Category Archives: science policy

Job at the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA); application deadline: December 15, 2021

The Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) is looking for a research associate. Before launching into the job description, here’s a little more about the CCA from their About page,

The Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) [which include The Royal Society of Canada {RSC}, The Canadian Academy of Engineering {CAE}, and The Canadian Academy of Health Sciences {CAHS}] is a not-for-profit organization that convenes the best experts in their respective fields to assess the evidence on complex scientific topics of public interest to inform decision-making in Canada. Led by a Board of Directors and guided by a Scientific Advisory Committee and its founding Academies, the CCA’s work encompasses a broad definition of science, incorporating the natural, social, and health sciences as well as engineering and the humanities.

Assessments are conducted by multidisciplinary and multisectoral panels of experts from across Canada and abroad who volunteer their time and lend their expertise and knowledge to the CCA. The overarching goal of CCA assessments is to evaluate the best available evidence on particularly complex issues where the science may be challenging to understand, contradictory, or difficult to assemble. Upon completion, assessments provide key decision-makers, as well as researchers and stakeholders, with high-quality information and evidence to develop informed and innovative public policy. Assessments can be referred to the CCA (or “sponsored”) by foundations, non-governmental organizations, the private sector, or any level of government.

The CCA assessment process is guided by a professional staff and is completed through in-person meetings, teleconferences, and hundreds of hours of research. To protect the independence of the assessment process, sponsors do not participate in the production of assessments, review drafts of reports, or propose any changes to reports before their release. This process ensures the highest integrity and objectivity of the work. All reports undergo formal peer review and are made available to the public free of charge in both official languages.

Now for the job description and other particulars, from the November 22, 2021 job posting page on the CCA website,

Job Title: Research Associate

Organization: Council of Canadian Academies (CCA)

Job Categories: Research and Analysis; Evidence-Based Decision-Making

Location: Ottawa, Ontario [under current COVID-19 restrictions will be working remotely but expected to work in Ottawa at future date]

Application deadline: December 15, 2021

Position Status: Full time, permanent

The Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) is looking for an experienced research associate to join our team of diverse professionals committed to supporting evidence-informed policy and practice in Canada.  

Reporting directly to one or more Project Directors as a member of one or more assessment teams, Research Associates carry out research and writing in support of multidisciplinary expert panels on wide ranging policy areas related to innovation, economics, science and society, health and life sciences, environment, energy and security.

Responsibilities include: Leading the development and execution of assigned elements of assessment-specific research plans in support of panel deliberations and report production, including: conduct of literature searches, synthesis of material and data and determining relevance of data for purposes of study; Draft assessment report content; Provide leadership in the design and implementation of the assessment specific research plan; and, Engage in active relationship management with external contributors, including panel members (correspondence, co-production of material, facilitating feedback, etc.).

Requirements

At least 5 years of relevant work experience; Ability to quickly develop a working knowledge of unfamiliar subject matter; and synthesize complex discussions, documentation, and literature into summary documents; Excellent written communication skills ― particularly an ability to translate scientific concepts and results into text for non-specialists; Team player with a commitment to excellence; Excellent oral communication skills; and A [sic] post-graduate or professional degree.

Assets

A background in economics or other social sciences; and French bilingualism.

How to Apply

Please send a cover letter and résumé summarizing your experience and suitability for the position to careers@cca-reports.ca by December 15, 2021.
-Why are you interested in this position with the CCA?
-What are your long-term career goals, and how will this position with CCA contribute to meeting those goals?
-What strengths and areas of expertise would you bring this position?
-What else would you like us to know about you?

We thank all applicants and will contact those selected for an interview. CCA is committed to equity, diversity, and inclusion. Please let us know if you require accommodation.

CCA staff are currently working remotely due to COVID-19 restrictions. The new hire will work remotely, until those restrictions are lifted, at which time they will be expected to be able to work on-site at our office in Ottawa.

Applicants must be legally eligible to work in Canada.

Well, well, well. No mention of a salary? What an intriguing approach to recruiting new staff members.

I’m also intrigued by this responsibility, “… Engage in active relationship management with external contributors, including panel members (correspondence, co-production of material, facilitating feedback, etc.).” Relationship management, eh?

First off, there’s always at least one prima donna in the group, someone who requires delicate handling and, often, that person is not particularly pleasant to deal with. As well, imagine getting people to deliver materials on deadline and these people are volunteers, which means more occasions for delicate handling.

I’m struck by this requirement, “Excellent written communication skills ― particularly an ability to translate scientific concepts and results into text for non-specialists.”

I have read more than one CCA assessment and I would not describe any of them as excellent writing. They are written in a clear, competent fashion but excellent writing is something more than competent; it requires imagination and, as far as I can tell, that quality is not encouraged at the CCA.

On the plus side, this is an opportunity to make a lot of contacts both nationally and internationally and the work will be varied as the assessments cover quite a range of topics from Public Safety in the Digital Age to Canada’s Carbon Sink Potential to The Socio-Economic Impacts of Science and Health Misinformation to AI for Science and Engineering, and more.

Good luck!

Canadian Black Scientists Network (CBSN)

If I understand the message from the Canadian Black Scientists Network’s (CBSN) president, Professor Maydianne CB Andrade correctly, the first meeting was in July 2020 and during that meeting the Canadian Black Science Network (CBXN) was born and the website was established (in August 2021?).

The Canadian Black Scientists Network (CBSN) is a national coalition of Black people possessing or pursuing higher degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine/Health (STEMM), together with Allies who are senior leaders with a demonstrated commitment to action for Black inclusion. Our network is young and growing. We were founded by a small group of faculty and held our first meeting in July 2020. Since then, we have expanded to include hundreds of members from across the country, including academics, graduate students and postdocs, research administrators, and STEMM practitioners. We have established a very active steering committee of volunteers, an online presence, and are increasingly recognized as the face of a multidisciplinary, national vanguard of Black excellence in STEMM.

….

We focus on those who identify as Black, which we define as those of Black African descent, which includes those who identify as Black Africans, and those found worldwide who identify as descendants of Black African peoples. We acknowledge and will be open to working in partnership with other organizations that focus on dismantling the challenges, discrimination, and barriers to inclusion in STEMM that are experienced by others.  We simultaneously emphasize the need to maintain our network’s focus on Black Canadians. Deliberate, tailored interventions for Black communities are required to remove the long-standing discrimination, exclusion, and oppression that was initially created to justify slavery, and the ways in which those structures and stereotypes still manifest in systematic anti-Black racism in the lives of Canadians (see: the United Nations Report of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent on its mission to Canada). We will not shirk from pointing to these realities, but will maintain a strong commitment to joining with all Canadians to build a more equitable society. 

Prof Maydianne CB Andrade
Inaugural President & Co-Founder
August 10, 2021

They’ve already been in involved in a number of media programmes and events. That’s a lot to get done (i.e., establishing a network, participating on [10 – 13] panels, podcasts, etc., and organizing a conference [BE-STEMM conference for January 30 – February 2, 2022], developing sponsorships, putting together a website, and more) in a little over 18 months.

Funding, conference, award-winning CBC programme

They must have gotten money from somewhere and while they don’t spell it out, you can find out more about the CBSN’s sponsors (i.e., funders and other supporters) here. As one would expect, you’ll find the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the Natural Research Council of Canada (NRC), and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

Information about the BE-STEMM Conference (January 30 – February 2, 2022) can be found here,

We are pleased to announce our first annual conference for Black Excellence in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine/Health (BE-STEMM 2022).

This virtual, interdisciplinary conference will highlight established and rising star Black Canadians in STEMM fields through plenary talks and concurrent talks sessions. Three days of academic programming will be anchored by a fourth day dedicated to leadership summits aimed at sharing best practices for actions supporting justice for Black Canadians in STEMM across sectors, educational levels, professional roles, and intersectional identities. Other highlights include a career fair, public panels and talks, and sessions featuring research of high school and undergraduate students.

Funded by grants from CIHR, NRC, NSERC, FRQNT [Fonds de recherche du Québec], and supported by MITACS [Canadian, national, not-for-profit organization designing and delivering research and training programs] and several academic partners, this bilingual, accessible conference invites all to attend. Black Canadians, Indigenous Canadians, and Allies of all identities from across the STEMM landscape are welcome. Visit this site often for more details on how to participate or become a sponsor.

The timing for the establishment of a Canadian Black Scientists Network couldn’t be much better. Just months after the July 2020 meeting, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) radio broadcasts a February 16, 2021 interview featuring Maydianne Andrade and Kevin Hewitt, co-founders of the Canadian Black Scientists Network, on the Mainstreet NS [news stories?] with Jeff Douglas.

On February 27, 2021, CBC’s Quirks and Quarks radio programme broadcasts an award-winning, three-part special “Black in science: The legacy of racism in science and how Black scientists are moving the dial,” which featured an interview with Angela Saini (author of 2019’s SUPERIOR; The Return of Race Science), as well as, Prof Maydianne CB Andrade (CBSN Inaugural President & Co-Founder), and many others.

The 2021 AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) Kavli Science Journalism Award for “Black in science …,” was announced November 10, 2021,

Audio

Gold Award:

Amanda Buckiewicz and Nicole Mortillaro

CBC/Radio-Canada

“Quirks & Quarks: Black in science special”

Feb. 27, 2021

Buckiewicz and Mortillaro, producers for a special edition of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s long-running “Quirks & Quarks” program, looked at the past and future of Black people in science. The episode examined the history of biased and false “race science” that led to misunderstanding and mistreatment of Black people by the scientific and medical community, creating obstacles for them to participate in the scientific process. Buckiewicz and Mortillaro spoke to Black researchers about their work and how they are trying to increase recognition for the contributions of Black scientists and build more opportunities and representation across all disciplines of science. Judge Alexandra Witze, a freelance science journalist, called the program “unflinching in describing science’s racist history, such as how Carl Linnaeus classified people by skin color and how Black scientists have been intentionally marginalized and pushed out of research.” Through a variety of interviews with expert sources, she said, the episode illuminates the work required to make science more equitable. Rich Monastersky, chief features editor for Nature in Washington, D.C., said: “The show explored the difficult and important topic of racism in science—from its historical roots to the impact that it still has and to the ways that researchers are combating the problem. It should be required listening for all students studying science—as well as practicing scientists.” Commenting on the award, Buckiewicz and Mortillaro said: “We often think of the practice of science as being this unflappable, objective quest for knowledge, but it’s about time that we face some hard truths about the way science has been misused to justify the mistreatment of generations of people. With this radio special we really wanted to shed light on the long legacy of racism in science and unpack some of the ways we can do science better.”

Congratulations to Amanda Buckiewicz and Nicole Mortillaro; good luck to the CBSN; and thank you to Alon Eisenstein (https://twitter.com/AlonEisenstein) for the November 20, 2021 tweet that led me to the CBSN.

