Federal budget offers opportunities to U of L

Rarely does a federal budget garner the public's attention like the one recently delivered by Stephen Harper's Conservative government.

Particular attention was paid to this budget not only because of the current slowdown in the Canadian economy, but because the government's fate rested on whether it would be able to convince the Liberal Party of Canada to support its passage.

It was also an important budget for the post-secondary sector with a number of
announcements that affect universities and colleges. First, $2 billion was promised to improve infrastructure at Canada's post-secondary institutions. It was stated 70 per cent of that amount is to be spent at universities, with preference given to those that can improve the quality of research and development at their institution.

Other budget announcements that may provide opportunities for the U of L include:

• $150 million through the Canada Foundation for Innovation to increase the funding available for meritorious projects in the 2009 Leading Edge and New Initiatives Funds Competition.

• An additional $200 million over three years to support aboriginal skills development and training. This funding will enhance the Aboriginal Skills and Employment Partnership initiative and create a new fund.

• A two-year fund of $60 million to support infrastructure- related costs for local and community cultural and heritage institutions such as local theatres, small museums and libraries.

• $305 million over the next two years to ensure that further steps are taken toward these goals: to strengthen current programs (Non-Insured Health Benefits and primary care services), improve health outcomes for First Nations and Inuit individuals, and move toward greater integration with provincial and territorial health systems.

• $500 million over two years to support construction of new community recreational facilities and upgrades to existing facilities across Canada. Eligible facilities include recreational facilities owned by municipalities, First Nations, counties, community organizations and other not-for-profit entities.

• $250 million over two years under a Treasury Board-managed process to undertake an accelerated investment program to address deferred maintenance at federal laboratories.

• While these investments in post-secondary and research sectors are welcomed; there was one statement in the budget that has created some concern amongst a number of institutions.

The budget states, "the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada are streamlining operations and aligning programs with the objectives of the Government's Science and Technology Strategy and national research priorities."

The speech went on to say that the savings were being used to support other areas of importance in the post-secondary sector. Considering the U of L has traditionally been very successful in the tri-council competitions, especially for a smaller university, cutting funding in this area raises some concerns.

U of L senior administration will soon be in Ottawa to meet with various Ministers and senior departmental staff. The goal of these meetings are two-fold.

Firstly, they intend to educate members of the federal government about the contribution this institution is making on behalf of Canadians through research and teaching initiatives.

Secondly, they will follow-up on the various opportunities presented to us above.

While it will be interesting to see how the federal government decides to spend its infrastructure money and whether there is equity among the different regions of the country, the U of L will make its case as to why investing in our university is wise.