News & Media

Research council cuts jobs in city

CLOSE to 20 positions have been eliminated from the National Research Council's operations in Winnipeg and rumours persist that there might be more to come.

Sources say the cuts include about 10 people being laid off and close to 10 other positions that are being left unfilled.

According to a spokeswoman from the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) in Ottawa, the cuts may not be over.

Speaking about its membership throughout the public service, not just at the NRC -- which includes scientists, auditors, information-technology and other professionals -- the PIPSC official said there is worry that more job losses from the organization's membership are imminent.

"This is not even the tip of the iceberg," she said. "We are preparing for the worst."

The Harper government is talking about finding ways to make $4 billion in annual spending cuts and the PIPSC official said the layoffs throughout the NRC's network occurred even before strategic budget reviews that senior officials are now engaged in.

Ian Smith, the NRC's director general of its Institute of Biodiagnostics in Winnipeg, would not comment on the layoffs. But he said the NRC-IBD has about 180 employees, including close to 130 in Winnipeg. (There are another 50 split between research labs in Calgary and Halifax.)

The NRC's Winnipeg IBD operation specializes in medical-imaging technology. Among other things, it was responsible for the development of the original technology behind the successful Winnipeg medical device company IMRIS.

"We're doing fine," said Smith, noting the IBD has significant income from royalties and services to third parties. It has disposed of its shares in IMRIS, but it has other new technologies on the verge of commercialization. For instance, it has been working for several years to develop a low-field high-performance magnetic resonance system that could sell for one-tenth the cost of conventional MRI systems on the market.

Smith said the idea would be to make the more reasonably priced MRI available to satisfy huge demand in developing countries.

But any decrease in the scientific research and development infrastructure is rarely a good thing, especially in a community like Winnipeg that is trying hard to develop knowledge-based industries.

Tracey Maconachie, executive director of the Life Sciences Association of Manitoba, said the cutbacks have not resulted in a noticeable impact for her members, but she said there is talk of the possibility of future cuts.

"We certainly understand that departments and governments need to prioritize," she said. "But at the core if we don't have research we can't have commercialization of innovative products. We need to find that balance as a community."