Prime Minister Trudeau has reinstated the Minister of Science position, filled by MP Kirsty Duncan, and scientists are over the moon.
Scientists and science enthusiasts worldwide have applauded the decision to reinfuse the sector with some long-withheld attention from the federal government and shared their hopes for what changes are to come — as well as some advice.
Canadian government scientists weren't shy about expression their frustration under Stephen Harper’s administration, which cut funding, changed the peer-review system and placed scientists under a media gag order. Harper had also demoted the science minister position to the lower Minister of State cabinet. This elicited concern from scientists around the globe, prompting more than 800 to sign an open letter expressing their disappointment.
People seem optimistic that Justin Trudeau’s government will make positive changes when it comes to scientific research, and many had suggestions as to how he could start.
Karen Johnstone-Hobbs, a freelance science writer, wrote a blog post saying she wants to see the new minister clearly identify national science priorities and outline goals to see them through. She noted that more global partnerships and rebuilding science culture in Canada would also be welcome.
Promptly after Trudeau’s victory, the Canadian Association of University Teachers released a bulletin urging the Liberals to meet their promises that would affect academics. This included, of course, un-muzzling government scientists, following through with appointing a chief science officer, and conducting a long-form census (the Liberal government almost immediately announced its intention to reinstate the census). It also mentioned improving the student loans system and repealing or amending Bill C-51 to “protect civil liberties and academic freedom.”
John Dupuis, a science and engineering librarian at York University, has been following the plight of scientists in Canada on his blog, Confessions of a Science Librarian. He recommends the new government fix the damage done to the science libraries in Canada, namely in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Undoubtedly more suggestions will be coming her way, but Duncan appears to be used to a varied portfolio. She has a Ph. D. in geography, and wrote a book about the Spanish flu pandemic, bringing together her research on how climate change affects human health. She's also worked as a professor at both the University of Toronto and Royal Road University
She will also have help. The new government is spreading science-related issues throughout the cabinet.
In addition to the Minister of Science, Trudeau added science to the industry portfolio, renaming the position, now held by Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, science and economic development.
Based on this move the Liberal government seems to be giving science a higher priority level, Melanee Thomas, a political science professor at the University of Calgary told the National Post.
“I see this as a specific move away from the previous government’s treatment of science and evidence-based policy making,” she told the National Post.
Trudeau also added “climate change” to the Minister of Environment title — a commitment to addressing carbon emissions and global warming specifically.
It’s also been rumoured that the media muzzle placed on government scientists at Fisheries and Oceans Canada is to be lifted.
The public is viewing this as a step in the right direction and hopeful for more improvements to come.
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