The power of art and science policy

For Berta (They Fear Us Because We Are Fearless) Materials: [detail] Shell casings, shale, smalti, stained glass Size: 16″h x 16″w Year: 2019 [Artist: Julie Sperling]

At first glance I thought those were coins—they’re bullet casings. Science policy isn’t always a boring meeting or report.

Here’s a little more about the artist Julie Sperling, from the About page on her website,

I am a Canadian mosaic artist based in Kitchener, Ontario. My studio practice finds me camped out at the intersection of art, environment, science, and policy. I firmly believe in the important role that artists play as advocates, activists, and change-makers.

When I’m not wearing my work overalls I am a policy analyst with Environment and Climate Change Canada. [emphasis mine] But really, I’m happiest when I have a rock in one hand and my hammer in the other.

Getting back to ‘Berta‘, which is part of a series “By Our Own Hands.” Spence tells the story of how the mosaic was inspired (Note: Links have been removed),

Every week, about 4 people are killed for standing up to those (predominantly industry of various stripes) who are encroaching on their traditional lands and resources, threatening the environment and their very survival. That adds up to hundreds of lives each year. More often than not, their killers go unpunished as land grabs and environmental exploitation advance, leaving death and destruction in their wake.

I’ve been waiting three years to make this mosaic. The issue planted itself firmly in my brain in 2016 with the assassination of Berta Cáceres, one of Honduras’ most prominent environmental activists and winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize. Cáceres co-founded the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) and before her murder had been working with the Lenca people to stop the Agua Zarca dam, which would have affected the Gualcarque River, a sacred river for the Lenca people. The dam would have diverted 3 kilometres of river, displacing communities and jeopardizing their water resources and livelihoods. COPINH employed many tactics to stop the construction of the dam, most notably a blockade that lasted over a year. In the end, Cáceres, who had been receiving death threats for years, was shot and killed in her home. In November 2018, seven men were convicted of her murder. Among those convicted were two employees of the construction company, DESA (one of whom was, ironically enough, the company’s “community and environmental affairs manager”), a retired military officer turned DESA employee, and an active military officer. DESA’s then-CEO is being tried separately this year [2019].

Science policy and real life consequences.

Because it’s Friday (September 24, 2021) I wanted to end on a more hopeful note,

Bioswale (Slow It Down, Soak It Up) [detail] Materials: Asphalt, limestone, sandstone, marble, litovi, smalti Size: 18″h x 20″w (approximately) Year: 2017 [Artist: Julie Sperling]

From the Bioswale webpage,

This mosaic is all about using nature (specifically, rain gardens) to slow down and soak up the rain as extreme precipitation increases with climate change. …

Council of Canadian Academies (CCA): science policy internship and a new panel on Public Safety in the Digital Age

It’s been a busy week for the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA); I don’t usually get two notices in such close order.

2022 science policy internship

The application deadline is Oct. 18, 2021, you will work remotely, and the stipend for the 2020 internship was $18,500 for six months.

Here’s more from a September 13, 2021 CCA notice (received Sept. 13, 2021 via email),

CCA Accepting Applications for Internship Program

The program provides interns with an opportunity to gain experience working at the interface of science and public policy. Interns will participate in the development of assessments by conducting research in support of CCA’s expert panel process.

The internship program is a full-time commitment of six months and will be a remote opportunity due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Applicants must be recent graduates with a graduate or professional degree, or post-doctoral fellows, with a strong interest in the use of evidence for policy. The application deadline is October 18, 2021. The start date is January 10, 2022. Applications and letters of reference should be addressed to Anita Melnyk at internship@cca-reports.ca.

More information about the CCA Internship Program and the application process can be found here. [Note: The link takes you to a page with information about a 2020 internship opportunity; presumably, the application requirements have not changed.]

Good luck!

Expert Panel on Public Safety in the Digital Age Announced

I have a few comments (see the ‘Concerns and hopes’ subhead) about this future report but first, here’s the announcement of the expert panel that was convened to look into the matter of public safety (received via email September 15, 2021),

CCA Appoints Expert Panel on Public Safety in the Digital Age

Access to the internet and digital technologies are essential for people, businesses, and governments to carry out everyday activities. But as more and more activities move online, people and organizations are increasingly vulnerable to serious threats and harms that are enabled by constantly evolving technology. At the request of Public Safety Canada, [emphasis mine] the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) has formed an Expert Panel to examine leading practices that could help address risks to public safety while respecting human rights and privacy. Jennifer Stoddart, O.C., Strategic Advisor, Privacy and Cybersecurity Group, Fasken Martineau DuMoulin [law firm], will serve as Chair of the Expert Panel.

“The ever-evolving nature of crimes and threats that take place online present a huge challenge for governments and law enforcement,” said Ms. Stoddart. “Safeguarding public safety while protecting civil liberties requires a better understanding of the impacts of advances in digital technology and the challenges they create.”

As Chair, Ms. Stoddart will lead a multidisciplinary group with expertise in cybersecurity, social sciences, criminology, law enforcement, and law and governance. The Panel will answer the following question:

Considering the impact that advances in information and communications technologies have had on a global scale, what do current evidence and knowledge suggest regarding promising and leading practices that could be applied in Canada for investigating, preventing, and countering threats to public safety while respecting human rights and privacy?

“This is an important question, the answer to which will have both immediate and far-reaching implications for the safety and well-being of people living in Canada. Jennifer Stoddart and this expert panel are very well-positioned to answer it,” said Eric M. Meslin, PhD, FRSC, FCAHS, President and CEO of the CCA.

More information about the assessment can be found here.

The Expert Panel on Public Safety in the Digital Age:

  • Jennifer Stoddart (Chair), O.C., Strategic Advisor, Privacy and Cybersecurity Group, Fasken Martineau DuMoulin [law firm].
  • Benoît Dupont, Professor, School of Criminology, and Canada Research Chair in Cybersecurity and Research Chair for the Prevention of Cybercrime, Université de Montréal; Scientific Director, Smart Cybersecurity Network (SERENE-RISC). Note: This is one of Canada’s Networks of Centres of Excellence (NCE)
  • Richard Frank, Associate Professor, School of Criminology, Simon Fraser University; Director, International CyberCrime Research Centre International. Note: This is an SFU/ Society for the Policing of Cyberspace (POLCYB) partnership
  • Colin Gavaghan, Director, New Zealand Law Foundation Centre for Law and Policy in Emerging Technologies, Faculty of Law, University of Otago.
  • Laura Huey, Professor, Department of Sociology, Western University; Founder, Canadian Society of Evidence Based Policing [Can-SEPB].
  • Emily Laidlaw, Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in Cybersecurity Law, Faculty of Law, University of Calgary.
  • Arash Habibi Lashkari, Associate Professor, Faculty of Computer Science, University of New Brunswick; Research Coordinator, Canadian Institute of Cybersecurity [CIC].
  • Christian Leuprecht, Class of 1965 Professor in Leadership, Department of Political Science and Economics, Royal Military College; Director, Institute of Intergovernmental Relations, School of Policy Studies, Queen’s University.
  • Florian Martin-Bariteau, Associate Professor of Law and University Research Chair in Technology and Society, University of Ottawa; Director, Centre for Law, Technology and Society.
  • Shannon Parker, Detective/Constable, Saskatoon Police Service.
  • Christopher Parsons, Senior Research Associate, Citizen Lab, Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, University of Toronto.
  • Jad Saliba, Founder and Chief Technology Officer, Magnet Forensics Inc.
  • Heidi Tworek, Associate Professor, School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, and Department of History, University of British Columbia.

Oddly, there’s no mention that Jennifer Stoddart (Wikipedia entry) was Canada’s sixth privacy commissioner. Also, Fasken Martineau DuMoulin (her employer) changed its name to Fasken in 2017 (Wikipedia entry). The company currently has offices in Canada, UK, South Africa, and China (Firm webpage on company website).

Exactly how did the question get framed?

It’s always informative to look at the summary (from the reports Public Safety in the Digital Age webpage on the CCA website),

Information and communications technologies have profoundly changed almost every aspect of life and business in the last two decades. While the digital revolution has brought about many positive changes, it has also created opportunities for criminal organizations and malicious actors [emphasis mine] to target individuals, businesses, and systems. Ultimately, serious crime facilitated by technology and harmful online activities pose a threat to the safety and well-being of people in Canada and beyond.

Damaging or criminal online activities can be difficult to measure and often go unreported. Law enforcement agencies and other organizations working to address issues such as the sexual exploitation of children, human trafficking, and violent extremism [emphasis mine] must constantly adapt their tools and methods to try and prevent and respond to crimes committed online.

A better understanding of the impacts of these technological advances on public safety and the challenges they create could help to inform approaches to protecting public safety in Canada.

This assessment will examine promising practices that could help to address threats to public safety related to the use of digital technologies while respecting human rights and privacy.

The Sponsor:

Public Safety Canada

The Question:

Considering the impact that advances in information and communications technologies have had on a global scale, what do current evidence and knowledge suggest regarding promising and leading practices that could be applied in Canada for investigating, preventing, and countering threats to public safety while respecting human rights and privacy?

Three things stand out for me. First, public safety, what is it?, second, ‘malicious actors’, and third, the examples used for the issues being addressed (more about this in the Comments subsection, which follows).

What is public safety?

Before launching into any comments, here’s a description for Public Safety Canada (from their About webpage) where you’ll find a hodge podge,

Public Safety Canada was created in 2003 to ensure coordination across all federal departments and agencies responsible for national security and the safety of Canadians.

Our mandate is to keep Canadians safe from a range of risks such as natural disasters, crime and terrorism.

Our mission is to build a safe and resilient Canada.

The Public Safety Portfolio

A cohesive and integrated approach to Canada’s security requires cooperation across government. Together, these agencies have an annual budget of over $9 billion and more than 66,000 employees working in every part of the country.

Public Safety Partner Agencies

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) manages the nation’s borders by enforcing Canadian laws governing trade and travel, as well as international agreements and conventions. CBSA facilitates legitimate cross-border traffic and supports economic development while stopping people and goods that pose a potential threat to Canada.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) investigates and reports on activities that may pose a threat to the security of Canada. CSIS also provides security assessments, on request, to all federal departments and agencies.

The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) helps protect society by encouraging offenders to become law-abiding citizens while exercising reasonable, safe, secure and humane control. CSC is responsible for managing offenders sentenced to two years or more in federal correctional institutions and under community supervision.

The Parole Board of Canada (PBC) is an independent body that grants, denies or revokes parole for inmates in federal prisons and provincial inmates in province without their own parole board. The PBC helps protect society by facilitating the timely reintegration of offenders into society as law-abiding citizens.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) enforces Canadian laws, prevents crime and maintains peace, order and security.

