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Conservatives suggested “Chief Scientist” in policy outline

January 19, 2010

Over at Frogheart, Maryse de la Giroday responded to Nature’s criticism of Canada’s absent science policy by going to straight to the horses’ mouths and posting an interesting analysis of her results. She checked the webpages of the four main federal parties to determine their science policies. Alas, it turns out Nature was correct; even for opposition parties, for whom making grand, empty policy promises is de rigueur, science merits nary a mention.

The Liberal webpage is free of any policy statements (unless you head to their archives where you’ll find some slideshows from past national conventions – very convenient, and still don’t mention research policy). Of course, their leader has just wrapped up a speaking tour where he speculated about all sorts of unlikely directions science and research policy could take under his government, which are perhaps better left off the official record… The NDP and Green Parties post their party platforms, but make no mention of science policy.

The only party whose platform explicitly mentions science policy? The Conservatives (albeit as part of their “Economic Development” package).

The four-point plan (within their 2008 policy document, available here) has largely been enacted – less bureaucracy for large projects, private sector stimulus via tax incentives, “funding… through the granting councils” (*cough*). Their policy also calls for an “independent Chief Scientist who would advise and report to Parliament on scientific matters, and help coordinate science policy issues within government, and internationally”. As Maryse points out, this sounds suspiciously like the National Science Advisor, whose office was abolished by the Conservatives in 2008. The Conservatives’ policy position, though, calls for an office explicitly modeled after the British Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST). Coincidentally, the creation of a Canadian version of POST was suggested and widely supported at this fall’s Canadian Science Policy Conference.

The government thinks it’s a good idea, the research community thinks it’s a good idea, so why not do it?

ps. Stephen Harper announced a cabinet shuffle this morning, and Gary Goodyear survived in the junior ministry responsible for science and technology, and his portfolio was not promoted to a full cabinet position.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. January 19, 2010 17:24

    Hi Rob! Thanks for pushing the analysis further and for the shout out. This has inspired me and I’m wondering if you know of any effort being made to get science on the national political agenda for discussion (e.g. hosting an all party debate on science modeled on the UK debates that Dave Bruggeman mentions on his blog Pasco Phronesis, Jan.17.2010: Second Cross-Party Science Policy Debate Manages to Please and Displease). Best regards, Maryse

    • Rob Annan permalink*
      January 20, 2010 08:23

      Hi Maryse – I’m not aware of any effort to get science so prominently on the national political agenda, at least insofar as the parties themselves would participate. Of course, advocacy groups are constantly pushing to make science policy a political issue, and there are individuals working ‘behind-the-scenes’, as it were. Given that the government is not keen on engaging with the opposition, even in the House of Commons, it’s hard to imagine them consenting to an open debate with the other parties. And while this government has not been hostile to science and research by any means, the fight over the deficit will soon occupy all the political oxygen, and science policy advocates will have to be ready to join in that discussion as opposed to framing our own, I’m afraid.

      Of course, I would love to see something here akin to the UK debates – though short on substance, they were well-attended and publicized, underscoring the public’s interest in such matters.

  2. January 20, 2010 17:16

    Thanks Rob and I will cogitate on this. Best regards, Maryse

  3. January 21, 2010 06:29

    And I’m wondering if you know of any effort being made to get science on the national political agenda for discussion

    Hi Maryse and Rob – Well, there IS one such effort in French, called Je vote pour la science ( We’ve been inspired by the Science Debate of the US, and we’ve tried to push the idea at the last federal and Quebec provincial elections. And we had a small but encouraging success: a regional “Je vote pour la science” debate has been organized in the city of Rimouski (30 000 people) in December, 2008, between the three candidates for the post of MP.

    Since then, Je vote pour la science has also became a podcast on science and politics, but our main hope is still to organize some kind of debate, regional, provincial or federal. Any help is appreciated!

    • Rob Annan permalink*
      January 21, 2010 06:48

      Of course, Pascal! My oversight, and I apologize. I’m afraid I was thinking things happening right now, and I am probably guilty of focusing too much on “Ottawa”. “Je vote pour la science” was a strong and successful voice in Quebec during and after the last election, and continues to inform science policy discussion in Quebec.

      With Pascal in Quebec, Maryse in BC (am I right?) and me in Ottawa, we have the whole country covered (albeit thinly). Perhaps we can instigate a regional/national series of science debates? It’s not like MPs are busy in the House of Commons right now…

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