Canada’s academic community has launched a full court press to encourage the government to adopt the recommendations of the report of Canada’s Fundamental Science Review panel, also known as the Naylor report.
The report, requested by Science Minister Kirsty Duncan in June 2016, was drawn up by a panel led by former University of Toronto president David Naylor and released this past April. It found that Canada has been falling behind its international peers in science in recent years, and recommended a major increase in funding for basic, investigator-led research. The panel’s recommendations, if fully implemented, would see annual federal spending on research-related activities increase from approximately $3.5 billion to $4.8 billion over four years.
The report also called for better coordination between funding agencies and the creation of a national oversight body to advise the government on scientific priorities.
Researchers, university administrators, students and science groups across the country have wholeheartedly endorsed the report and are working together in an unprecedented joint effort to ensure the government does not ignore the report’s recommendations.
Universities Canada, for one, is making implementing the Naylor report the entire focus of its submission to the federal government’s budget planning process. “Universities Canada has endorsed the full report,” said Pari Johnston, the organization’s vice-president of policy and public affairs. “It’s a blueprint for government action in the university research ecosystem.” (Universities Canada is the publisher of University Affairs.)
The organization is meeting with representatives from many different government departments and is providing its members with pointers on how to talk about the report with their local MPs, to explain why it matters and why action is so important.
The science advocacy group Evidence for Democracy is also providing training for its supporters, running two webinars on basic government relations covering how to get meetings with MPs, how to talk about the report and how to follow up after the meeting. More than 60 people have taken the training. “It’s pretty unprecedented the extent to which we’ve had researchers meeting with their MPs,” said Katie Gibbs, executive director of E4D.
Jim Woodgett, director of research at the Lunenfeld-Tannenbaum Research Institute in Toronto and a high-profile supporter of the report, said this effort to reach beyond cabinet ministers is important. “There is pretty good awareness [of the report] at high levels, but it hasn’t really penetrated to the backbenches and to the other parties,” he said.
Universities Canada has set up a web page with research examples, data points and key messages to use when talking to Parliamentarians and ministers. Similarly, the E4D website includes a form to send to ministers and MPs, as well as advice for organizing letter-writing campaigns and other measures. There is even a hashtag for Twitter users, #SupportTheReport. “We’re providing tools, training and support for individual researchers to get involved,” said Dr. Gibbs, pointing out that many people do not know that anyone can make a submission to the government’s pre-budget consultation process.
Student groups are also joining the campaign. Science and Policy Exchange, a group based at McGill University that aims to represent the student voice in policy discussions, is encouraging students to sign an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in support of the Naylor report. So far it has gathered more than 900 signatures. “Students weren’t aware of how important it was to them,” said Shawn McGuirk, the group’s co-president. “We have to explain why they should care.”
Rather than concentrating on how the funding recommended by the Naylor report will boost Canada’s scientific standing the world, the students are focusing on how the money for investigator-led work will be used to train the next generation of scientists, and help meet the government’s goals of creating good jobs and promoting diversity – and not just within academia, as students are increasingly moving into other “satellite” professions after their graduate work. “Students are an extremely diverse group,” said Vanessa Sung, the group’s other co-president. “By investing in students, it helps promote diversity in the higher levels of professions.”
Minister Duncan, in a series of interviews to the media in June, said she agrees with many of the recommendations in the report, particularly about the need to promote equity and diversity in the research community. More recently, in a short video released on August 17, she confirmed that the government will move forward to establish a new advisory council on science and innovation, and create a new coordinating board for the federal research granting councils to improve harmonization and sustainability. However, the minister remains mum on the report’s recommendations related to research funding.
Ms. Johnston said Universities Canada welcomes these steps, but will continue to advocate for “urgent action” in Budget 2018 on the report’s financial recommendations. “This is a government committed to the value of evidence and science, and that understands the importance of investing in research,” says Ms. Johnston. “We understand it may take a few years, but it’s important the government acts in a substantive way in the next budget.”