So, Public Safety includes a spy agency (CSIS), the prison system (Correctional Services and Parole Board), and the national police force (RCMP) and law enforcement at the borders with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). None of the partner agencies are dedicated to natural disasters although it’s mentioned in the department’s mandate.

The focus is largely on criminal activity and espionage. On that note, a very senior civilian RCMP intelligence official, Cameron Ortis*, was charged with passing secrets to foreign entities (malicious actors?). (See the September 13, 2021 [updated Sept. 15, 2021] news article by Amanda Connolly, Mercedes Stephenson, Stewart Bell, Sam Cooper & Rachel Browne for CTV news and the Sept. 18, 2019 [updated January 6, 2020] article by Douglas Quan for the National Post for more details.)

There appears to be at least one other major security breach; that involving Canada’s only level four laboratory, the Winnipeg-based National Microbiology Lab (NML). (See a June 10, 2021 article by Karen Pauls for Canadian Broadcasting Corporation news online for more details.)

As far as I’m aware, Ortis is still being held with a trial date scheduled for September 2022 (see Catherine Tunney’s April 9, 2021 article for CBC news online) and, to date, there have been no charges laid in the Winnipeg lab case.

Concerns and hopes

Ordinarily I’d note links and relationships between the various expert panel members but in this case it would be a big surprise if they weren’t linked in some fashion as the focus seems to be heavily focused on cybersecurity (as per the panel member’s bios.), which I imagine is a smallish community in Canada.

As I’ve made clear in the paragraphs leading into the comments, Canada appears to have seriously fumbled the ball where national and international cybersecurity is concerned.

So getting back to “First, public safety, what is it?, second, ‘malicious actors’, and third, the examples used for the issues,” I’m a bit puzzled.

Public safety as best I can tell, is just about anything they’d like it to be. ‘Malicious actors’ is a term I’ve seen used to imply a foreign power is behind the actions being held up for scrutiny.

The examples used for the issues being addressed “sexual exploitation of children, human trafficking, and violent extremism” hint at a focus on crimes that cross borders and criminal organizations, as well as, like-minded individuals organizing violent and extremist acts but not specifically at any national or international security concerns.

On a more mundane note, I’m a little surprised that identity theft wasn’t mentioned as an example.

I’m hopeful there will be some examination of emerging technologies such as quantum communication (specifically, encryption issues) and artificial intelligence. I also hope the report will include a discussion about mistakes and over reliance on technology (for a refresher course on what happens when organizations, such as the Canadian federal government, make mistakes in the digital world; search ‘Phoenix payroll system’, a 2016 made-in-Canada and preventable debacle, which to this day is still being fixed).

In the end, I think the only topic that can be safely excluded from the report is climate change otherwise it’s a pretty open mandate as far as can be told from publicly available information.

I noticed the international panel member is from New Zealand (the international component is almost always from the US, UK, northern Europe, and/or the Commonwealth). Given that New Zealand (as well as being part of the commonwealth) is one of the ‘Five Eyes Intelligence Community’, which includes Canada, Australia, the UK, the US, and, NZ, I was expecting a cybersecurity expert. If Professor Colin Gavaghan does have that expertise, it’s not obvious on his University of Otaga profile page (Note: Links have been removed),

Research interests

Colin is the first director of the New Zealand Law Foundation sponsored Centre for Law and Policy in Emerging Technologies. The Centre examines the legal, ethical and policy issues around new technologies. To date, the Centre has carried out work on biotechnology, nanotechnology, information and communication technologies and artificial intelligence.

In addition to emerging technologies, Colin lectures and writes on medical and criminal law.

Together with colleagues in Computer Science and Philosophy, Colin is the leader of a three-year project exploring the legal, ethical and social implications of artificial intelligence for New Zealand.

Background

Colin regularly advises on matters of technology and regulation. He is first Chair of the NZ Police’s Advisory Panel on Emergent Technologies, and a member of the Digital Council for Aotearoa, which advises the Government on digital technologies. Since 2017, he has been a member (and more recently Deputy Chair) of the Advisory Committee on Assisted Reproductive Technology. He was an expert witness in the High Court case of Seales v Attorney General, and has advised members of parliament on draft legislation.

He is a frustrated writer of science fiction, but compensates with occasional appearances on panels at SF conventions.

I appreciate the sense of humour evident in that last line.

Almost breaking news

Wednesday, September 15, 2021 an announcement of a new alliance in the Indo-Pacific region, the Three Eyes (Australia, UK, and US or AUKUS) was made.

Interestingly all three are part of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance comprised of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, UK, and US. Hmmm … Canada and New Zealand both border the Pacific and last I heard, the UK is still in Europe.

A September 17, 2021 article, “Canada caught off guard by exclusion from security pact” by Robert Fife and Steven Chase for the Globe and Mail (I’m quoting from my paper copy),

The Canadian government was surprised this week by the announcement of a new security pact among the United States, Britain and Australia, one that excluded Canada [and New Zealand too] and is aimed at confronting China’s growing military and political influence in the Indo-Pacific region, according to senior government officials.

Three officials, representing Canada’s Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Defence departments, told the Globe and Mail that Ottawa was not consulted about the pact, and had no idea the trilateral security announcement was coming until it was made on Wednesday [September 15, 2021] by U.S. President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

The new trilateral alliance, dubbed AUKUS, after the initials of the three countries, will allow for greater sharing of information in areas such as artificial intelligence and cyber and underwater defence capabilities.

Fife and Chase have also written a September 17, 2021 Globe and Mail article titled, “Chinese Major-General worked with fired Winnipeg Lab scientist,”

… joint research conducted between Major-General Chen Wei and former Canadian government lab scientist Xiangguo Qiu indicates that co-operation between the Chinese military and scientists at the National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) went much higher than was previously known. The People’s Liberation Army is the military of China’s ruling Communist Party.

Given that no one overseeing the Canadian lab, which is a level 4 and which should have meant high security, seems to have known that Wei was a member of the military and with the Cameron Ortis situation still looming, would you have included Canada in the new pact?

*ETA September 20, 2021: For anyone who’s curious about the Cameron Ortis case, there’s a Fifth Estate documentary (approximately 46 minutes): The Smartest Guy in the Room: Cameron Ortis and the RCMP Secrets Scandal.

Canadian Science Policy Conference 2021: early bird fees and preliminary programme

The 2021 Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC 2021) is the 13th in the annual series and runs virtually from November 22 – 26 (including pre-conference events, CSPC runs from Nov. 8 -26). Early bird registration rates are available until midnight (presumably ET) October 8, 2021,

Standard $150
Academic $120
Non-Profit / Retired / Diplomat $99
Student / Postdoctoral Fellow / Trainee $40
+ 13% HST

I have never seen diplomats singled out for cheaper rates before. Are they paid especially poorly?

As for the programme, it’s not fully populated at the moment but a few items did catch my attention,

Monday, November 22 • 8:30am – 10:00am

Societal impacts of emerging quantum technologies: which scenarios should we consider now?

Organized by: Université de Sherbrooke / Institut quantique

A multisectorial and multidisciplinary approach to quantum science is essential in Canada to address the emergence of new disruptive quantum technologies and their potential commercial applications. These technologies will have significant ethical, environmental, economic, social and legal implications that need to be explored in the early stages of their development in order to foster socially responsible development. This panel brings together experts from various backgrounds (academic, business and government sectors) and the public to discuss the socio-economic dimensions of quantum technologies, starting from different implementation scenarios, to ensure their responsible development and to maximize benefits of their implementation.

Monday, November 22 • 8:30am – 10:30am

Evidence-based policies to build the future of agriculture in Canada / Des politiques et des données probantes pour bâtir l’agriculture canadienne de demain

Organized by: Fonds de recherche du Québec

Agriculture has a considerable impact on population health and the economy, both interms of production methods and the quality and accessibility of the food it produces. It is for this reason, among others, that this sector is involved in the achievement of several sustainable development goals. In recent years, the Government of Canada and provincial governments have worked in collaboration with the research community to build policies and strategies to stimulate innovation in agriculture and food processing from a sustainable perspective. In this panel, we will discuss how Agriculture Canada and the Ministère de l’Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l’Alimentation du Québec (MAPAQ) have integrated research and development into their policies, and how they have established strategic inter-jurisdictional collaborations. For example, we will discuss strategic investments by Canada and Québec in precision agriculture and in research aimed at improving diagnostic and biovigilance capabilities.

L’agriculture a un impact considérable sur la santé des populations et des économies, tant par ses modes de production que par la qualité et l’accessibilité des aliments qu’elle produit. C’est pour cette raison, entre autres, que ce secteur se voit interpellé dans l’atteinte de plusieurs objectifs de développement durable. Ces dernières années, le gouvernement du Canada et les gouvernements provinciaux ont travaillé en collaboration avec le milieu de la recherche pour bâtir des politiques et stratégies stimulant l’innovation en agriculture et en transformation alimentaire, dans une perspective durable. À l’occasion de ce panel, nous aborderons comment Agriculture Canada et le ministère de l’Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l’Alimentation du Québec (MAPAQ) ont intégré la dimension de recherche et de développement dans leurs politiques, et comment ils ont établi des collaborations stratégiques inter-juridictionnelles. A titre d’exemple, on abordera l’investissement stratégique du Canada et du Québec dans l’agriculture de précision et dans les recherches visant à améliorer les capacités de diagnostic et de biovigilance.

Monday, November 22 • 10:30am – 12:00pm

How Science Diplomats can help foster prosperity and growth in the post-COVID-19 world: an exploration of the Canada/Québec-UK nexus

Organized by: Québec Government Office in London

Co-organised by the Government of Québec and the UK’s Science and Innovation Network, this panel aims to reflect on the crucial role of science attachés in steering and strengthening bilateral collaboration while also addressing how their role changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ensuring growth and equitable recovery in the post-pandemic world is paramount with science diplomats unlocking cooperation platforms between scientists, diplomats, policymakers and entrepreneurs based on innovation and values-led strategies. Representatives from UK Research and Innovation, industry and scholars will also discuss their changing expectations and how science attachés can help them seize new opportunities.

Wednesday, November 24 • 2:30pm – 4:00pm

Anti-Racist Science, from Cell to Society: Real Solutions for Real Issues

Organized by: Health Canada

Three Panelists will share diverse perspectives on the sensitive and ubiquitous topic of systemic racism, in multiple aspects of different scientific disciplines. In a dynamic exchange, the Moderator will guide the audience through an evidence-based journey on how racially biased science can be addressed, in ways science is practiced, managed, and consumed. As it often happens in science, naming problems might be unsettling, yet should lead to a healthy introspection towards improvement. The discussion aims to show that, individually and collectively, we can prevent and correct race-based bias by sticking to fundamental scientific principles. Essentially: anti-racist science is better science. 

