Federal science, tech announcements home in on Canada's Arctic

With the writ expected to drop in just a few days, Canada has been seeing a frenzy of federal government funding and policy announcements this week, squeezed in before the prime minister calls an election. Here's a round-up of science- and technology-related announcements.

Millions of dollars to go towards sonar systems, mobile labs, environmental conservation

Prime Minister Stephen Harper greets workers at the construction site of the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk highway in Inuvik, N.W.T. in January 2014. Nestled in the spate of last-minute government announcements ahead of the expected writ drop are a handful of funding pledges for the Arctic. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

With the writ expected to drop in just a few days, Canada has been seeing a frenzy of federal government funding and policy announcements this week, squeezed in before the prime minister calls an election. 

A chunk of the hundreds of millions of dollars pledged to projects across the country will go towards developments in science and technology.

For years, the Conservative government has been accused of muzzling federal scientists. In 2012, scientists held a mock funeral on Parliament to mourn what they called the death of evidence, including cuts to federal science programs.

As Canada steers itself towards what could be the longest election campaign in history, here's a round-up of the government's last-minute science and technology announcements, many of which relate to the Arctic:

$1.6M for emergency preparedness

As part of a partnership between the Canadian Space Agency and the German Aerospace Centre, six Canadian companies will receive funding in their work with German companies to research ways to monitor environmental conditions and better predict potential risk of natural disasters. 

The space agency announced Friday that it is providing a total of $1.6 million to Canadian companies will receive approximately $300,000 each. The German space centre is providing funding for German companies. 

Under the partnership, companies have access to radar imagery from both Canadian and satellites.

$4.4M for upgrades to Arctic research facility

Natural Resources Canada said Friday it would invest up to $4.4 million for infrastructure upgrades to the department's Polar Continental Shelf Program facility in Resolute, Nunavut. 

The investment will go towards the program's logistics hubs to improve the facility's energy efficiency, as well as improve communications services for the 1,000-plus researchers working there. 

$22M for Coast Guard sonar systems

The government announced Friday that $22 million will be spent over five years to improve the safety of marine transportation in the Arctic, following an audit last year that found mapping services to be lacking.
The CCGS Pierre Radisson escorts the oil tanker Havelstern to Iqaluit on July 17. A federal funding pledge of $22 million includes purchase and installation of four multi-beam sonar systems aboard Canadian Coast Guard icebreakers. (@DFO_Central/Twitter)

Some of the money is to buy and install four multi-beam sonar systems aboard Canadian Coast Guard icebreakers for sea-floor surveying.

The government said it will increase the Coast Guard Auxiliary presence in remote locations to improve emergency response and search-and-rescue capacity.

Microbeads ban

The Conservative government said Thursday it is proposing to add microbeads to the list of toxic substances under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

It's also working on developing regulations that would prohibit the manufacture, import, sale and offers for sale of products that contain microbeads. A survey of industry stakeholders will be carried out in order to gather information that's needed in order to support the proposed regulations. 

The announcement comes four months after the NDP passed a unanimous motion in the House of Commons calling for the government to "take immediate measures to add microbeads to the list of toxic substances" under CEPA. 

$3.7M for roads to Arctic satellite station

The investment announced on Thursday will go towards improving and building roads to access the Inuvik Satellite Station Facility in the Northwest Territories.
Canada's satellite antenna, which will collect data on forest fires, ice conditions and shipping traffic, joins two others in Inuvik, from Germany and Sweden. (Submitted by Stuart Salter)

The announcement came just as Canada opened its first satellite antenna at the same facility.

The facility supports emergency preparedness and response, shipping and navigation, environmental monitoring, northern sovereignty and resource development with geospatial data that it receives through its antennas. Two of its three antennas are German-owned, and Swedish- and France-owned. The third belongs to Natural Resources. 

Tougher vehicle emission standards

Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced on Wednesday that Canada will introduce more stringent air pollutant emission standards for new passenger car, light-duty trucks and certain heavy-duty vehicles (for example: delivery vans) starting with the 2017 model year.

The government will also lower limits on the allowable sulphur content of gasoline starting in 2017, bringing Canada's standards in alignment with the U.S.

$4.4M for environmental conservation

The federal government is providing $4.4 million to fund 82 projects through the EcoAction Community Funding Program to support environmental projects.

This funding announced on Wednesday falls under the National Conservation Plan which was included the 2014 federal budget. The plan was launched to build on and coordinate stewardship efforts across the country, including $252 million for environmental initiatives.

$2.1M for Arctic mobile science labs

The Arctic Research Foundation will be able to acquire six mobile science laboratories for use the Nunavut communities of Cambridge Bay, Gjoa Haven, and in the Queen Maud Gulf area, with joint funding from the federal government, and the University of Manitoba and Queen's University. 

Three of the labs will focus on fisheries and marine sciences, geosciences and archaeology. The remaining three will be used for general research purposes, which will allow for, among other things, mining of soapstone for local carvers.

The foundation said it will train Inuit from the Kitikmeot region so research related to economic development in fishers, mining and tourism can be completed in the north, according to a July 24 press release. 

With files from The Canadian Press