The good and the bad in this year’s federal budget

Funding for applied science is good but it shouldn’t come at the expense of investment in basic science...

The federal budget soft-landed last Thursday with much of it anticipated or predictable but not as bad as what the apocalyptic crowd expected. Well, relatively speaking.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s budget will see pink slips going to 19,200 public service employees over three years, people working longer before retirement, a speed-up of environmental reviews for major  projects, a CBC funding cut, and money to foster applied science development leading to business innovation and new markets. When travelling we can bring more tax-free stuff back but, at home, we’re all going to be penniless.

Katimavik, a Trudeau-era youth volunteer program, is no more. Since 1977, more than 30,000 young Canadians have participated in the programs that help those in need in diverse communities, enrich and expand their lives, and develop life skills to take forward into chosen careers. Katimavik’s funding cut came as a severe blow.

There was much anticipation for the changes to the Old Age Security pension age eligibility from 65 to 67 on a gradual phased-in approach, not that it stops anyone retiring at any time with adequate means. The age increase will start April 1st 2023 and the new program will be fully implemented by January 2029.

No prize for figuring out the purpose behind accelerating environmental reviews for industrial projects. The Northern Gateway project springs to mind. There will only be one review (not a provincial review then a federal one) and it has to be done in 24 months.

In all fairness, a reasonable time limit makes sense. Recently, the Jumbo Glacier Mountain ski resort was finally given the nod of approval after 20 years of reviews. The billion-dollar development some 50 kilometres west of Invermere was first proposed in the early 1990s and has since gone through endless reviews. Two decades is an enormous amount of time to keep investors in play. There is, as anyone would expect, bitter disappointment among opponents but the project is expected to generate about $900 million in investment and create 750 permanent jobs.

Every year the Canadian Mint cranks out 7,000 tonnes worth of pennies but, because of rising costs and metals, it costs 1.6 cents to make every penny. It costs the Mint $11 million a year just to produce and distribute them. A 2008 report estimated that Canada’s big banks handle more than nine billion pennies a year, costing $20 million annually to process them. And the value of the penny is only one twentieth of its original purchasing power. But if the economics dictate dumping the penny, so goes the culture with it. There won’t be a penny for your thoughts, pennies from heaven, or the notion that a penny saved is a penny earned not to mention penny drives and jars of pennies stored under the bed..

This budget is about market and product stimulation, jobs, growth. It calls for investments of over $1 billion to support applied science and technology research with $400 million to increase private sector investments and $110 million per year to the National Research Council to double support to companies through its Industrial Research Assistance Program. There’s also $105 million over two years to support forestry innovation and market development.

The plan is to boost productivity by flushing money into commercially driven science and make changes to a fleet of research and development tax credits designed to circle more returns back to government coffers.

Funding for applied science is good but it shouldn’t come at the expense of investment in basic science, the foundation of all knowledge that leads to applications later.

That’s being penny wise, pound foolish. Woops. Nickel wise, pound foolish? Why doesn’t that have the same ring?