Frozen north out in the cold

October 13, 2000

Fewer Canadian researchers are joining the multinational teams conducting studies in the country's north, according to a task force report.

Canada's northern research is deteriorating, says the report, which was commissioned by two federal agencies, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

More than 700 academics and researchers studying the north were questioned for the report, and its authors met with groups in the three Arctic territories.

The report says cuts to northern research, made largely as a result of austerity measures over the past ten years, may soon cause lasting damage to the country. "Canada is in danger of being unable to meet its basic national obligations to adequately monitor, manage and safeguard its northern environment, or to respond to current and emerging social issues in the north," it says.

The chair of the task force, Tom Hutchinson of Trent University, said the weaknesses happened accidentally. Federal departments had to make savings, and many imposed uncoordinated cuts in northern research funding. Several university researchers lost the ability to tap into federal programmes.

The number of projects supported by the Polar Continental Shelf Project - the Canadian mechanism for logistical support in the Arctic - has declined from 300 in 1990 to about 150 this year. Many initiatives, including regional and economic development, the human food chain and poverty alleviation, have been affected. Funding for projects touching on science and technology has fallen 30-40 per cent over the past six years.

"Canadians are proud of their north but have been woefully neglectful. I guess ignorance is better than maliciousness," Professor Hutchinson said.

Canada is increasingly depicted as a country relegated to following research trends. The United States, Scandinavia and the European Union greatly outspend the Canadians, according to the report.

The task force recommends the establishment of 24 university research chairs and a series of scholarships and postdoctoral fellowships dedicated to northern research as well as the support of 70 strategic research projects of high social, industrial and environmental relevance.

The federal government recently made it clear that the north is an important area. Professor Hutchinson is optimistic that his task force's report, along with similar findings from a government study due out next year, will embarrass the Canadian government into action.

Details: www.nserc.ca/news/ p000921.htm


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