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IN MY OPINION

Science has a seat at the table

The search is now on for Canada’s chief science advisor.

By PAUL DAVIDSON | December 9, 2016

Since Kirsty Duncan stepped into her new job as minister of science one year ago, there has been eager anticipation of the new chief science role. What will this job look like? Who will fill the role? And what does this new position mean for our science and research community?

With the launch of the search on Dec. 5, we are learning more about the government’s vision.

It is encouraging that the minister and her team took the time to consult widely before launching the search for a candidate. Minister Duncan sought input from researchers on campuses across the country, asked advice of international stakeholders, and spoke with chief science advisors and officers in the U.K., Australia, the U.S., Israel, New Zealand and elsewhere.

Not only is it heartening to see that the minister took the time to consider what the role should be, it also shows that the government is practicing what they preach: evidence-based decision making. Information-gathering and listening are essential to making strong decisions, particularly when designing a role that will, ideally, have a permanent place in the architecture of Canadian government.

The creation of the chief science advisor role is an important move in ensuring evidence-based policy making across government. It is also a huge vote of confidence in our community of scholars, researchers and scientists.

Governments at all levels often overlook the value of university researchers and scholars in helping inform public policy. With this move, hopefully, those days are numbered.

Today’s biggest challenges are both global and interdisciplinary – and university researchers are tackling them. It would be short-sighted to ignore the world-leading expertise at our universities.

A prime example is a new collaborative research project, the Canadian Refugee Child, Youth and Family Research Coalition. Led by researchers at Dalhousie University, this project links 30 Canadian universities and 80 community-based groups to study the integration experiences of Syrian children in Canada, and the interventions that lead to the best resettlement outcomes for refugee families.

The next time Canada must respond to an international migration crisis – and we will surely see more in the decades to come –we can turn to robust research data to inform policies.

Our research community has incredible expertise available to inform public policy and action, and the Chief Science Advisor will ensure that the best evidence and best science is made available to government. That’s a huge step forward for Canada’s scientific community, and for Canadians.

In its first year, the new federal government has invested in university infrastructure, discovery research and recruitment of top talent. Announcing the search for a new chief science advisor to advise the prime minister, minister of science and cabinet is an important platform commitment and a further signal of the government’s commitment to science.

In the coming weeks and months, the response to the federal science review, the roll-out of the new innovation agenda and the upcoming federal budget will provide additional evidence of how the government translates ambition into action.

Paul Davidson is president of Universities Canada.

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