Science in the post-Harper era

Canada’s 42nd election is a week behind us, and much has changed in Canada’s political landscape.

The country heaved a collective sigh of relief following the election of Trudeau’s Liberals, expecting a major improvement over what we’ve experienced during the past 10 years of Harper’s reign.

For Canadian science, the change in government can only be a good thing. Editorials in Science, Nature, and The Guardian have heralded a return to open Canadian science, and various tweets refer to “letting the scientists out of their caves”, “looking forward to hearing what Canadian scientists have been up to over the past ten years,” etc.

I think it’s important to realize, however, that the work doesn’t end here.

Canadian scientists found their voice in the run up to the election, but they’d better not lose it now.

In a pre-election editorial on the Science Borealis Blog, Pascal Lapointe suggested that – after the election – the organizations that worked so hard to make science an election issue should join forces and keep pushing the government to keep science as a top priority. These groups include Evidence for Democracy, the Science Integrity Project, Get Science Right, Our Right to Know, the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, and more.

A petition is already in the works to reinstate the long-form census, and Canadians are pushing Trudeau to deliver on his promise of a Chief Science Officer. But there is much more we can do.

On the Liber Ero blog, Brett Favaro outlined a series of actions that conservation scientists can take to keep science in the spotlight and to provide policy makers with evidence that they can – and will – actually use. Many of these actions apply to scientists in general, and can be seen as a roadmap for the future of the relationship between Canadian scientists and policy makers.

I would argue that this is where scientific professional societies also need to get involved, just as I noted in a previous post that scientific societies needed to add their voice to the debate on science funding.

Some of my Twitter colleagues pointed me to the Canadian Federation of Biological Societies (CFBS), which brought together 12 biology and biomedical science organizations under one umbrella. Unfortunately, it’s been defunct as of 1999, so would have to be revived. We do have a Canadian Federation of Earth Sciences (CFES), which brings together 13 earth science-related organizations under one umbrella.

Unfortunately, I know of several earth science organizations that aren’t part of CFES – and the same would likely be true of CFBS. To have any impact on federal science policy, scientific organizations would be well-served by getting involved with these umbrella groups. Connecting the umbrella groups with existing advocacy groups would then give scientific societies the ability to communicate research funding and student training priorities to the people in power, who can and will do something about it.

The election may be over. But scientists and their professional societies still need to step up, get involved, and make a difference, rather than complaining that science is getting the short end of the stick.

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2 thoughts on “Science in the post-Harper era

  1. Federal scientists can do much by moving rapidly outside the Harper-imposed boundaries and gauging the reactions of their bureaucracy. Press reports of the results of their excursions will help keep this issue alive.

  2. Pingback: Reactions to Canada’s 2015 election Liberal majority and speculations about science and the new cabinet | FrogHeart

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