grandstanding. For many Canadians, frankly, their internet connection (and bill) is shit, if it exists at all.
Ottawa also announced new funding for alternative fuels.
The government is giving Natural Resources Canada $62.5 million over two years "to support the deployment of infrastructure for alternative transportation fuels, including charging infrastructure for electric vehicles and natural gas and hydrogen refuelling stations."
Companies that launch these changing stations will be rewarded with a handsome tax break, as the government expands its clean energy investment program.
In another turnaround, the Experimental Lakes Area in northwestern Ontario will be bolstered as part of a $197.1-million investment into research by Fisheries and Oceans Canada over five years. The Harper government had threatened to shut down the internationally renowned freshwater research lab, sparking a massive outcry among scientists who called it crucial for understanding climate change.
This budget actually throws millions at small research projects related to climate change, from $129.5 million to study looming implications for the economy and public health, to $40 million—in a bit of a dystopian twist—to "integrate climate resilience into building design guides and codes."
An electric car charging. Image:
Before companies launch oil and gas projects in Canada's warming Arctic, the government is earmarking $19 million over five years to work with scientists and local Inuit "to gather existing research and traditional knowledge of the Arctic environment" and assess potential impacts.
The government is setting $10.7 million aside for renewable energy projects for off-grid indigenous and northern communities who "rely on diesel and other fossil fuels to generate heat and power."
Overall, it looks like Trudeau's Liberals are on the warpath to turn around some of the Harper government's worst failures when it comes to science, but, tellingly, don't have a clear plan—at least not one they're willing to tell us—on how to make it all work.
But hey, a price tag is a good start.