In mid-March 2010, Member of Parliament, Peter Julian, NDP (New Democrat Party) tabled the first Canadian bill (ETA June 22, 2010: Bill C-494) to regulate nanotechnology. Kudos to him for bringing nanotechnology into a national public forum and hopefully inspiring some discussion and debate.
Mr. Julian kindly agreed (thank you!) to answer some e-mail interview questions which I will be posting in a 3-part interview starting today where he answers questions about why he tabled the bill, the involvement of the NDP’s science shadow minister, and the state of the NDP’s science policy.
For anyone who’s not familiar with Mr. Julian, I got some biographical information from his constituency website,
Member of Parliament, Burnaby–New Westminster
Deputy Critic Fisheries (West Coast Fisheries)
- Has been the most active MP from Western Canada so far in the 40th Parliament.
- First elected Member of Parliament for Burnaby-New Westminster in 2004 (by a narrow margin of 300 votes), and re-elected in 2006 (by 4,000 votes) and again in 2008 (by 7,000 votes).
- Served as Critic on International Trade, Transportation, Persons with Disabilities, Gateways and the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in 39th Parliament; Critic on International Trade, the Treasury Board, Transportation and Persons with Disabilities in 38th Parliament.
- Ranked fifth of 308 MPs in crafting of Private Member’s legislation in 39th Parliament including tougher drunk driving laws and eliminating toxic substances found in fire retardants.
- Most active rookie in the House of Commons in the 38th Parliament.
- Prominent critic of Harper Conservatives’ softwood lumber sellout. Called “the Iron Man” by CTV’s David Akin for determination to stop the sellout.
- Previously a financial administrator, community activist and manual labourer. Served as National Executive Director of Council of Canadians – (founding member), former Executive Director of the Western Institute for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (WIDHH).
- Instrumental in building the British Columbia Disability Employment Network
- Former National Policy Coordinator and Assistant and Acting Federal Secretary of the New Democratic Party of Canada.
Now on to the interview:
What was the impetus for including nanotechnology as part of this bill? i.e. was there some specific incident or has this been an ongoing concern?
The major forces for including my bill on nanotechnology were; the concerns raised by constituents, the progressive work done by the European Union (including the EU Council Directive on cosmetic products and the January 2010 report of the UK’s House of Lords Science and Technology Committee Report). In contrast Canada has made minimal progress towards ensuring that nanotechnology discoveries are safely introduced into the marketplace, environment, and to Canadians.
The exponential increase in applications and products using this type of technology makes updating the regulatory framework necessary. A regulatory vacuum cannot persist if the commercial and societal promises of nanotechnologies are to be fulfilled. There are trade and safety implications involved.
A modernized regulatory framework, based on precaution given the rapid evolution of nanotechnologies, would help ensure that Canadians will be protected from unintended effects. At the same time, it would enable Canadian businesses to enjoy a predictable regulatory environment for investment and innovation, for nanotechnology is a key driver in Canada’s continued growth via sustainable development.
The following are the key components of Bill C-494:
A) A definition of Nanotechnology definition based on “nanometre scale” (1-1000nm),
B) Prescribed Government of Canada research and studies, with the precautionary principle providing direction for a ‘life-cycle’ approach to nanotechnology, and,
C) A Nanotechnology Inventory established and published.
I believe that the definition contained in Bill C-494 constitutes the first legislative body effort since UK House of Lords Committee recommended a similar nanometre scale definition.
Was the NDP’s science shadow minister involved in this bill? What was Jim Malloway’s contribution?
As you may know, private members bills are at the initiative of individual MPs. I have consulted with the NDP Environment and Health critics, in addition to our own research, library of Parliament support, and input from civil society. Jim Malloway and the NDP caucus support the principle of Bill C-494 and share the view that Nanotechnologies present a tremendous opportunity for Canada and that is why safety must be ensured.
Is there going to be more interest in science policy from the NDP?
The NDP is focused on securing sound foundations for science policy by making sure the government has enough resources to support the development of science while monitoring the consequences. We are also focused on ensuring that funding for post secondary education is appropriate and the resources and knowhow of the public sector are not trivialized and outsourced. The civil service needs a critical mass of expertise to support a healthy science development policy. We must encourage and preserve independent research at the university level and make sure that it is not subservient to corporate funding. Science must be allowed to evolve regardless of the commercial aspect. Our small caucus is focused on helping create these conditions where Canadian science and its applications can flourish in both private and not-for-profit spheres, with appropriate regulatory safeguards.
Tomorrow: Mr. Julian answers questions about the ‘precautionary principle’ and the research that supports his bill.
Oil-rich regions and nano
I had a few idle thoughts on seeing a notice on Nanowerk in mid-March that Iran has published a national nanotechnology standard. From the notice on Nanowerk,
The committee of Iranian nanotechnology standardization chose 49 main words in nanotechnology by means of ISO, BSI, and ASTM published standards and translated their definitions into Persian in cooperation with a team from Persian Language and Literature Academy.
The words like nanotechnology, nanomaterials, nanoparticle, nanoscale, nanotube, nanosystem etc have been defined in this standard.
(I did click on the link for the publication but unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be an English language version available.)
I find it interesting that there is so much activity on the nanotechnology front in Iran and other other oil-producing regions including Alberta (Canada) which hosts the National Institute for Nanotechnology and gets a great deal of funding from the Alberta provincial government. Texas, also known for its oil, hosts a leader in nanotechnology research, Rice University which is celebrating its 25th anniversary as the site where ‘bucky balls’ or buckminster fullerenes were first discovered. In Saudi Arabia, they opened KAUST (King Abdullah University for Science and Technology) in September 2009. While the ambitions range far beyond (the Saudis hope to establish a modern ‘House of Wisdom’) nanotechnology, its research is an important element in the overall scheme of things. I guess the reason that all these areas which are known for their oil production are so invested in nanotechnology is that they know time is running out and they need new ways to keep their economies afloat.