You can check out the programme for CSPC 2021: Building Better Forward here.

Isn’t the conference theme a little too much like US President Joe Biden’s ‘Build Back Better’ theme?

Science policy updates (INGSA in Canada and SCWIST)

I had just posted my Aug. 30, 2021 piece (4th International Conference on Science Advice to Governments (INGSA2021) August 30 – September 2, 2021) when the organization issued a news release, which was partially embargoed. By the time this is published (after 8 am ET on Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021), the embargo will have lifted and i can announce that Rémi Quirion, Chief Scientist of Québec (Canada), has been selected to replace Sir Peter Gluckman (New Zealand) as President of INGSA.

Here’s the whole August 30, 2021 International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA) news release on EurekAlert, Note: This looks like a direct translation from a French language news release, which may account for some unusual word choices and turns of phrase,

What? 4th International Conference on Science Advice to Governments, INGSA2021.

Where? Palais des Congrès de Montréal, Québec, Canada and online at www.ingsa2021.org

When? 30 August – 2 September, 2021.

CONTEXT: The largest ever independent gathering of interest groups, thought-leaders, science advisors to governments and global institutions, researchers, academics, communicators and diplomats is taking place in Montreal and online. Organized by Prof Rémi Quirion, Chief Scientist of Québec, speakers from over 50 countries[1] from Brazil to Burkina Faso and from Ireland to Indonesia, plus over 2000 delegates from over 130 countries, will spotlight what is really at stake in the relationship between science and policy-making, both during crises and within our daily lives. From the air we breathe, the food we eat and the cars we drive, to the medical treatments or the vaccines we take, and the education we provide to children, this relationship, and the decisions it can influence, matter immensely.  

Prof Rémi Quirion, Conference Organizer, Chief Scientist of Québec and incoming President of INGSA added: “For those of us who believe wholeheartedly in evidence and the integrity of science, the past 18 months have been challenging. Information, correct and incorrect, can spread like a virus. The importance of open science and access to data to inform our UN sustainable development goals discussions or domestically as we strengthen the role of cities and municipalities, has never been more critical. I have no doubt that this transparent and honest platform led from Montréal will act as a carrier-wave for greater engagement”.

Chief Science Advisor of Canada and Conference co-organizer, Dr Mona Nemer, stated that: “Rapid scientific advances in managing the Covid pandemic have generated enormous public interest in evidence-based decision making. This attention comes with high expectations and an obligation to achieve results. Overcoming the current health crisis and future challenges will require global coordination in science advice, and INGSA is well positioned to carry out this important work. Canada and our international peers can benefit greatly from this collaboration.”

Sir Peter Gluckman, founding Chair of INGSA stated that: “This is a timely conference as we are at a turning point not just in the pandemic, but globally in our management of longer-term challenges that affect us all. INGSA has helped build and elevate open and ongoing public and policy dialogue about the role of robust evidence in sound policy making”.

He added that: “Issues that were considered marginal seven years ago when the network was created are today rightly seen as central to our social, environmental and economic wellbeing. The pandemic highlights the strengths and weaknesses of evidence-based policy-making at all levels of governance. Operating on all continents, INGSA demonstrates the value of a well-networked community of emerging and experienced practitioners and academics, from countries at all levels of development. Learning from each other, we can help bring scientific evidence more centrally into policy-making. INGSA has achieved much since its formation in 2014, but the energy shown in this meeting demonstrates our potential to do so much more”.

Held previously in Auckland 2014, Brussels 2016, Tokyo 2018 and delayed for one year due to Covid, the advantage of the new hybrid and virtual format is that organizers have been able to involve more speakers, broaden the thematic scope and offer the conference as free to view online, reaching thousands more people. Examining the complex interactions between scientists, public policy and diplomatic relations at local, national, regional and international levels, especially in times of crisis, the overarching INGSA2021 theme is: “Build back wiser: knowledge, policy & publics in dialogue”.

The first three days will scrutinize everything from concrete case-studies outlining successes and failures in our advisory systems to how digital technologies and AI are reshaping the profession itself. The final day targets how expertize and action in the cultural context of the French-speaking world is encouraging partnerships and contributing to economic and social development. A highlight of the conference is the 2 September announcement of a new ‘Francophonie Science Advisory Network’.       

Prof. Salim Abdool Karim, a member of the World Health Organization’s Science Council, and the face of South Africa’s Covid-19 science, speaking in the opening plenary outlined that: “As a past anti-apartheid activist now providing scientific advice to policy-makers, I have learnt that science and politics share common features. Both operate at the boundaries of knowledge and uncertainty, but approach problems differently. We scientists constantly question and challenge our assumptions, constantly searching for empiric evidence to determine the best options. In contrast, politicians are most often guided by the needs or demands of voters and constituencies, and by ideology”.

He added: “What is changing is that grass-roots citizens worldwide are no longer ill-informed and passive bystanders. And they are rightfully demanding greater transparency and accountability. This has brought the complex contradictions between evidence and ideology into the public eye. Covid-19 is not just a disease, its social fabric exemplifies humanity’s interdependence in slowing global spread and preventing new viral mutations through global vaccine equity. This starkly highlights the fault-lines between the rich and poor countries, especially the maldistribution of life-saving public health goods like vaccines. I will explore some of the key lessons from Covid-19 to guide a better response to the next pandemic”.

Speaking on a panel analysing different advisory models, Prof. Mark Ferguson, Chair of the European Innovation Council’s Advisory Board and Chief Science Advisor to the Government of Ireland, sounded a note of optimism and caution in stating that: “Around the world, many scientists have become public celebrities as citizens engage with science like never before. Every country has a new, much followed advisory body. With that comes tremendous opportunities to advance the status of science and the funding of scientific research. On the flipside, my view is that we must also be mindful of the threat of science and scientists being viewed as a political force”.

Strength in numbers

What makes the 4th edition of this biennial event stand out is the perhaps never-before assembled range of speakers from all continents working at the boundary between science, society and policy willing to make their voices heard. In a truly ‘Olympics’ approach to getting all stakeholders on-board, organisers succeeded in involving, amongst others, the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, the United Nations Development Programme, UNESCO and the OECD. The in-house science services of the European Commission and Parliament, plus many country-specific science advisors also feature prominently.

As organisers foster informed debate, we get a rare glimpse inside the science advisory worlds of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organisation, the World Economic Forum and the Global Young Academy to name a few. From Canadian doctors, educators and entrepreneurs and charitable foundations like the Welcome Trust, to Science Europe and media organisations, the programme is rich in its diversity. The International Organisation of the Francophonie and a keynote address by H.E. Laurent Fabius, President of the Constitutional Council of the French Republic are just examples of two major draws on the final day dedicated to spotlighting advisory groups working through French. 

INGSA’s Elections: New Canadian President and Three Vice Presidents from Chile, Ethiopia, UK

The International Network for Government Science Advice has recently undertaken a series of internal reforms intended to better equip it to respond to the growing demands for support from its international partners, while realising the project proposals and ideas of its members.

Part of these reforms included the election in June, 2021 of a new President replacing Sir Peter Gluckman (2014 – 2021) and the creation of three new Vice President roles.

These results will be announced at 13h15 on Wednesday, 1st September during a special conference plenary and awards ceremony. While noting the election results below, media are asked to respect this embargo.

Professor Rémi Quirion, Chief Scientist of Québec (Canada), replaces Sir Peter Gluckman (New Zealand) as President of INGSA.
 

Professor Claire Craig (United Kingdom), CBE, Provost of Queen’s College Oxford and a member of the UK government’s AI Council, has been elected by members as the inaugural Vice President for Evidence.
 

Professor Binyam Sisay Mendisu (Egypt), PhD, Lecture at the University of Addis Ababa and Programme Advisor, UNESCO Institute for Building Capacity in Africa, has been elected by members as the inaugural Vice President for Capacity Building.
 

Professor Soledad Quiroz Valenzuela (Chile), Science Advisor on Climate Change to the Ministry of Science, Technology, Knowledge and Innovation of the government of Chile, has been elected by members as the Vice President for Policy.

Satellite Events: From 7 – 9 September, as part of INGSA2021, the conference is partnering with local,  national and international organisations to ignite further conversations about the science/policy/society interface. Six satellite events are planned to cover everything from climate science advice and energy policy, open science and publishing during a crisis, to the politicisation of science and pre-school scientific education. International delegates are equally encouraged to join in online. 

About INGSA: Founded in 2014 with regional chapters in Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean, INGSA has quicky established an important reputation as aa collaborative platform for policy exchange, capacity building and research across diverse global science advisory organisations and national systems. Currently, over 5000 individuals and institutions are listed as members. Science communicators and members of the media are warmly welcomed to join.

As the body of work detailed on its website shows (www.ingsa.org) through workshops, conferences and a growing catalogue of tools and guidance, the network aims to enhance the global science-policy interface to improve the potential for evidence-informed policy formation at sub-national, national and transnational levels. INGSA operates as an affiliated body of the International Science Council which acts as trustee of INGSA funds and hosts its governance committee. INGSA’s secretariat is based in Koi Tū: The Centre for Informed Futures at the University of Auckland in New Zealand.

Conference Programme: 4th International Conference on Science Advice to Government (ingsa2021.org)

Newly released compendium of Speaker Viewpoints: Download Essays From The Cutting Edge Of Science Advice – Viewpoints

[1] Argentina, Australia, Austria, Barbados, Belgium, Benin, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Canada, Chad, Colombia, Costa Rica, Côte D’Ivoire, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Ireland, Japan, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Rwanda, Senegal, Singapore, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, UK, USA. 

Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology (SCWIST)

As noted earlier this year in my January 28, 2021 posting, it’s SCWIST’s 40th anniversary and the organization is celebrating with a number of initiatives, here are some of the latest including as talk on science policy (from the August 2021 newsletter received via email),

SCWIST “STEM Forward Project”
Receives Federal Funding

SCWIST’s “STEM Forward for Economic Prosperity” project proposal was among 237 projects across the country to receive funding from the $100 million Feminist Response Recovery Fund of the Government of Canada through the Women and Gender Equality Canada (WAGE) federal department.

Read more. 

iWIST and SCWIST Ink Affiliate MOU [memorandum of understanding]

Years in planning, the Island Women in Science and Technology (iWIST) of Victoria, British Columbia and SCWIST finally signed an Affiliate MOU (memorandum of understanding) on Aug 11, 2021.

The MOU strengthens our commitment to collaborate on advocacy (e.g. grants, policy and program changes at the Provincial and Federal level), events (networking, workshops, conferences), cross promotion ( event/ program promotion via digital media), and membership growth (discounts for iWIST members to join SCWIST and vice versa).

