In the past months we have seen signs from Ottawa of a dramatic shift in the science and engineering research landscape in Canada. The federal government has signalled that it sees a vital role for science in Canada’s economy with its bold Innovation Agenda. Mandate letters to federal ministers stressed the need for evidence-based decision making and the importance of engaging with stakeholders in broad consultations. Ottawa’s latest budget acknowledged the importance of transformative, discovery-based research with an investment of $95 million per year in additional funding to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).
As a researcher and chair of The Partnership Group for Science and Engineering (PAGSE), I find that all these developments are incredibly encouraging. PAGSE is a cooperative association of 24 science and engineering professional bodies, including the Chemical Institute of Canada (CIC), representing more than 60,000 members from academia, industry and government. PAGSE’s mandate is to represent the Canadian science and engineering community to Ottawa. Our flagship program is the monthly Bacon & Eggheads speaker series, where we bring together experts in science and engineering with parliamentarians to showcase outstanding Canadian research and to inform and provide insights on timely scientific issues. This year, many new and returning MPs and senators attended to learn about research on topics as varied as permafrost, neuroscience, agricultural innovations and oil spills. All signs suggest that the government understands the importance of science and is ready to engage with the research community.
The government may be ready to listen to us but we will need to do our part. CIC members should participate in the government consultations that are relevant to their research and work. For example, Environment and Climate Change Canada is in the midst of two major public consultations, one on climate change and the other on sustainable development. This is an invitation to all Canadians to participate in these important discussions and the science and engineering community should not pass up this opportunity. PAGSE is encouraging all its members, including chemists, chemical technologists and chemical engineers, to share their ideas on these important issues. Indications are that this is how our new government will inform its policies; if we want to make a difference, we need to engage with them on these platforms.
Every fall, PAGSE submits a brief to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance to provide consensus views from the science and engineering community on policy issues and initiatives. You can view our submissions from the past 16 years on the PAGSE website. The CIC also submits an annual brief to the pre-budget consultations. We will be working over the summer on our next submission; consider reaching out to us to give us your ideas and input. Once the briefs are released, take a look at them and share them within your networks. The most recent pre-budget consultations featured many opportunities for the public to participate including live Facebook events and a web portal for submissions. Consider using these platforms to echo the main ideas of the PAGSE and CIC submissions. Bring the briefs to your MP, discuss the role that science and engineering will play in the Innovation Agenda and perhaps bring an undergraduate, graduate student or trainee with you to stress the importance of training our next generation of innovators.
While social media and web-based connectivity will certainly allow for more of the science and engineering community to be heard by parliament, we cannot underestimate the importance of person-to-person contact. This is one of the reasons why we put so much energy into our Bacon & Eggheads series; putting researchers and parliamentarians in the same room is an excellent way to connect the two. Let’s seize every opportunity to engage with this parliament on issues relating to science and engineering.
Maria DeRosa is an associate professor at Carleton University in the Department of Chemistry and Institute of Biochemistry and the new chair of the Partnership Group for Science and Engineering (PAGSE).