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Why Canada now has two science ministers

Canada is now the country with two science ministers – a good thing because it brings hope of rebuilding research that is free from commercial interests, say a range of experts.

Kirsty Duncan is minister of Science; Navdeep Bains is minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development.

And these twin roles make perfect sense, says Andrew Weaver, a climate researcher from the University of Victoria who now sits in the British Columbia legislature for the Green Party.

“All signals are that we’re heading in the right direction,” said Weaver, a frequent critic of science policy under the former federal Conservative government.

He believes that Duncan “will probably be tasked with bringing back a science commissioner and they’ll probably be reviewing the state of science in Canada, particularly federal government science, which has been in a state of decline through cuts, cuts, cuts.”

Duncan’s department will almost certainly oversee “pure” or “basic” science – the research driven by curiosity that doesn’t result quickly in a better industrial product, in contrast with applied science, or research and development.

“You might even say that the minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development would be tasked with bringing science to work with industry and improve society in an applied manner, whereas (Duncan) would ensure that it is there in the first place.”

Weaver says federal scientists have been forced too heavily into industry-supporting roles. And since research grants for university researchers also fell under the former Industry Canada’s mandate, he says that too much academic research has been shaped with industry in mind as well.

He is also thrilled that climate change is now the business of Environment Canada. Under the Conservatives, the issue had been left with Natural Resources Canada.

“The strongest signal I saw from any of this was having Stéphane Dion, the foreign minister, appointed as chair of the cabinet committee on climate change,” said Weaver.

Another fan of the two-minister system is David Robinson, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers. Recent federal governments leaned “too far in one direction, that is, to the applied science field,” he said.

“We’re not opposed to applied science … but we want to make sure there’s a balance between that and the basic, blue-sky, curiosity-driven work that leads to fundamental paradigm shifts and to innovation down the road.

“Basic science … has really suffered over the past years because of government policy focusing on short-term commercial innovation,” Robinson added...

Why Canada now has two science ministers

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