Chief Science Advisor’s letter to the Prime Minister and Minister of Science on her first 100 days in office.

January 31, 2018

The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau
Prime Minister of Canada
Ottawa, Ontario

and

The Honourable Kirsty Duncan
Minister of Science
Ottawa, Ontario

 

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister Duncan,

It is my great pleasure to write to you as your Chief Science Advisor. As I have just completed the first 100 days of my mandate, I would like to provide you with an overview of what I have done, what I have heard and observed, and what I plan to do in the coming months.

Let me first say how grateful I am for the warm and broad welcome I received. The invaluable support of Minister Duncan’s office and the leadership from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada allowed me to get on with my mandate. I am also grateful to the Clerk of the Privy Council and the many Deputy Ministers I met for their support and for making me feel welcome among them. I also thank them for upholding the independence of my Office.

The scientific community, both intramural and extramural, as well as the public in general, have reacted very positively to the appointment of a Chief Science Advisor, reflected in the unexpectedly high media coverage and the nearly 1000 letters and notes of support that we received. The demonstration of the government’s commitment to science and to evidence-based decision-making has sparked a collective enthusiasm that I intend to build upon to achieve two elements of my mandate: promote a dialogue among government and academic scientists, and raise public awareness of scientific issues.

During the first 10 weeks, I participated in several public events across the country and had eight public speaking engagements. I gave 24 interviews to national and international media, including print, radio and live television. I also spoke with student-run newspapers and participated in promotional videos for science-based organizations. In case you missed it, I was the subject of a comedy sketch on the popular CBC program This Hour Has 22 Minutes, which illustrates how the appointment of a Chief Science Advisor has caught the public interest.

Right from the start, I engaged extensively with the research and scientific community within and outside government who applauded the reinstatement of the Chief Science Advisor function. My outreach also included meetings with academic and civil society groups representing institutions and organizations across the country. Their high-level of enthusiasm came with similarly high expectations.

While building this new Office, I have had discussions with my counterparts in the Québec, Ontario and territorial governments. We are all eager to work together to advance research, training and evidence-based policies and to enhance Canada’s global leadership in these areas. I have also spoken with or met my international colleagues in the science advisory system in the United States, in France, in the U. K., and in New Zealand and Australia. They have generously shared with me their experience and priorities and assured me of their eagerness to further enhance scientific ties with Canada.

Here at home, I met with some of your Cabinet colleagues and their Deputy Ministers. Additionally, I visited several government research facilities in Victoria, Winnipeg and Ottawa, and met with many federal scientists. I appreciated these meaningful exchanges demonstrating a strong commitment to collaboration.

I have also engaged with the members of the newly established Canada Research Coordinating Committee. As a member of this committee, I expect to maintain a regular and open dialogue with the granting councils, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, and the National Research Council on strengthening Canada’s ability to grow in the rapidly evolving global research landscape.

This early engagement has helped shape my thoughts and led me to make a few observations:

  • Federal government scientists have stressed the importance of increased collaboration across departments and with academic and private-sector partners. They are eager to showcase their work, and participate in the public promotion of science. I am thrilled by their offer of help to support the mandate of this office.
  • Increasingly, government decision-making requires scientific input from various departments. Horizontal collaboration is happening but it can be further enabled by harmonization of policies and guidelines impacting research and by a review of existing systemic impediments.
  • Scientific advances are increasingly important to departments in which science has not historically been prominent, such as Transport, Global Affairs and Justice, to name a few. In carrying out my mandate commitment to review existing science advice mechanisms, I will consider the merits of implementing science advisory capacity in all federal departments, such as departmental chief scientists or equivalents.
  • The report of the Fundamental Science Review continues to be the centre of attention of the post-secondary community and of extramural scientists. There are many reasons to invest in the science and research enterprises including talent, skills development and innovation.
  • Several countries share with us similar strategic areas of research; they are investing considerably to attract talent and support innovation. Fortunately, the international context is presently favorable for Canadian science leadership and for Canada to be an attractive destination for students and researchers alike. Seizing this moment could have enormous benefits for our country for generations to come.

One thing is certain: there is much work ahead for me as your Chief Science Advisor. In the coming months, I intend to focus on some priorities, which include:

  • Developing, together with the Treasury Board Secretariat and the Professional Institute of the Public Service, whole-of-government scientific integrity policies and guidelines.
  • Recommending guidelines to strengthen the communication framework for government scientists to ensure that they can freely communicate their research. I know firsthand how important this is to scientists and to Canadians alike.
  • Assisting in the development of an open science framework to facilitate public access to federal government science.
  • Reviewing and recommending relevant improvements to existing science advisory mechanisms and processes used in government decision-making.
  • Providing advice on the governance and management of major science infrastructure.
  • Supporting the government’s Environmental Impact Assessment process.
  • Preparing and delivering by December 2018 an annual report on the activities of my Office and the state of federal government science.

In addition, it might be opportune to consider developing national science and research road maps in one or more areas of key importance for Canada such as data sciences, Arctic research or regenerative and precision medicine.

Last but not least, the incorporation of Indigenous knowledge into the scientific evidence that guides government decision-making is critically important. This is a commitment of your government which I endorse. My office would be pleased to assist in this process.

In conclusion, the last three months have been both intense and exciting, and I am heartened by the broad public support for my office. I am grateful for your trust and the ongoing open dialogue I have with you and your offices. I look forward to the work ahead, and to advising you on ways that Canadian science can continue to flourish and that Canadians can harness its full benefits.

With all best wishes for 2018,

 

Dr. Mona Nemer, CM, CQ, FRSC
Chief Science Advisor

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