MONTREAL — When Canada's Conservative government presented its 2011 budget in late March, the fiscal plan didn't contain too many surprises for science funding. Like previous budgets, the proposal offered modest increases to the country's national research agencies and replenished the coffers of Genome Canada, its genomics and proteomics outfit. But the budget also contained a flashy and unprecedented new move: a multimillion-dollar earmark for neuroscience research.

Under the Conservatives' proposed scheme, the government would contribute up to C$100 million ($105 million) over several years to the Canada Brain Research Fund, a public-private partnership led by the Brain Canada Foundation in collaboration with the Canadian Association for Neuroscience and Neurological Health Charities Canada (NHCC). The government money would then be matched by funds raised from private sources by Brain Canada to support large, multidisciplinary neuroscience grants, postdoctoral fellowships and training programs.

The organization would not speculate on how much it might raise or what its annual research budget might be, but the funding would still probably be far less than the roughly C$165 million spent annually by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) on neuroscience and mental health research.

For now, however, the budget proposal remains in limbo. Opposition parties found the ruling Conservatives in contempt of Parliament a few days after the budget announcement, triggering an election slated for 2 May. As Nature Medicine went to press, the Conservatives, who have vowed to honor the original C$100 million commitment to brain research if reelected, remained ahead in the polls, followed by the Liberals, who similarly outlined a C$100 million, two-year 'brain health strategy' on 8 April. Thus, regardless of who forms the next government, neuroscientists and disease advocates are confident that brain research will receive a big boost in the country.

“This is a nonpartisan issue. We hope that after the election this will be supported in whatever its form,” says Brain Canada president Inez Jabalpurwala from the foundation's headquarters in downtown Montreal. “We're crossing our fingers.”

Jabalpurwala argues that Brain Canada's team-based grants—previously funded to the tune of C$500,000 per team per year for three years, for a total of C$8 million, plus additional funds for networking—help fill an important, unmet niche in the country. “We asked scientists if there was something the Canadian Institutes of Health Research wasn't able to do that could advance the science of brain disorders,” she explains.

The response: interdisciplinary big neuroscience. “In the Canadian system right now, there are not a lot of opportunities for teams to be funded to work on common projects,” says Louis-Eric Trudeau, a neuropharmacologist and former grant recipient from NeuroScience Canada, an earlier version of Brain Canada.

But the proposed shot in the arm for Brain Canada is not without its critics, even among the neuroscience community. “My concern is about giving the money to fund a foundation, rather than increasing support to the research councils,” says Robert Dunn, associate director of scientific affairs at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital. “I think it is a mistake.”

According to a Liberal spokesperson, if elected, party leaders plan to consult with CIHR, NHCC and Brain Canada officials about how best to allocate funds for its proposed brain health strategy.