Katie Gibbs and Alana Westwood of Evidence for Democracy wrote a terrific piece in The Toronto Star a little while ago, We need a national debate on science: A question about science policy has never been asked at a federal leaders’ debate. Now more than ever that has to change.
Given the clear importance of science in our lives, why has a question about science policy never — not once — been asked in a federal leaders’ debate?
Perhaps it’s time for another first: a debate about the state and future of Canadian science. Once a world-leader in scientific research, recent decisions have eroded our science capacity and our international scientific reputation. It’s estimated that up to 5,000 federal scientists have lost their jobs, and over 250 research and monitoring programs and institutions have been closed. Our recently launched website called True North Smart and Free, documents dozens of examples of funding cuts to science, government scientists being silenced and policy decisions that ignore the best available evidence. This is essential public-interest science needed to protect Canadian’s health and safety, from food inspection to monitoring toxic chemicals in water.
I've chronicled the devastation that the current Conservative government has wrought on Canadian public science quite a bit over the last few years. Evidence for Democracy has recently published a terrific new site, True North Smart and Free that beautifully highlights what's gone on, telling a number of very compelling stories in significant depth. I've even started a post where I'm tracking the conversation that is happening around science during the election.
And it's an amazing and appalling roster of research funding cut or bound to industry partnerships, departmental budgets slashed, lab closures, library closures, scientists muzzled and fired, environmental deregulation, oil industry pandering, insults, harassment, demonization and much more. The toll is quite remarkable for a mere 10 years, with most in the last four since the Conservative majority. What took generations to build only took a few short years to disassemble.
So if a science debate did happen to take place among the major party leaders -- Gilles Duceppe, Stephen Harper, Elizabeth May, Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau -- what would I ask them?
Canadian science has been devastated over the course of the last decade, from research twisted to meet industry needs, labs closed, scientists muzzled or fired, and environmental regulations scrapped to favour industry. And that's just a small part of the damage to evidence-based decision-making.
If you are Prime Minister after October 19, what would be your short, medium and long-term plan to restore Canadian government and publicly-funded science to what it was before and even to take it in new directions and reach for new heights.
Of course, it's not hard to imagine how Prime Minister Stephen Harper would answer the question. But I would be really interested to hear what the others have to say. Even if answers were forthcoming from the various parties' science and technology critics, that would be great too.
It's also not hard to imagine how an entire two-hour debate among the opposition leaders could essentially revolve around nothing but answering that question, teased apart into a bunch of mini-questions about the various kinds of damage done over the last decade to evidence-based decision-making about the environment, public health, demographics and so much more. Let's keep our fingers crossed that science will be an important part of one of the remaining debates or that even we could get a completely science-focused debate.
How could my question be reframed or reworded to make it more effective?
What question would you ask?