Canadian Science: Forward or Still?

Is government-funded Canadian science moving forward or stagnant?
Rahman Mohamed

Orion is now more than just an archer in the sky with a famous three star belt.  It’s blast closer to taking humans to Mars.  Dawn of 5 December 2014 NASA successfully launched a new rocket in Cape Canaveral Florida for a test flight.  Mark Geyer, Orion’s program manager says “Orion is the exploration spacecraft for NASA, and paired with the Space Launch System, or SLS, rocket it will allow us to explore the solar system.”  Orion is being planned to take humans to asteroids and Mars.

Canadians might be some of these astronauts.  The Canadian government reports that it is investing more into science.

On 4 December Prime Minister Stephen Harper officially launched Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF).  Awarding merit-based grants of up to $350 for seven years, the CFREF is $1.5 billion to help Canadian post-secondary institutions.  It’s accepting proposals until March 2015 for the first round.  Entries are judged by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

In May 2007 the Canadian government created the Canada’s Science and Technology (S&T) Strategy: Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada’s Advantage.  According to the PMO Canada ranks first in the G7 on the percentage of its GDP spent on research and development in universities and colleges.

The updated science investment strategy, launched December 4, named “Seizing Canada’s Moment: Moving Forward in Science, Technology and Innovation 2014” is designed to keep Canada as a scientific leader.  Its focus includes people, attracting and retaining qualified experts.  Seizing Canada’s Moment also focuses on knowledge by investing in research and infrastructure, supporting federal science institutions, and ensuring federally-funded research is more accessible to the public, and innovation in making knowledge more easily accessible.

Last year the Professional Institute of the Public Service in Canada (PIPSC) commissioned a study entitled “The Big Chill”.  With a 95% accuracy rate, 88.4 – 91.6% of scientists who worked for the government reported that they felt they couldn’t talk freely to the media.  On 21 October CTV reported that 800 scientists from 32 different countries outside of Canada signed an open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper calling for an end to funding cuts to the country’s science programs, referencing a 2013 New York Times editorial alleging communication restrictions on government scientists.

When brought up in question period NDP MP Lauren Li said “The government can no longer deny that by cutting science budgets and muzzling Canadian scientists, they are damaging Canada’s international reputation, …Will the government finally wake up and stop treating scientists like enemies?

In response Minister of State for Science and Technology, Ed Holder said

Our government has invested $1.5 billion of new money for the creation of the Canada First Research Excellence Fund, which allows institutions to leverage world-class strengths into world-leading research that will create long-term benefits for Canada

On 3 December PIPSC reported federal scientists’ unions were preparing to take demands to interact with media reinvestment in research, allowance for collaboration with international scientists, preservation of government science knowledge and libraries, and being guaranteed a role in informing evidence based public-policy.

Debi Daviau, President of PIPSC, representing 15,000 federal government scientists, engineers and researchers says

Preserving scientific integrity within the federal government is crucial to ensure we can continue to protect Canadians’ health, safety and the environment as well as promote genuine innovation … To our members, this is about much more than their salaries; it’s about preserving the standards on which both Canadian public policy and public services are maintained … It’s sad, frankly, that it’s come to this … But negotiating provisions in our collective agreements seems to be the only way to get this government’s attention and adopt meaningful, enforceable scientific integrity standards. At least this way our members would have the chance to grieve violations of standards they argue are essential to maintaining adequate public science services.

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