New Brunswick's four universities, non-profit organizations and the provincial government are teaming up to fund a new social research institute intended to deliver advice on critical policy issues.
Former Fredericton Liberal MP Andy Scott, the senior fellow in social policy at the University of New Brunswick, will serve as the executive director of the New Brunswick Social Policy Research Network, which will give government and policy makers access to research at the province's four universities.
The new research centre will even allow for requests for specific studies on issues that are impacting the province.
"It will cause the work that is being done outside of government to have greater impact on public policy and it will build better relationships between academics and government not-for-profit [organizations]," Scott said.
Scott, who was a cabinet minister in the former governments of prime ministers Jean Chretien and Paul Martin, said he hopes this social network will be able to influence government policy so that social initiatives are not budget driven but based on research.
The New Brunswick government is putting $200,000 into the project, while the University of New Brunswick, St. Thomas University, Mount Allison University and the University of Moncton have all chipped in cash to launch the network.
Social Development Minister Kelly Lamrock said the government should turn to outside experts when looking to create social policy.
"Research institutes and universities are in the business of conducting research. It makes sense to use their expertise to the benefit of all New Brunswickers by applying this evidence-based research to provincial challenges," Lamrock said.
Not rocket science
Dennis Cochrane, the president of St. Thomas University, said the social policy research is needed in the province to help decision-makers better understand policy options.
"This isn't rocket science," Cochrane said.
"It's probably something we should have been doing together there for a number of years in New Brunswick."
Organizations that could benefit from the social research centre are greeting the news of the new group with some degree of skepticism.
Kurt Peacock, who has been involved in organizations designed to help citizens in Saint John's north end, said this network could make a difference in his work. He also said it is important to look to outside experts for a different policy perspective.
"Coming from Saint John, we are certainly no fans of bureaucracy," Peacock said.
"What excites me about this initiative is the academics and the universities lead it and government listen."
While community groups are eager to use the research centre's work, university professors are also keen to get involved in the network.
"This allows faculty to have greater access to government and allows the government to have greater access to faculty and this is really going to be important," said Dennis Desroches, the president of the Federation of New Brunswick Faculty Associations.