Dr. Khristine Carino, SCWIST President, travelled to Victoria to sign the MOU in person. She was invited as an honoured guest to the iWIST annual summer picnic by Claire Skillen, iWIST President. Khristine’s travel expenses were paid from her own personal funds.

Discovery Foundation x SBN x SCWIST Business Mentorship Program: Enhancing Diversity in today’s Biotechnology Landscape

The Discovery Foundation, Student Biotechnology Network, and Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology are proud to bring you the first-ever “Business Mentorship Program: Enhancing Diversity in today’s Biotechnology Landscape”. 

The Business Mentorship Program aims to support historically underrepresented communities (BIPOC, Women, LGBTQIAS+ and more) in navigating the growth of the biotechnology industry. The program aims to foster relationships between individuals and professionals through networking and mentorship, providing education and training through workshops and seminars, and providing 1:1 consultation with industry leaders. Participants will be paired with mentors throughout the week and have the opportunity to deliver a pitch for the chance to win prizes at the annual Building Biotechnology Expo. 

This is a one week intensive program running from September 27th – October 1st, 2021 and is limited to 10 participants. Please apply early. 

Events

September 10

Art of Science and Policy-Making Go Together

Science and policy-making go together. Acuitas’ [emphasis mine] Molly Sung shares her journey and how more scientists need to engage in this important area.

September 23

Au-delà de l’apparence :

des femmes de courage et de résilience en STIM

Dans le cadre de la semaine de l’égalité des sexes au Canada, ce forum de la division québécoise de la Société pour les femmes canadiennes en science et technologie (la SCWIST) mettra en vedette quatre panélistes inspirantes avec des parcours variés qui étudient ou travaillent en science, technologie, ingénierie et mathématiques (STIM) au Québec. Ces femmes immigrantes ont laissé leurs proches et leurs pays d’origine pour venir au Québec et contribuer activement à la recherche scientifique québécoise. 

….

The ‘Art and Science Policy-Making Go Together’ talk seems to be aimed at persuasion and is not likely to offer any insider information as to how the BC life sciences effort is progressing. For a somewhat less rosy view of science and policy efforts, you can check out my August 23, 2021 posting, Who’s running the life science companies’ public relations campaign in British Columbia (Vancouver, Canada)?; scroll down to ‘The BC biotech gorillas’ subhead for more about Acuitas and some of the other life sciences companies in British Columbia (BC).

For some insight into how competitive the scene is here in BC, you can see my August 20, 2021 posting (Getting erased from the mRNA/COVID-19 story) about Ian MacLachlan.

You can check out more at the SCWIST website and I’m not sure when the August issue will be placed there but they do have a Newsletter Archive.

4th International Conference on Science Advice to Governments (INGSA2021) August 30 – September 2, 2021

What I find most exciting about this conference is the range of countries being represented. At first glance, I’ve found Argentina, Thailand, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Costa Rica and more in a science meeting being held in Canada. Thank you to the organizers and to the organization International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA)

As I’ve noted many times here in discussing the science advice we (Canadians) get through the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA), there’s far too much dependence on the same old, same old countries for international expertise. Let’s hope this meeting changes things.

The conference (with the theme Build Back Wiser: Knowledge, Policy and Publics in Dialogue) started on Monday, August 30, 2021 and is set to run for four days in Montréal, Québec. and as an online event The Premier of Québec, François Legault, and Mayor of Montréal, Valérie Plante (along with Peter Gluckman, Chair of INGSA and Rémi Quirion, Chief Scientist of Québec; this is the only province with a chief scientist) are there to welcome those who are present in person.

You can find a PDF of the four day programme here or go to the INGSA 2021 website for the programme and more. Here’s a sample from the programme of what excited me, from Day 1 (August 30, 2021),

8:45 | Plenary | Roundtable: Reflections from Covid-19: Where to from here?

Moderator:
Mona Nemer – Chief Science Advisor of Canada

Speakers:
Joanne Liu – Professor, School of Population and Global Health, McGill University, Quebec, Canada
Chor Pharn Lee – Principal Foresight Strategist at Centre for Strategic Futures, Prime Minister’s Office, Singapore
Andrea Ammon – Director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, Sweden
Rafael Radi – President of the National Academy of Sciences; Coordinator of Scientific Honorary Advisory Group to the President on Covid-19, Uruguay

9:45 | Panel: Science advice during COVID-19: What factors made the difference?

Moderator:

Romain Murenzi – Executive Director, The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), Italy

Speakers:

Stephen Quest – Director-General, European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC), Belgium
Yuxi Zhang – Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford, United Kingdom
Amadou Sall – Director, Pasteur Institute of Dakar, Senegal
Inaya Rakhmani – Director, Asia Research Centre, Universitas Indonesia

One last excerpt, from Day 2 (August 31, 2021),

Studio Session | Panel: Science advice for complex risk assessment: dealing with complex, new, and interacting threats

Moderator:
Eeva Hellström – Senior Lead, Strategy and Foresight, Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra, Finland

Speakers:
Albert van Jaarsveld – Director General and Chief Executive Officer, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Austria
Abdoulaye Gounou – Head, Benin’s Office for the Evaluation of Public Policies and Analysis of Government Action
Catherine Mei Ling Wong – Sociologist, LRF Institute for the Public Understanding of Risk, National University of Singapore
Andria Grosvenor – Deputy Executive Director (Ag), Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, Barbados

Studio Session | Innovations in Science Advice – Science Diplomacy driving evidence for policymaking

Moderator:
Mehrdad Hariri – CEO and President of the Canadian Science Policy Centre, Canada

Speakers:
Primal Silva – Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s Chief Science Operating Officer, Canada
Zakri bin Abdul Hamid – Chair of the South-East Asia Science Advice Network (SEA SAN); Pro-Chancellor of Multimedia University in Malaysia
Christian Arnault Emini – Senior Economic Adviser to the Prime Minister’s Office in Cameroon
Florence Gauzy Krieger and Sebastian Goers – RLS-Sciences Network [See more about RLS-Sciences below]
Elke Dall and Angela Schindler-Daniels – European Union Science Diplomacy Alliance
Alexis Roig – CEO, SciTech DiploHub – Barcelona Science and Technology Diplomacy Hub, Spain

RLS-Sciences (RLS-Sciences Network) has this description for itself on the About/Background webpage,

RLS-Sciences works under the framework of the Regional Leaders Summit. The Regional Leaders Summit (RLS) is a forum comprising seven regional governments (state, federal state, or provincial), which together represent approximately one hundred eighty million people across five continents, and a collective GDP of three trillion USD. The regions are: Bavaria (Germany), Georgia (USA), Québec (Canada), São Paulo (Brazil), Shandong (China), Upper Austria (Austria), and Western Cape (South Africa). Since 2002, the heads of government for these regions have met every two years for a political summit. These summits offer the RLS regions an opportunity for political dialogue.

Getting back to the main topic of this post, INGSA has some satellite events on offer, including this on Open Science,

Open Science: Science for the 21st century |

Science ouverte : la science au XXIe siècle

Thursday September 9, 2021; 11am-2pm EST |
Jeudi 9 septembre 2021, 11 h à 14 h (HNE).

Places Limited – Registrations Required – Click to register now

This event will be in English and French (using simultaneous translation)  | 
Cet événement se déroulera en anglais et en français (traduction simultanée)

In the past 18 months we have seen an unprecedented level of sharing as medical scientists worked collaboratively and shared data to find solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has accelerated the ongoing cultural shift in research practices towards open science. 

This acceleration of the discovery/research process presents opportunities for institutions and governments to develop infrastructure, tools, funding, policies, and training to support, promote, and reward open science efforts. It also presents new opportunities to accelerate progress towards the UN Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals through international scientific cooperation.

At the same time, it presents new challenges: rapid developments in open science often outpace national open science policies, funding, and infrastructure frameworks. Moreover, the development of international standard setting instruments, such as the future UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science, requires international harmonization of national policies, the establishment of frameworks to ensure equitable participation, and education, training, and professional development.

This 3-hour satellite event brings together international and national policy makers, funders, and experts in open science infrastructure to discuss these issues. 

The outcome of the satellite event will be a summary report with recommendations for open science policy alignment at institutional, national, and international levels.

The event will be hosted on an events platform, with simultaneous interpretation in English and French.  Participants will be able to choose which concurrent session they participate in upon registration. Registration is free but will be closed when capacity is reached.

This satellite event takes place in time for an interesting anniversary. The Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI), also known as Montreal Neuro, declared itself as Open Science in 2016, the first academic research institute (as far as we know) to do so in the world (see my January 22, 2016 posting for details about their open science initiative and my December 19, 2016 posting for more about their open science and their decision to not pursue patents for a five year period).

The Open Science satellite event is organized by:

The Canadian Commission for UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization],

The Neuro (Montreal Neurological Institute-Hospital),

The Knowledge Equity Lab [Note: A University of Toronto initiative with Leslie Chan as director, this website is currently under maintenance]

That’s all folks (for now)!

2021 Canadian federal election and science

#VoteScience is back on the job *(for the 2021 election which runs from August 15 – September *20*)* after springing into existence on August 8, 2019, in time for the 2019 Canadian federal election. (For more about #VoteScience, see the ‘Science policy’ subhead in my April 21, 2020 posting, scroll down to the ‘Science policy’ subhead where I trace the evolution of science policy initiatives and organizations in Canada from 2009 -2019.)

Since 2019, there seems to have been a subtle name change to Vote Science, keeping #VoteScience for Twitter.

The Vote Science home page has a handy diagram outlining the actions you can take such as, sending an email to your local candidate, taking a #VoteScience selfie and posting it, along with more options for actions.

I’m not sure how I stumbled across this but it’s a PDF of an August 24, 2021 Vote for Science announcement,

For a second time, a coalition of Canadian science organizations has launched a national #VoteScience campaign to send the message to political candidates and their parties that Canadians care about science. Originally launched in the 2019 federal election, #VoteScience is non-partisan and bilingual, and helps Canadians engage with their local candidates to support science and evidence-informed decision-making in Ottawa.

“Science doesn’t usually register on the political agenda, but the pandemic has put science in a unique spotlight. Canadians know more than they did 18 months ago about critical aspects of science, like epidemiology and vaccines,” said Rachael Maxwell, Executive Director of Evidence for Democracy. “Science has brought us solutions at a remarkable pace throughout the public health crisis, which is the kind of problem-solving we should be demanding more of from our government in tackling everything from economic recovery to climate action.”

Co-founder of Elect STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics], Monika Stolar [emphasis mine] (PhD) remarked that “while science and scientific data are inherently non-partisan, we need science discussions to be cross-partisan by encouraging more scientists to get involved in politics. Having scientific experts at the decision-making table can help steer discussions towards effective actions and policies that can better the lives of Canadians.”

