New Science Advisor will be the key to evidence-based policy

May 6, 2016

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of joining Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on stage when he gave his take on quantum computing. It was an unscheduled science lesson that triggered a wave of applause from the young researchers in front of us at the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo. The internet lit up.

I hope the next nine days will be packed full of spectacular science moments as we begin Science Odyssey, a national celebration of Canada's contributions to science and technology. Beyond the events and festivities, however, the week affords us the opportunity to examine our nation's approach to science and research.

Canadians have told us they want to see more openness in federal science and they want assurances that science is taken into account when decisions are made. The transparent communication of science and evidence-based policy making are among our government's top priorities. That's why I was tasked in my mandate letter to establish a Chief Science Officer position, which will be key to making that commitment a reality.

The creation of a permanent Chief Science Officer demonstrates our government’s commitment to making sure science finds its rightful place at the federal table. In the six months since arriving in office, I have consulted extensively — both domestically and internationally — on this position. I have examined how similar positions, often called a chief science adviser, work in other countries such as the United Kingdom, New Zealand, the United States, and Israel. My survey of international models will help create a position that is modern and yet tailor-made to suit Canada.

To date, I have received valuable input from more than 80 experts, stakeholders, and parliamentary colleagues from across the political spectrum. They have provided me with views such as the importance of recruiting someone who can provide independent, transparent and non-partisan scientific advice to the Prime Minister and our government. Our consultations have also underscored the importance of building relationships between a Chief Science Officer and the research community that allow for the best scientific expertise to be part of decision-making at the highest levels of government.

Our stakeholders also emphasized the importance of appointing someone who would have access to and an open dialogue with federal scientists, along with the scientists across Canada and abroad. And when I speak of scientists here, I mean all scientists. As Stephen J. Toope wrote in the Ottawa Citizen, our lead scientist would be welcome to gather the best evidence from all scientific disciplines; the natural and applied sciences, engineering, health sciences and the social sciences and humanities. The officer would do so without the influence of political agendas. And with ease in both official languages.

I have learned from my consultations that in order for Canada to enhance its science advisory system, and give this new position permanence, it is important to properly define and take the time necessary to recruit someone who has a deep respect for Canada’s scientists and the role of science in society. So far, I am encouraged that members of our stakeholder community and parliamentarians understand the need for a credible process to appoint a worthy individual who will serve our Prime Minister, our government, our citizens and scientists.

This week, let’s take the time to celebrate our scientists, our innovators and all Canadians who will have the opportunity to engage with Canada’s achievements in research during Science Odyssey. Because, in the end, science is everybody’s business.

The Honourable Kirsty Duncan
Minister of Science

Commentary originally appeared in the Ottawa Citizen on Friday May 6, 2016.

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