Science policy an issue in the Canada 2011 election?

It’s only in my dreams or, perhaps, my nightmares that science policy is considered an important issue in a Canadian federal election. Being an election issue can be a two-edged sword, you get more attention but that can work for you and/or against you. On balance, I think it’s better to be considered an election issue than to be ignored and it seems to me that there’s a lot more effort (not from the political parties) this election to put science policy in the limelight.

For anyone interested in asking candidates about their position on science and science policies, Peer Review Radio; Bringing Science Back to the People, will be webcasting interviews with four candidates from difference parties and constituencies (in the Ottawa region) and they are inviting questions both from Canadians and ‘informed World Citizens’ to be submitted by Weds., April 20, 2011. The interviews will be broadcast April 21 – 25, 2011. Here’s some more information about Peer Review Radio,

Science plays an increasing role in our daily lives, yet the average North American receives less than a minute of science news for every five hours of cable TV.

Peer Review Radio was established by a group of motivated graduate students with a desire to spread their love of science. By breaking down complicated concepts into bite-sized morcels, the ‘Peers’ hope to spark the curiosity of their listeners with relevant, reliable information. The end goal of this programme is to provide an outlet where anyone and everyone can understand current scientific issues and generate their own informed opinions. In addition, Peer Review Radio promotes careers in research and science and serves as a training ground for future scientists to acquire invaluable communication skills.

If you feel you need more information or a refresher, I’ve got some summaries and portions of commentaries culled from other blogs about the science policy and party platforms for the Canadian 2011 election.

For an overall analysis of what the various political parties are offering, you can check out Rob Annan’s April 11, 2011 posting where he offers an overview and specifics of the various parties’ research policy as described in their election platforms. The overviews have been excerpted, if you’re interested in reading the specifics, please see Rob’s posting,

The Conservative plan (pdf here) is slightly more detailed than the others, as they’ve rolled their recently tabled budget into their platform. The platform document includes a subsection devoted to R&D, in which they trumpet their track record (e.g. “made substantial new investments in R&D through Canada’s granting councils”, which I guess is technically true if you ignore the funding cuts that preceded – and exceeded – said “investments”).

The Liberals (pdf here) are pretty ambiguous about research policy, though they do have one idea that may be innovative (though probably isn’t).

The NDP (platform pdf here) doesn’t seem to have much of a plan for research, with nary a mention in the platform. Weird.

The Greens’ platform (pdf here) is described in detail in their Vision Green document, which includes their goals up to 2020. Of all platforms, it contains the most research-related content, and it is the most descriptive. Unlike the others, it also describes something akin to a “vision” for research in this country, which is predictably aligned with environmental and social justice politics. Oddly, this means that health research, a multi-billion dollar undertaking in this country and our largest research sector, is barely mentioned.

Bloc Québecois edit: an earlier edition based the Bloc positions on an executive summary of their platform.

I’m not sure why he removed the executive summary but for anyone interested in a summary of the Bloc Québécois science policy, it can be found at Agence Science Presses on the Élections Canada: La science des partis webpage written up in French (my stumbling translation follows) by Rob Annan and Pascal Lapointe,

Le Bloc Québécois considère que les politiques énergétiques et environnementales doivent s’appuyer sur des faits solidement démontrés par la science plutôt que sur des idéologies à courte vue. il mettra tout en œuvre pour que les scientifiques puissent communiquer directement avec les médias sans être censurés et sans risque de représailles.

Here goes the translation: The Bloc Québécois believes that energy and environmental policies should be based on scientific evidence rather than short-term political ideologies. As well, the party will free scientists to communicate directly to media without fear of censure or reprisal.

Nassif Ghoussoub on his Piece of Mind blog offers more analysis of the Liberal and Conservative party platforms re: science policy during this 2011 election season. From his April 15, 2011 posting about the Liberals and their science policy,

You expect that a Harvard Professor and a former Astronaut would cherish an opportunity to step up for a more serious, more vigorous, more rigorous, more scientifically driven, and less politically motivated research policy for the Government of Canada. Wrong! Ignatieff has been back in Canada long enough, and Garneau has been in politics long enough to know that a major discourse on research policy does not move votes. Remember the debates?

He goes on in more detail about a policy statement that he describes as ‘wishy-washy’.

In his April 18, 2011 posting, Nassif focuses on the Conservatives,

Unlike the other parties, the Conservatives have now a 5-year track record on research policy. Their proposed 2001 budget may also be considered as their platform, at least for the short term. Their research policies are de-facto more detailed, hence more open to scrutiny. The Tories’ record is mixed: Continuation of successful federal programs, more government interference in research prioritization and targeted funding, less emphasis on peer-review and the Tri-council, resistance to basic research, new elitist programs, yet major support for colleges.

He goes on to detail what he terms: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly elements of their science policy.

As for my take on things, I’m not a policy wonk. That said, I have looked at the various policies (can’t find the Bloc Québécois electoral platform [plateforme électorale] in either English or French) and don’t find that any of the parties view science as being important. A couple of paragraphs are devoted to it in the Liberal platform and there’s some mention in the Conservative platform too but the NDP and the Greens have folded science policy into other platform issues. As Nassif points out, science is not a vote-getter. For some anecdotal support of that comment, as I have mentioned elsewhere, I had one NDP constituency assistant describe science policy to me as a ’boutique’ issue.

I notice there’s no mention of reinstituting a science advisor (there was a position until the Conservatives cut it in their first term) or educating MP’s about science (they offer workshops in the UK) or even (other than the Bloc Québécois summary on the Agence Science Presses website) what role science advice or evidence may have in policy decisions where scientific information should play a key role e.g. regulating nanotechnology. Nor is there any discussion (again, other than from the Bloc Québécois) about federal scientists being allowed to freely discuss their work with the media. ETA April 18, 2011: One more question: What role do you see for science in Canadian society? (Aside: I may have just given myself the question I want for Peer Review Radio. Better take another look at the rules!)

If you too have questions for Peer Review Radio’s last webcast of the season, ETA April 18, 2011: I’ve added more information about how to post questions and comments. First some rules from the Peer Review Radio website,

Rules for #SciLxn41 Question Submissions
1. Must relate vaguely to funding and/or plans of action regarding to science, science education, science communication, research, health and innovation. 2. Must not be targeted questions at single candidates or parties, but must ask questions that can be posed to all four candidates equally. Deadline: April 20th we will openly publish the list of questions submitted to the candidates. That’s it! So please, post your comments with the #SciLxn41 hashtag on Twitter, share them on our Facebook Page, Reblog them at the Ottawa Orbital Tumblr, or drop a comment right here!

5 thoughts on “Science policy an issue in the Canada 2011 election?

  1. Adrian J. Ebsary

    This is great! An executive analysis – would you mind if we repost this on the PeerReviewRadio.com website?

    Also, when you do compose your question, any chance you’d be willing to give us a voice recording? We’d rather have it in your voice (can do by phone interview if you don’t have mic), but I can read it if you’re opposed to revealing identity.

  2. admin

    Hi Adrian! I’m delighted and honoured that you would like to repost this piece and happy to say yes. As for recording my question? I have a mic although I’m not sure about the quality and I need software to record the question. Maybe Skype? I’ll check it out. Cheers, Maryse

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  5. Pingback: More thoughts on science policy and the Canada 2011 federal election and Peer Review Radio end-of-season broadcast « FrogHeart

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