Arctic research funding of $67M finally announced

The federal government formally announced $67.3 million for research on Arctic climate change Thursday, though the funding has already been flowing for months.
Part of the millions in funding for Arctic researchers will pay for the operation of the coast guard icebreaker Amundsen, which scientists use to access remote communities and study the North's environment. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

The federal government formally announced $67.3 million for research on Arctic climate change Thursday, though the funding has already been flowing for months and an official website has long since divulged it.

Industry Minister Christian Paradis said the money would keep ArcticNet, a Canada-wide network of mostly university-based researchers, operating through 2018.  

The 145 investigators run projects looking at topics as diverse as Inuit access to post-secondary education, to how global warming is affecting marine life on the floor of the Arctic Ocean.

ArcticNet's first round of funding came in 2003, and researchers have known it would be renewed since last fall, when the federal government quietly extended its financial commitment.

The exact amount of the second round of funding was later posted to the federal government's website for the Networks of Centres of Excellence, which supports national research collaborations.

But there was still no formal announcement from the government. The Prime Minister's Office said in August that Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver would make the official announcement in the fall, even as Industry Canada was already at work planning something for that month.

Announcement planned for August

"It's a matter of opportunity," said Louis Fortier, a Laval University marine biologist and ArcticNet's scientific director. "We agreed with the Industry Department that we wanted to do the announcement in the North, and in the wintertime it's impossible, so the first favourable window was in August. We had something planned for the beginning of August in Resolute Bay, but things are always complicated in the North, and this is just one more example."

In the end, Paradis made the announcement Thursday alongside Fortier at Laval University in Quebec City, where he said the funding was the single largest amount Ottawa has doled out as part of the Networks of Centres of Excellence program.

All the machinations haven't been detrimental to ArcticNet's researchers, however, several of them said.

"The research community knew, when we had our last annual scientific meeting in December, that the decision had been made," said David Hik, a University of Alberta biologist and ArcticNet project leader.

"The fact the official announcement was delayed isn't a big deal. It hasn't delayed the flow of the funds, and none of the investigators would have been adversely affected at all. Probably with the election in May, a lot of these timelines got set back."

Fortier agreed there has been no adverse effect. "This is something the 145 of them were expecting. We were confident we would get funding," he said.

He added that the federal contribution is only a part of ArcticNet's budget. The government cash has a "leveraging effect" that allows the program to raise further funds from universities, granting agencies and elsewhere, for a total over the next seven years of between $400 million and $500 million, he said.

About $2.7 million a year of that goes toward operating the Canadian Coast Guard ship Amundsen, a 98-metre-long icebreaker that Arctic researchers use every May to December to travel to the remote North to study Inuit communities and the environment.