The Canadian Consortium for Research (CCR) is the name enthusiastically adopted in 1997 for what was previously known as the National Consortium of Educational and Scientific Societies. CCR trips off the tongue much more readily and the name succinctly captures the focus of the 24 member organizations.
With the federal budget provisions beginning to take shape the consortium's annual lobby effort in November is essential. Last year the work leading up to the lobby meetings started in earnest in the summer.
Building on the successful approach implemented in 1996 of working closely with the AUCC, CAUT, HSSFC and the graduate student bodies, a joint lobby platform was prepared. This document, Sustaining Canada as an Innovative Society: An Action Agenda, is available at www.aucc.ca and www.hssfc.ca.
The emphasis is on support for basic research through substantial but staged increases to the budgets of the three granting councils. Besides spelling out the need for more research support, the document highlights complementary programs for establishing research careers and for international collaborations and studies.
Having a document that concisely sets out the research community's priority areas is essential. It ensures that the important points are front and centre, it underlines the reality that the research world has its act together, and it provides the base for lobby kits and meetings.
The groups noted above made collective presentations to the House Finance Committee in its pre-budget deliberations, and to the Industry Committee which is keenly interested in science and technology. This common front across the disciplines is having a real impact - witness the specific highlighting of our joint proposals in the report of the Finance Committee.
This year, we concentrated on meeting with key ministers (John Manley, Allan Rock, Paul Martin and Ron Duhamel), as well as MPs and senior departmental officials from the PMO, Finance and Industry and Health. We also met with all of the opposition parties, including group sessions with both the Bloc Québecois and Reform Party.
So what did we find or hear? There were several counterbalancing messages received. Virtually everyone, in all parties, agrees that research is important and deserves more support. However, within the government there exists a great reluctance to make decisions that appear to reverse those made during program review, and within other parties it is a question of whether R&D is a high enough priority compared to debt reduction or whatever.
What will happen? The crystal ball is cloudy, but with luck the planned cuts to the councils will not be implemented, or if they are, a compensating fund or mechanism will appear.
However, the longer term commitments that have been proposed, and are so essential, may not materialize and the consortium is formulating a strategic plan for the coming year.
Paul Hough is Chair of the Canadian Consortium for Research