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Canada Science Policy Conference, Day 3

October 30, 2009

Today was the closing day of the Canadian Science Policy Conference in Toronto. The conference was abuzz this morning, as the keynote address was to be delivered by the oft-maligned Junior Minister for Science, etc. Gary Goodyear. After two days of very positive discussion, a sense of real promise was in the air, a sense that it could be possible to craft a dynamic and meaningful science policy – or at least to start a process by which such a policy might take shape. Would the minister capture the mood? Could he demonstrate to the assembled delegates that his office was ready to lead the way?

Well, no. In a short speech long on generalizations but short on actual policy, Goodyear summarized and surveyed the Conservative government’s financial support for science and technology, recapped the government’s Science and Technology Strategy, and reaffirmed his personal and political commitment to science and technology. He spent some time describing the CCA and STIC reports on research and innovation (probably unnecessary, given the crowd), and focused – like so many others – on the fact that Canada’s industrial R&D represents a perennial Canadian weakness. This has been an acknowledged problem for at least 20 years, and Goodyear suggested that – unlike previous governments – his was really going to do something about it. He didn’t describe exactly what they’d do, but he seemed very sincere.

To be honest, while Goodyear said not a word about science policy in Canada, possible improvements that could be made, etc. he did seem sincerely supportive of the conference, and interested in the conference outcomes. He told the assembled delegates that he really wanted to hear from them, and that his door is always open (though he did admit that if you phone him, he might not call you back the same day). He also announced that one of the aims of the conference was the creation of a “science policy network”. I’m not sure if he misunderstood speculation/hope from conference organizers, or if I just didn’t get that memo, but he seemed genuinely interested and supportive of such a mission.

While it’s easy to caricature the Minister for his many gaffes, I got the sense that he might – just might, mind you – be receptive to properly-framed suggestions and ideas resulting from this conference and other science policy discussion. As Preston Manning described yesterday – the government isn’t necessarily biased against science, it’s just ignorant. Considering how few potential champions science policy has on the Hill, maybe – just maybe, mind you – Goodyear could be the one.

I haven’t blogged about the breakout sessions I attended. They were very interesting – topics included R&D in industry, policy and science in practice, and science policy and the media. I’ll delve into those topics with some of my own perspectives over the next week or two.

Congratulations to the conference organizers, who put together a very interesting and important program. I was impressed by the number and quality of both speakers and delegates and the tenor of discussion. The not-quite-consensus opinion was that science policy in Canada should focus primarily on increasing innovation. The numbers support an increased focus on innovation, though at times it seemed that the focus on innovation was somewhat limiting and narrow-sighted. Science policy is a broad area, with many facets. A three day conference wasn’t nearly enough time to explore them all. The enthusiasm and commitment of conference attendees, however, gives hope that the discussion about science policy started here will progress, and that what was begun this week in Toronto can evolve into a movement to inform a sound national science policy.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jim permalink
    October 30, 2009 15:51

    Quelle supris! The Minister’s speech was almost certainly strained through the PMO’s filters (was there an Economic Action Plan poster/advert behind the podium?). No speech innovation allowed! I think the most important aspect of Goodyear’s presentation was the fact that he was there to give it. That must count for something. But I don’t think anyone should read much into what was said.

    Thanks for the conference summaries Rob! Very useful for those of us more focused on eeking out the best science possible on ever diminishing funds available via open grant programs. Perhaps someone could have pointed out that the OGP’s consistently result in the highest amount of true innovation but are the programs that are most under pressure? The problem, of course, is that OGP’s don’t depend on a lot of top-down policy or advice, which (to this sceptic) is perhaps the key to their effectiveness. Thar’s the rub.

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