As part of the 2019 campaign, Canadians sent more than 600 emails to candidates to ask where they stood on science. Importantly, support for #VoteScience didn’t only come from scientists. ….

You can also find the August 24, 2021 announcement on this webpage on the Evidence for Democracy website,

Monika Stolar was mentioned here in an August 16, 2021 posting about Elect STEM’s Periodically Political podcast series.

*Dates of 2021 Canadian federal election added August 30, 2021 at 0900 PDT.

*Election date changed from Sept. 22, 2021 to Sept. 20, 2021 on August 31, 2021.

Who’s running the life science companies’ public relations campaign in British Columbia (Vancouver, Canada)?

I started writing this in the aftermath of the 2021 Canadian federal budget when most of the action (so far) occurred but if you keep going to the end of this post you’ll find updates for Precision Nanosystems and AcCellera and a few extra bits. Also, you may want to check out my August 20, 2021 posting (Getting erased from the mRNA/COVID-19 story) about Ian MacLachlan and some of the ‘rough and tumble’ of the biotechnology scene in BC/Canada. Now, onto my analysis of the life sciences public relations campaign in British Columbia.

Gordon Hoekstra’s May 7, 2021 article (also in print on May 8, 2021) about the British Columbia (mostly in Vancouver) biotechnology scene in the Vancouver Sun is the starting point for this story.

His entry (whether the reporter realizes it or not) into a communications (or public relations) campaign spanning federal, provincial, and municipal jurisdictions is well written and quite informative. While it’s tempting to attribute the whole thing to a single evil genius or mastermind in answer to the question posed in the head, the ‘campaign’ is likely a targeted effort by one or more groups and individuals enhanced with a little luck.

Federal and provincial money for life sciences and technology

The Business Council of British Columbia’s April 22, 2021 Federal & B.C. Budgets 2021 Analysis (PDF), notes this in its Highlights section,

•Another priority reflected in both budgets is boosting innovation and accelerating the growth of technology-producing companies. The federal budget [April 19, 2021] is spending billions more to support the life sciences and bio-manufacturing industry, clean technologies, the development of electric vehicles, the aerospace sector, quantum computing, AI, genomics, and digital technologies, among others.

•B.C.’s budget [April 20, 2021] also provides funding to spur innovation, support the technology sector and grow locally-based companies. In this area the main item is the new InBC Investment Corporation [emphasis mine], first announced last summer. Endowed with $500 million financed via an agency loan, the Corporation will establish a fund to invest in growing and “anchoring” high-growth [emphasis mine] B.C. businesses.

Their in-depth analysis does not provide more detail about the life sciences investments in the 2021 Canadian federal budget or the 2021 BC provincial budget.

My May 4, 2021 posting details many of the Canadian federal investments in life sciences and other technology areas of interest. The 2021 BC budget announcement is so vague, it didn’t merit much more than this mention until now.

InBC Investment Corporation (BC’s contribution)

InBC Investment Corporation was set up on or about April 27, 2021 as three news ‘references’ (brief summaries with a link) suggest: InBC Investment Corp. Act, InBC Announcement, $500-million investment fund paves way for StrongerBC.

While the corporation does not have a specific mandate to fund the biotechnology sector, given the current enthusiasm, it’s easy to believe they might be more inclined to fund them than not, regardless of any expertise they or may not have specifically in that field.

Of most interest to me was InBC’s Board of Directors, which I tracked down to a BC Ministry of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation May 6, 2021 news release,

InBC Investment Corp. now has a full board of directors with backgrounds in finance, economics, impact investing and business to provide strategic guidance and accountability for the new Crown corporation.

InBC will support startups [emphasis mine], help promising companies scale up and work with a “triple bottom line” mandate that considers people, the planet and profits, to position British Columbia as a front-runner in the post-pandemic economy.

Christine Bergeron, president and chief executive officer of Vancity, will serve as the new board chair of InBC Investment Corp. The nine-member board of directors is made up of both public and private sector members who are responsible for oversight of the corporation, including its mission, policies and goals.

The InBC board members were selected through a comprehensive process, guided by the principles of the Crown Agencies and Board Resourcing Office. Candidates with a variety of relevant backgrounds were considered to form a strong board consisting of seven women and two men. The members appointed represent diversity as well as appropriate areas of expertise.

The following people were selected as members on the board of directors:

  • Christine Bergeron, president and CEO, Vancity
  • Kevin Campbell, managing director of investment banking, board of directors, Haywood Securities
  • Ingrid Leong, VP finance for JH Investments and chief investment officer, Houssian Foundation
  • Glen Lougheed, serial tech entrepreneur and angel investor
  • Suzanne Trottier, vice-president of Indigenous trust services, First Nations Bank Trust
  • Carole James, former minister of finance and deputy premier, Government of British Columbia
  • Iglika Ivanova, senior economist, public interest researcher, BC Office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
  • Bobbi Plecas, deputy minister, B.C.’s Ministry of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation
  • Heather Wood, deputy minister, B.C.’s Ministry of Finance

Legislation to provide the governance framework for InBC was introduced by the legislative assembly on April 27, 2021.

Board experience at growing a startup?

This group of people doesn’t seem to have a shred of experience with startups. Glen Lougheed’s “serial tech entrepreneur and angel investor” description means nothing to me and the description he provides in his LinkedIn profile doesn’t clear up matters,

I am a product and business development professional with an entrepreneurial attitude and strong technical skills. I have been building companies both mine and others since I was a teenager.

Having looked up the two companies for which he is currently acting as Chief Executive Officer, Lougheed’s interest appears to be focused on the use of ‘big data’ in marketing and communications campaigns.

Perhaps startup experience isn’t necessary since the board has been appointed to do this (from the BC Ministry of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation May 6, 2021 news release; click on the Backgrounder),

Responsibilities of the InBC Investment Corp. board of directors

The board of directors will be responsible for oversight of the management of the affairs of the corporation. This includes:

  • selecting and approving the chief executive officer and chief innovation officer and monitoring performance and accountabilities;
  • reviewing and approving annual corporate financial statements;
  • oversight of policies that relate to InBC’s mandate and holding the executive to account for its accountabilities with respect to InBC’s mandate;
  • oversight of InBC’s operations; and
  • selection and appointment of InBC’s auditor.

Relationships

So, we have two government civil servants, Wood (Deputy Minister of B.C.’s Ministry of Finance) and Plecas (Deputy Minister of B.C.’s Ministry of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation), and James, a BC Minister of Finance, who left the job several months ago. Then we have Lougheed, recently resigned (May 2021) as special advisor on innovation and technology to the BC Minister of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation.

It would seem almost half of this new board is or has been affiliated with the government and, likely, know each other.

I expect there are more relationships to be found but my interest is in the overall picture as it pertains to the biotechnology scene. This board (except possibly for Lougheed) does not seem to have any experience in the biotechnology sector or growing any sort of startup business in any technology field.

Presumably, the new chief executive officer (CEO) and new chief innovation officer (CIO) will have some of the necessary experience. Still, biotechnology isn’t the same as digital technology, an area where the BC technology community is quite strong. (The Canadian federal government’s Digital Technology Supercluster is headquartered in BC.)

I imagine the politics around who gets hired as CEO and as CIO will be quite interesting.

See the ‘Updates and extras’ at the end of this posting for more mention of this ‘secretive’ government corporation.

The BC biotech gorillas

AbCellera was BC’s biggest biotech story in 2020/21 (see my Avo Media, Science Telephone, and a Canadian COVID-19 billionaire scientist post from December 30, 2020 for more. Do check out the subsection titled “Avo Media …” for a look at an unexpectedly interlaced relationship). Note: The AbCellera COVID-19 treatment is not a vaccine or a vaccine delivery system.

It was a bit surprising that Acuitas Therapeutics didn’t get more attention although Hoekstra seems to have addressed that shortcoming in his May 7, 2021 article by using Thomas Madden and Acuitas as the hook for the story,

By early 2020, concern was mounting about a new, deadly coronavirus first detected in Wuhan, China.

The World Health Organization had declared the coronavirus outbreak a global health emergency just days before. There had been more than 400 deaths and more than 20,000 cases, most of those in China.

But the virus was spreading around the world. Deaths had occurred in Hong Kong and the Philippines, and the virus had been detected in the U.S. and Canada.

By early January of 2020, scientists in China had already sequenced the virus’s genome and made it public, allowing scientists to begin the research for a vaccine.

Scientists expected that could take years.

But, as a second case was confirmed in B.C. in early February, Thomas Madden, a world-renowned expert in nanotechnology who heads Vancouver-based biotech company Acuitas Therapeutics, flew to Germany. [emphases mine]

Acuitas was in the business of creating lipid nanoparticles, microscopic biological vehicles that could deliver drugs [emphasis mine] — for example, to specifically target cancers in the body.

Scientists are already beginning to say it’s likely that a booster vaccine will be needed [emphasis mine] next year to deal with the virus variants.

Madden, the head of Acuitas, says it makes absolute sense to use the new biotechnology, for example, the use of messenger RNA vaccines, to prepare and fight future pandemics.

Says Madden [emphasis mine]: “The technology in terms of what it’s able to do is absolutely phenomenal. It’s just taken us 40 years to get here.”

So, Hoekstra reminds us of the international nature and urgency of the crisis, then, introduces Acuitas as a vital and local player in solutions deployed internationally, and, finally, brings us back to Acuitas after providing an overview of the BC biotech scene and the federal and provincial government’s latest moves,

AbCellera Biologics is more of a supporting player, along with a number of other companies, in Hoekstra’s story,

Sandwiched in the middle, you’ll find what I think is the point of the story,

LifeSciences BC and the provincial government’s commitments

From Hoekstra’s May 7, 2021 article,

The importance of the biotech sector in providing protection against pandemics has caught the attention of the federal and B.C. governments. It has also been noticed by the private markets.

In its budget [April 19, 2021] earlier this month [sic], the federal government promised more than $2 billion in the next seven years to support “promising” life sciences and bio-manufacturing firms, research, training, education and vaccine candidates.

Some companies, including Precision NanoSystems, have already got federal funding. The Vancouver company received $18.2 million last year to help develop its self-replicating mRNA vaccine and another $25 million in early 2021 to assist building a $50-million facility to produce the vaccine.

Last fall, Symvivo received $2.8 million from the National Research Council to help develop its oral COVID-19 vaccine.

AbCellera has also received a pledge of $175.6 million to help build an accredited manufacturing facility in Vancouver [emphasis mine] to produce antibody treatments.

AbCellera expects to double its 230-person workforce over the next two years as it expands its Vancouver campus.

When AbCellera became a publicly traded company late last year, it raised more than $500 million and had a recent market capitalization, the value of its stock, of about $8.5 billion.

