Tag Archives: Canada 2011 federal election

Canada Election 2011, science writers, and an update on Peer Review Radio Candidate Interviews

Emily Chung (CBC News online) wrote up an April 26, 2011 article highlighting an open letter that the Canadian Science Writers Association (CSWA) have sent during this election 2011 campaign season to Conservative leader, Steven Harper; Green party leader, Elizabeth May; Liberal leader, Michael Ignatieff; and NDP leader, Jack Layton about the ‘muzzle’ place on federal scientists (from the article),

A group representing 500 science journalists and communicators across Canada sent an open letter Tuesday to Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, NDP Leader Jack Layton and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May documenting recent instances where they say federal scientists have been barred from talking about research funded by taxpayers.

“We urge you to free the scientists to speak,” the letter said. “Take off the muzzles and eliminate the script writers and allow scientists — they do have PhDs after all — to speak for themselves.”

Kathryn O’Hara, president of the association, said openness and transparency are issues that haven’t come up much in the election campaign, and her group felt it was important to ask about them.

The federal government spends billions each year on scientific research, and taxpayers must be able to examine the results, she said, otherwise, “how can you get a real sense of … value in money going toward science?”

The public also needs to be able to see whether government policy is based on evidence uncovered using taxpayer money, she added.

It’s good to see science writers getting the topic of science into the election coverage. I’m a little puzzled that the science policy centre folks (Canadian Science Policy Centre) don’t seem to have organized an ‘ask your candidates about science campaign’ or composed questions and sent their own open letter to the federal parties or devised some other tactic to highlight science and science policy in this election campaign.

One more bit about science and the Canada 2011 federal election, Peer Review Radio has now posted two interviews with candidates answering questions about science policy and their respective parties. The interviews with Scott Bradley, running for the Liberal Party in Ottawa-Centre and Emma Hogbin running for the Green Party in Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound are each about 22 minutes long. The show producer and host, Adrian J. Ebsary promises to post the interviews with me, Marie-Claire Shanahan, and other interested science policy observers soon. Unfortunately, he was not able to broadcast the interviews as he hoped.

More thoughts on science policy and the Canada 2011 federal election and Peer Review Radio end-of-season broadcast

Working on the Peer Review Radio end-of-season broadcast (April 26, 2011 at 12 noon EST or 9 am PST, listen live here on CHUO, fm 89.1) with Adrian J. Ebsary has been great and given me an opportunity to examine the science policy aspect of the current election campaign a little more closely since I first wrote my post (April 18, 2011) on the subject.

I found another commentary on science policy and election 2011 platforms at exposure/effect blog. (The writer, a scientist, chooses to remain anonymous.) I found this passage from the posting a little curious,

There isn’t a whole lot relating to science or science education in the party platforms, which is perhaps not surprising given the focus on the economy at the moment. The NDP probably have the strongest and most specific plans in this area, while the Green Party appear to have almost nothing; the Conservatives and Liberals fall somewhere in between.

I found the NDP platform to be the least detailed or informative both generally and about science. By the way, the PDF is 28 pages and a surprising number of those pages are filled with images. The Green platform lists 130 pages in its PDF with the Conservative platform at 67 pages and the Liberal platform at 98 pages. ETA April 27, 2011: I stand corrected. Ashartus (pseudonym for blogger at exposure/effect) points out (in the comments) that the Green Party platform is 12 pages and the document I was referencing is their Vision Green document. Within that 12 pages, the Green Party does, as Ashartus notes, offer the least detail about science policy of any party in the 2011 federal election.

Pascal Lapointe of Agence Science Presses/Je vote pour la science has been working to bring science policy into the political discourse for years. For this election campaign, the latest podcast he has prepared is titled, Est-ce que quelqu’un a prononcé le mot « science »? He will also be publishing answers to nine science policy questions that he and various science organizations prepared and asked of the candidates from various political parties. (Pascal has been tireless, he’s also published an April 15, 2011 article, La science des partis, co-written with Rob Annan of the Don’t leave Canada Behind blog (see my blog roll for the link). For more about the issues from Pascal please check the links as you’ll definitely find more about the 2011 election and science policy.)

Now for a very different way of looking at the party platforms, a visual representation of them using wordle. Thanks to Michael Gerskup at Skeptic North for taking the time to create these visualizations of the Conservative, Liberal, NDP, Green, and Bloc Québécois platforms by feeding the text into Wordle. Here’s the 2011 platform visualization for the Conservative party,

Conservative Party Platform for Canada 2011 election (Michael Gerskup/Skeptic North, April 11, 2011 posting)

I don’t see any science in this one or in the others, for that matter. You can find the rest of the visualizations here.

As for what I discovered while working with Adrian on the broadcast, there’s an absence in all of the platforms: emerging technologies. (It seems strange that I missed it initially given my area of interest but I did.) Do any of the candidates (and, for some, future members of parliament) in these political parties have any sense of changes that may be needed in policies and regulations as products of emerging technologies hit the marketplace? What will the social impact be? Will these changes affect education? etc., etc., etc.

I’m not suggesting that any of parties should have a full plan just that there be awareness of emerging technologies. There is awareness in other countries.

#SciLxn41; Peer Review Radio’s end of season broadcast on April 26, 2011

Tomorrow, April 26, 2011, at 9 am PST (12 noon EST) Peer Review Radio will be broadcasting its last show of the season (scroll down and over to the right for your choice of listening to it live or, later, as a podcast), a programme on science policy in the 2011 Canadian Federal Election.

Adrian J. Ebsary is producing and hosting the show, which will feature interviews with me, Marie-Claire Shanahan, science education professor at the University of Alberta and blogger at Boundary Vision, amongst others discussing science policy, science education, and more as they relate to the platforms of the Bloc Québécois, Conservative, Green, Liberal, and NDP federal parties in this 2011 election season.

Unfortunately, we were not able to get candidates from each of the federal parties to talk to us about their party’s 2011 election platform and science policy. Two candidates did agree to discuss it but due to CRTC rules, all the parties must be given equal broadcast time, so Adrian is not able to include them in the broadcast. Consequently, interviews with Scott Bradley, Liberal party candidate running in Ottawa Centre, and Emma Hobgin, Green party candidate in Owen Sound and the party’s shadow Science Minister, will be distributed after the programme has aired via Youtube. That’s the current plan, if anything changes, I’ll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, there’s an April 24, 2011 article in the Times-Colonist (a Victoria, BC newspaper) by Postmedia News reporter, Mike De Souza about Australian scientist Tim Flannery’s bafflement over the lack of discussion about science issues such as the environment and climate change in the federal election campaigns. From the article,

A best-selling Australian author who is known as the “rock star” of modern science is baffled to see Canada’s election campaign side-stepping around climate change and environmental issues.

In an interview with Postmedia News, Tim Flannery, recently appointed as chief commisioner of the Australian government’s climate commission, says the environment is one of the top issues everywhere he travels.

But after arriving in North America earlier this month to promote his new book, Here on Earth, he noted from the recent federal leaders debates that Canada’s political climate was different than what he saw during a visit three years ago.

“I watched (the debates) with great interest but I was mystified to see that the environment just didn’t rank at all,” said Flannery, who leads the commission that engages the Australian public in discussions about climate change.

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!