What a difference a year can make.
This time last year, I had the honour of presenting my first major speech as Canada’s new Minister of Science at the Canadian Science Policy Conference. My appointment to Cabinet – the first to include an equal number of women and men in Canadian history – was exciting and humbling.
The new role presented an opportunity to rebuild the government’s respect for and trust in our scientists.
Over the previous ten years, science was pushed to the margins of government policy and politics. Morale among researches was low partially because of their inability to speak freely about their work. Scientists united to protest the death of evidence on Parliament Hill and research funding had flat-lined.
Our government was elected with the promise of returning science to its rightful place at the federal table and making decisions informed by the best-available evidence. In our first week, we reinstated Statistics Canada’s long-form census which was quickly followed by ensuring subject matter experts, including scientists, were free to speak about their work. These important steps set the tone for our approach to science, one that embraces a culture of openness and optimism and that strives for diversity.
In addition to working with research leaders to address the gaps in equity and diversity in the sciences, our government also brought back the University and College Academic Staff System (UCASS) survey which offers a snapshot of the composition of faculty staff on campuses across the country and how it is changing. The data generated by the survey will help post-secondary institutions create a more inclusive and diverse faculty, one that reflects today’s Canada.
If we are to overcome some of the grand environmental, social and economic challenges that we face as a country, we simply cannot afford to leave more than half of the population — and half of our brilliance, half of our ideas — behind.
Science has played an integral role in the review of environmental assessment and regulatory processes, in our reinvestment in federal scientists at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and in renewed international scientific collaboration in the Arctic. I had the honour of joining my international colleagues in the first-ever White House Arctic Science Ministerial meeting in September where I advocated to work in partnership with Indigenous Peoples and northern communities so that we may collectively address the rapid changes experienced in the North.
It is the importance of science which led me to consult with scientists and experts across the country and internationally as we work to establish a Chief Science Advisor position. Once the mandate is defined and the position filled, a Chief Science Advisor will be a strong, enduring voice for science and scientists in government.
The government’s support for science must also be strategic, effective and have the greatest possible benefit for the scientific community and for Canadians in general. That is why in June we launched an independent review of fundamental science – the first of its kind.
I appointed a distinguished nine-member panel to examine the existing federal funding mechanisms for fundamental science. Chaired by former University of Toronto President David Naylor, the panel has travelled the country seeking input from scientists, researchers, administrators, and Canadians at large. In addition to meeting with stakeholders in over a dozen roundtables, the panel also received over 1,200 individual submissions from scientists and the public alike through its online portal.
While the Government of Canada has worked towards discovering and addressing any gaps in federal science funding, we continue to ensure funding flows to important scientific initiatives and programs through the commitments made in Budget 2016. This includes $2 billion through the Post-Secondary Institutions Strategic Investment Fund to improve research and innovation infrastructure across Canada, $900 million to support 13 cutting-edge research projects through the Canada First Research Excellence Fund and a $95 million top-up to the three federal granting councils, the largest, unfettered increase in more than a decade.
Over the past year, our government has done a lot to foster science in this country. But I know there is plenty more to do. I look forward to keeping science’s place at the federal table and ensuring that good science policy benefits our community, our environment, our economy and our middle class.
Minister of Science