When the B.C. government delivered its throne speech recently, the contribution of the province’s life sciences sector in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic was highlighted, with Precision NanoSystems, AbCellera and StarFish Medical getting mentions. “Their work will not only help bring us out of the pandemic, it will position our province for success in the years ahead,” said B.C.’s Lt. Gov. Jane Austen in delivering the throne speech.

When the budget was released the following week [April 20, 2021], B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson said a new three-year, $500-million strategic investment fund would help support and scale up tech firms.

Despite their successes, B.C. biotech firms have faced challenges.

SaNOtize had to go to the U.K. to get support for clinical trials and AbCellera has been disappointed that despite Health Canada emergency approval of its COVID-19 treatment, provinces have been reluctant to use Bamlanivimab.

Hansen, AbCellera’s CEO and a former University of B.C. professor with a PhD in applied physics and biotechnology, said he believes that biotech is the most important frontier of technology.

In the past, while great science was launched from B.C.’s universities, not as great a job was done on turning that science into innovation, jobs [emphasis mine] and the capacity to bring new products to market, possibly because of a lack of entrepreneurship and polices to make it more attractive to companies to grow and thrive here and move here, notes Hansen.

Hurlburt [Wendy Hurlburt], the LifeSciences B.C. CEO, says that policies, including tax structure and patenting [emphasis mine], that encourages innovation companies are needed to support the biotech sector.

But, adds Hansen: “Here in Vancouver, I feel like we’re turning the corner. There’s probably never been a time when Vancouver’s biotech sector [emphasis mine] was stronger. And the future looks very good.”

Not only is the province involved but so is the City of Vancouver (more about that in a bit).

It’s not all about the cash

Hoekstra’s May 7, 2021 article helped answer a question I had in the title of another posting, January 22, 2021: Why is Precision Nanosystems Inc. in the local (Vancouver, Canada) newspaper? (See the ‘Updates and extras’ at the end of this posting for more to the answer.)

This campaign has been building for a while. In the “Is it magic or how does the federal budget get developed? subsection of my May 4, 2021 posting on the 2021 Canadian federal budget I speculated a little bit,

I believe most of the priorities are set by power players behind the scenes. We glimpsed some of the dynamics courtesy of the WE Charity scandal 2020/21 and the SNC-Lavalin scandal in 2019.

Access to special meetings and encounters are not likely to be given to any member of the ‘great unwashed’ but we do get to see the briefs that are submitted in anticipation of a new budget. These briefs and meetings with witnesses are available on the Parliament of Canada website (Standing Committee on Finance (FINA) webpage for pre-budget consultations.

AbCellera submitted a brief dated August 7, 2020 (PDF) detailing how they would like to see the Income Tax Act amended. It’s not always about getting cash, although that’s very important. In this brief, the company wants “… improved access to the enhanced Scientific Research & Experimental Development tax credit.”

There are many aspects to these campaigns including the federal Income Tax Act and, in this case, municipal involvement.

Vancouver (city government) and the biotech sector

About five weeks prior to the 2021 Canadian federal budget and BC provincial budget announcements, there was some news from the City of Vancouver (from a March 10, 2021 article by Kenneth Chan for dailyhive.com), Note: Links have been removed,

Major expansion plans are abound for AbCellera over the next few years to the extent that the Vancouver-based biotechnology company is now looking to build a massive purpose-built office and medical laboratory campus in Mount Pleasant (Vancouver neighbourhood).

It would be a redevelopment of the entire city block …

… earlier today, Vancouver City Council unanimously approved a rezoning enquiry allowing city staff to work with the proponent and accept a formal application for review.

This special additional pre-application step is required due to the temporary ban [emphasis mine] on most types of rezonings within the Broadway Plan’s planning area, until the plan is finalized at the end of 2021.

But city staff are willing to make this a rare exception due to the economic opportunity [emphasis mine] presented by the proposal and the healthcare-related aspects.

“The reasons for advancing this quickly are they are rapidly growing and would like to stay in Vancouver, and we would like them to… We’re very glad to have this company in Vancouver and want to provide them with a permanent home, but in order to scale up, the timeframe to produce their therapy [for viruses] is really time sensitive,” Gil Kelley, the chief urban planner of the City of Vancouver, told city council during today’s [March 10, 2021] meeting.

….

Roughly 10 days after the 2021 budgets are announced, there’s this from Kenneth Chan’s April 29,2021 article on dailyhive.com,

Plans for AbCellera Biologics’ major footprint expansion in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant Industrial Area are moving forward quickly.

Based on the application submitted this week, the Vancouver-based biotechnology company is proposing to redevelop 110 West 4th Avenue …

It will be designated as the rapidly growing company’s global headquarters.

… city staff are providing AbCellera with the highly rare, expedited stream of combining the rezoning and development application processes into one.

By the middle of this decade, AbCellera will have four locations in the area, including its current 21,000 sq ft office at 2215 Yukon Street and a new 44,000 sq ft office nearing completion at 2131 Manitoba Street, just south of its future main hub.

“We’re building state-of-the-art facilities in Vancouver to accelerate the development of new antibody therapies with biotech and pharma partners from around the world,” said Carl Hansen, CEO and president of AbCellera, in a statement.

AbCellera has gained significant international attention over the past year after it co-developed the first authorized COVID-19 antibody therapy for emergency use in high-risk patients in Canada and the United States.

In late 2020, the company closed a successful initial public offering, bringing in $556 million after selling nearly 28 million shares, far exceeding its original goal of raising $250 million. It was the largest-ever IPO [initial public offering] by a Canadian biotech company.

“We see this new site as a creative hub for engineers, software developers, data scientists, biologists and bioinformaticians to collaborate, innovate, and push the frontiers of technology.” [said Veronique Lecault, the COO of AbCellera]

Additionally, AbCellera is also planning to build a clinical-grade, antibody manufacturing facility in Metro Vancouver, funded in part by the $176-million investment it received from the federal government in Spring 2020 [see May 3, 2020 AbCellera news release].

Not cash but AbCellera did get an expedited process for rezoning and I imagine there will be more special treatment as this progresses. (See the ‘Updates and extras’ at the end of this posting for news about the expedited process.)

It’s likely there are other companies in the BC’s life science sector that are eyeing this development with great interest and high hopes for themselves.

What it takes

COVID-19 seems to have galvanized interest and support almost everywhere in the world for life sciences.

I don’t believe that anyone in the life sciences planned for or rejoiced at news of this pandemic. However, the Canadian biotech sector has been working for decades to establish itself as an important economic resource. and, sadly, COVID-19 has been a timely development.

All those years of lobbying, also known as, government relations, marketing, investor relations, public relations and more served as preparation for what looks like a concerted effort and it has paid off in BC at the federal level, provincial level, and municipal level (at least one).

The campaigns continue. Here’s Wendy Hurlburt, president and CEO of LifeSciences BC in a May 14, 2021 Conversations That Matter Vancouver Sun podcast with Stuart McNish. Note: Hurlburt makes an odd comment at about the 7 min. 30 secs. mark regarding insulin and patents.

Her dismay over lost opportunities regarding the insulin patent is right in line with Canada’s current patent mania. See my May 13, 2021 posting, Not a pretty picture: Canada and a patent rights waiver for COVID-19 vaccines. As far as I’m aware, Canada’s stance has not changed. Interestingly, Hoekstra’s article doesn’t mention COVID-19 patent waivers.

By contrast, here’s what Frederick Banting (one of the discoverers) had to say about his patent, (from the Banting House Insulin Patents webpage),

About the sale of the patent of insulin for $1 Banting reportedly said, “Insulin belongs to the world, not to me.”

… On January 23rd, 1923 Banting, [Charles] Best, and [James] Collip were awarded the American patents for insulin which they sold to the University of Toronto for $1.00 each.

Hurlburt goes on to express dismay over taxes and notes that some companies may leave for other jurisdictions, which means we will lose ‘innovation’. This is a very common ploy coming from any of the technology sectors and can be dated back at least 30 years.

Unmentioned is the dream/business model that so many Canadian tech entrepreneurs have: grow the company, sell it for a lot of money, and retire, preferably before the age of 40.

Getting back to my point, the current situation is not attributable to one individual or to one company’s efforts or to one life science nonprofit or to one federal Network Centre for Excellence (NanoMedicines Innovation Network [NMIN] located at the University of British Columbia).

Note: I have more about the NMIN and Acuitas Therapeutics in a November 12, 2021 posting and there’s more about NMIN’s 7th annual conference and a very high profile guest in a September 11, 2020 posting.

Strategy at the federal, provincial, and local governments, with an eye to the international scene, has been augmented by luck and opportunism.

Updates and extras

Where updates are concerned I have one for Precision Nanosystems and one for AbCellera. I have extras with regard to Moderna and Canada and, BC’s special fund, inBC Investment Corporation. For anyone who’s curious about Banting and the high cost of insulin, I have a couple of links to further reading.

Precision Nanosystems

From an August 11, 2021 article by Kenneth Chan (Note: Links have been removed),

A homegrown pharmaceutical company has announced plans to significantly scale its operations with the opening of a new production facility in Vancouver’s False Creek Flats.

The new Evolution Block building will contain PNI’s new global headquarters and a new genetic medicine Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) biomanufacturing centre, which would allow the company to expand its capabilities to include the clinical manufacturing of RNA vaccines and therapeutics.

Federal funding totalling $25.1 million for PNI was first announced in February 2021 towards covering part of the development costs of such a facility, as part of the federal government’s new strategy to better ensure Canada has the domestic capacity to secure its own COVID-19 vaccines and prepare the country for future pandemics. It is estimated the vaccine production capacity of the new facility will be 240 million doses annually.

PNI’s location in the False Creek Flats is strategic, given the close proximity to the new St. Paul’s Hospital campus and the growing concentration of tech and healthcare-based industrial businesses.

AbCellera

From a June 22, 2021 article by Kenneth Chan (Note: Links have been removed),

The rapidly growing Vancouver-based biotechnology company announced this morning their 130,000 sq ft Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) facility will be located on a two-acre site at the 900 block of Evans Avenue, replacing the Urban Beach volleyball courts just next to the City of Vancouver’s Evans maintenance centre and the Regional Recycling Vancouver Bottle Depot.

GMP is partially funded by the $175 million in federal funding received by the company last year to support research into coronavirus treatment.

GMP adds to AbCellera’s major plans to build a new headquarters in close proximity at 110-150 West 4th Avenue in the Mount Pleasant Industrial Area — a city block-sized campus with a total of 380,000 sq ft of laboratory and office space for research and corporate uses.

Both campus buildings are being reviewed under the City of Vancouver’s rare streamlined, expedited process [emphasis mine] of combining the rezoning and development permit applications. AbCellera formally announced its campus plans in April 2021.

