‘Feminist budget’ boosts science, universities

Taken from: Waterloo Chronicle

Main priorities highlighted in this year’s federal budget align with those of Wilfrid Laurier University to help take our country into the future, according to its president and vice chancellor, Deborah MacLatchy.

Especially $925 million in support for the country’s three main research granting councils over the next five years.

“It’s a very significant increase in fundamental research over existing levels,” she said Thursday at Lazaridis Hall, in front of Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, Navdeep Bains.

“Laurier is well positioned to take advantage of this incredible opportunity for increased funding,” MacLatchy stated. “We are nationally the No. 1 research growth university in our category and we saw a 23 per cent increase in sponsored research funding in 2015-16 over the previous year.”

Granting councils will be required to increase support for interdisciplinary research and diversity among funding recipients, including women and other under-represented groups, she added.

“We are a feminist government and this is a feminist budget,” Bains followed, highlighting the government’s “historical” $4-billion investment in science and innovation.

Bains said other investments in the federal budget such as equal pay legislation and more funding for female entrepreneurs will help pour billions back into the Canadian economy over time.

“When we invest in diversity and we invest in women, it’s not only the right thing to do, but it’s good for the Canadian economy as well,” he said.

Waterloo Region is facing a shortage of high-skilled labour and promoting women to go into STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) won’t benefit us tomorrow, said Jean-Paul Lam, associate professor of economics at the University of Waterloo. But it’s a long-term plan that’s eventually going to benefit this region in particular, he said.

“In terms of the region I think we depend a lot on universities and high-tech and there is quite a lot of new spending for these two areas,” Lam said.

“More broadly, what this budget is trying to do is prepare the economy for the future,” he said. “My take on it is I would say about 90 per cent of the budget goes toward gender equality and addressing marginalization.”

In a prepared statement, Kitchener-Conestoga Conservative MP Harold Albrecht criticized the Liberal government for increasing taxes on the middle class and local businesses while increasing the country’s debt load by borrowing an additional $18 billion.

“Spending $35 billion on a new infrastructure bank helps wealthy investors, not Canadians who want shorter commute times; $1 billion for “Superclusters” helps big corporations, not small and medium sized businesses struggling to grow,” the press release states.

But Bains said Wednesday that his government wanted to build on momentum.

He said the Liberal government has created 600,000 jobs since being elected and that the national unemployment rate is at its lowest level in 40 years, with GDP growing at a faster rate than all other G7 nations.

“We can’t just assume that that will happen on its own,” he said.

Spending more isn’t a problem now, but could pose a problem if there’s a problem, Lam said.

“It’s not typical for governments to run budget deficits in good times,” he said, “so my sort of main concern is not about the size of the deficit — it’s still fairly small at less than one per cent of GDP, and debt-to-GDP is still fairly low.”

“My concern is there’s no plan right now to return to some sort of balance over time,” he said. “If you look at their plan, if they get re-elected, we will have another four, five years of deficit after that.”

This year’s budget also includes the establishment of a panel that will investigate moving forward with a national pharmacare program.

In a prepared statement, Kitchener Centre MP Raj Saini said ensuring all Canadians have access to affordable medicines is incredibly important.

“As a pharmacist, I have seen the struggles many Canadians face when it comes to affording their medications, and I firmly believe that no one should have to choose between their medication and other essentials, like paying for shelter or food,” he said.

But right now it’s more a political move than a policy move, Lam said, adding that the government is likely to choose a restrictive model that will aid specific segments of the population.

A study by the parliamentary budget office on pharmacare estimated that a fully funded program could cost $20 billion, Lam said.