AbCellera gained significant international attention last year when it developed the world’s first monoclonal antibody therapy for COVID-19 to be authorized for emergency use in high-risk patients in Canada and the United States. According to the company, over 400,000 doses of its bamlanivimab drug have been administered around the world, and it is estimated to have kept more than 22,000 people out of hospital — saving at least 11,000 lives.

In late 2020, the company closed a successful initial public offering, bringing in $556 million after selling nearly 28 million shares, far exceeding its original goal of raising $250 million. It was the largest-ever IPO by a Canadian biotech company.

Moderna and Canada

It seems like yesterday that Derek Rossi (co-founder of Moderna) was talking about Canada’s need for a biotechnology hub. (see this June 17, 2021 article by Barbara Shecter for the Financial Post). Interestingly, there’s been an announcement of a memorandum of understanding (these things are announced all the time and don’t necessarily result in anything) between Moderna and the government of Canada according to an August 10, 2021 item on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) news website,

Massachusetts-based drug maker Moderna will build an mRNA vaccine manufacturing plant in Canada within the next two years, CEO Stephane Bancel said Tuesday [August 10, 2021; Note the timing, the writ for the next federal election was dropped on August 15, 2021].

The company has signed a memorandum of understanding with the federal government that will result in Canada becoming the home of Moderna’s first foreign operation. It’s not clear yet how much money Canada has offered to Moderna [emphasis mine] for the project.

Canada, whose life sciences industry has been decimated over the last three decades, wants in on the action. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to rebuild the industry, and the recent budget included a $2.2 billion, seven-year investment to grow the life science and biotech sectors.

Almost half of that targets companies that want to expand or set up vaccine and drug production in Canada. None of the COVID-19 vaccines to date have been made in Canada, leaving the country entirely reliant on imports to fill vaccine orders. As a result, Canada was slower out of the gate on immunizations than some of its counterparts with domestic production, and likely had to pay more per dose for some vaccines as well.

The location of the new facility hasn’t been finalized, but Bancel said the availability of an educated workforce will be the main deciding factor. He said the design is done and they’ll need to start hiring very soon so training can begin.

it’s not exactly a hub but who knows what the future will bring? I imagine there’s going to be some serious wrangling behind the scenes as the provinces battle to be the location for the facility. Note that Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne who made the announcement with Bancel in Montréal represents a federal riding in Québec. (BTW, Bancel is from France and seems to have spent much of his adult life in the US.) Of course anything can happen and I’m sure the BC contingent will make themselves felt but it would seem that Quebec is the front runner for now, assuming this memorandum of understanding leads to a facility. Given that we are in the midst of a federal election, it seems more probable than it might otherwise.

inBC Investment Corporation

Bob Mackin’s August 13, 2021 article for theBreaker.news sheds some light on how that corporation was formed so very quickly and more,

The B.C. NDP government rejigged the B.C. Immigrant Investor Fund last year, but refused to release the business case when it was rebranded as inBC Investment Corp. in late April [2021].

theBreaker.news requested the business case for the $500 million fund, which is overseen by a board of NDP patronage appointees, on May 6 [2021].

The 123-page document below is heavily censored — meaning the NDP cabinet is refusing to tell British Columbians the projected operating costs (including board expenses, salary and benefits, office space, operating and administration), full-time equivalents, and cash flows for the newest Crown corporation. inBC bills itself as a triple-bottom line organization, meaning it intends to invest on the basis of social, environmental and economic values.

When its enabling legislation was tabled, the NDP took steps to exempt inBC from the freedom of information law.

Thank you, Mr. Mackin.

More on Banting, insulin and patents

Caitlyn McClure’s 2016 article (Insulin’s Inventor Sold the Patent for $1. Then Drug Companies Got Hold of It.) for other98.com is a brief and pithy explanation for why insulin costs so much. Alanna Mitchell’s August 13, 2019 article for Maclean’s magazine investigates ‘insulin tourism’ and offers more detail as to how this situation has come about.

One last reminder, my August 20, 2021 posting (Getting erased from the mRNA/COVID-19 story) about Ian MacLachlan provides insight into how competitive and rough the bitotechnology scene can be here in BC/Canada.

Periodically Political: a Canadian podcast from Elect STEM

As I write this on Friday, August 13, 2021 there seems seems to be unanimous consensus that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will drop the writ this weekend (Update: He did on Sunday, August 15, 2021) and Canadians will be are voting in a federal election on September 20, 2021.

Consequently, it seems like an opportune moment to feature the Periodically Political podcast and its parent organization, Elect STEM.

Elect STEM

These are very high minded people: Darren Anderson, Christopher Caputo, and Monika Stolar.(click on the photos)., each of whom has at least one PhD in one science or other. (There’s a little more about the co-founders at the end of this posting.)

Here’s more about Elect STEM (STEM = science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), from the website homepage,

What We Do

We seek to make science non-partisan by engaging more scientists in politics.

Issues We Focus On

We provide information and support for Canadians with a STEM background who want to engage in politics across all parties and levels of government.

I have a few questions:

  1. How does engaging more scientists in politics make it non-partisan? Any evidence?
  2. Perhaps I missed it but where on the website is the toolkit or detailed information about how to enter politics (municipal, provincial, federal)?
  3. How is the Elect STEM website and its podcast being funded? (Is it self-funded?)
  4. Why not include STEAM (the A is for arts) and STEMM (the second M is for medicine)? (My suggestion: call the organization Elect STEM+)

Periodically Political

Clever name for the podcast series! It is an allusion to the Periodic Table of Elements, yes?

For some reason, it was decided that the December 28, 2020 podcast would be called Episode 0. (I’m not a big fan of that decision.)

Their Season 1 Episode 1 (Kyle Demes interview) was posted January 20, 2021. Note: Demes who has a PhD in Zoology works as a strategist and consultant. He does not list any political experience on his website.

I recognized a couple of politician’s names (Preston Manning and Dalton McGuinty) as being part of season 1. I’m sure there are others. Do check out the list. From the little I’ve seen, it’s quite eclectic.

You will notice that after their 13th episode, which was a recapitulation (recap) of their first season, they added more episodes (Political Bonus Track no. ?). Dr. Mona Nemer’s, Canada’s Chief Science Advisor, interview (episode 15, also known as, Political Bonus Track 2) was added on Friday, August 13, 2021.

I imagine this election campaign will either jumpstart season 2 or spawn several ‘Political Bonus Tracks’. Perhaps they’ll be able to interview:

  • Marc Garneau, former astronaut, PhD in Electrical Engineering, and current Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • Kirsty Duncan, PhD in Geography, former minister of science and minister of sport and persons with disabilities, current MP (Member of Parliament)
  • Gary Goodyear, incomplete undergraduate degree in biomechanics and psychology, Doctor of Chiropractic (?), and former Minister of State for Science & Technology
  • Ted Hsu, PhD in physics, former MP
  • Molly Shoichet (pronounced shoy, then, ket or quette), PhD in polymer science and engineering, biomedical engineer, briefly, Chief Scientist for Ontario (it’s first)
  • Pascal Lapointe, science journalist, editor-in-chief of Agence Science-Presse (Québec’s Science Press Agency) and founder of Je Vote Pour La Science,
  • Andrew Weaver, PhD in Applied Mathematics, former leader of the BC (British Columbia) Green Party and former MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly)
  • Moira Stilwell, MD, originator of a BC government science’ initiative (scroll down my April 28, 2020 posting to the ‘Year of Science in British Columbia’ subhead for a brief comment about how that idea changed shape as it went through the political process), and former Minister of Advanced Education, Minister of Regional Economic and Skills Development, and Minister of Social Development, currently head of Nuclear Medicine at St. Paul’s Hospital and clinical assistant professor in the Department of Radiology at the University of British Columbia
  • Jane Philpott, MD and former Minister of Health, Minister of Indigenous Services, and President of the Treasury Board, currently Dean of Health Sciences and Diector of the School of Medicine for Queen’s University
  • Rémi Quirion, neuroscientist, PhD (I’m not able to identify in which field), The Chief Scientist of Québec
  • Someone (Mehrdad Hariri?) from the Canadian Science Policy Centre?
  • Perhaps there’s someone who could talk about indigenous science and politics?
  • What about someone from the Northern territories? (climate change and Arctic anyone?)

As for Kennedy Stewart who’s currently mayor of Vancouver, read on as to why that might be interesting.

A few comments

I don’t have any great moral objections to Elect STEM’s purpose (get more scientists to run for political office) but I’m not convinced that elected officials with scientific training will make a big difference.

Running for office at the federal and provincial and, even, municipal (of the larger cities) levels requires name recognition, which is acquired through party affiliation. There are very few successful independent politicians at any of these levels.

Once you’ve joined a political party and decided to run under their banner, you are obliged to support the party and its leader. Should you be successfully elected, you will vote along party lines or there will be consequences.

Turning Parliament Inside Out: Practical Ideas for Reforming Canada’s Democracy” by Kennedy Stewart, Michael Chong, and Scott Simms (published in 2017) was written by three Members of Parliament (MPs) representing each of Canada’s major three political parties at the federal level. It is eye-opening to say the least.

Since the book’s publication, Kennedy Stewart has left federal politics and become mayor of the city of Vancouver. Somewhere along the way, he appears to have lost interest in science policy. (See my November 14, 2012 posting for the first of many posts covering Stewart’s science policy efforts. Just search ‘Kennedy Stewart’ in the blog search engine for the others.)

A PhD in political science, Stewart has focused his efforts on more newsworthy topics as he campaigns for the next election. He seems to have been in campaign mode since he first got elected as mayor.

Whatever you or I may think of that approach, the current Canadian political system rewards the behaviour. It’s something to keep in mind when insisting that scientists run for political office.

More about Stolar, Caputo, and Anderson (plus a bonus)

All three co-founders have ties to either or both the University of Toronto and York University.

I don’t have much about Monika Stolar, “scientist, graphic designer, communicator, and Research & Industry Relations Officer at Simon Fraser University,” other than her website

Christopher Caputo, Tier 2 Canada Research Chair. at the Caputo Lab at York University has his profile page here.

Darren Anderson, chief executive officer (CEO) Vive Crop Protection, was featured here in an interview (thank you! in a February 25, 2011 posting) when he was Chief Technical Officer (CTO) of the company then known as Vive Nano. Most recently, the company was mentioned here on the occasion of its 15th anniversary in a July 20, 2021 posting (scroll down about 45% of the way).

My bonus is Preston Manning who very kindly gave me an interview, which is here in two parts: September 10, 2009 posting and September 11, 2009 posting.

I don’t imagine it’s much of a surprise that I have more about Anderson and Manning, given my interest in nanotechnologyl.

Good luck to the Stolar, Caputo, and Anderson team. I hope to hear more from them.