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Safeguarding Science Advice in Canada


The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated just how crucial science advice is for protecting the health, safety, and well-being of individuals and communities. As we’ve watched this crisis unfold internationally, we’ve seen world leaders take varied approaches when it comes to the use of science in decision-making. Ignoring the evidence has clear, devastating consequences.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has reappointed Dr. Mona Nemer as Canada’s Chief Science Advisor! This is a critical step towards safeguarding the future of science advice. Now, we are calling on the government to make additional updates including a refreshed and expanded mandate, and protection for the role through legislation.

Throughout the pandemic we have seen our government take clear steps to prioritize science and evidence-based decision-making. Without mechanisms to support science advice and evidence-based policy in our federal government, the outcome could have been very different.

Now it’s time to make sure a voice for science remains. 

In 2017, the government implemented a federal Chief Science Advisor (CSA) to ensure government science is fully available to the public, to allow government scientists to speak freely about their work, and to support the use of strong science in government decisions.

Over the past three years, Canada’s CSA, Dr. Mona Nemer and her dedicated team have played a critical role supporting science and evidence-informed decision-making, especially in the time of COVID-19, including:

  • Leading on the development of Scientific Integrity Policies, now implemented in science departments, which allow government scientists to speak openly about their work;
  • Developing a Roadmap for Open Science;
  • Assembling and working with multidisciplinary expert panels to provide science advice on COVID-19 and leading multiple task forces to address specific issues around COVID-19;
  • Leading CANCovid, a Canada-wide network of health, science, and policy researchers to facilitate COVID-19 research collaboration;
  • Calling for open access to COVID-19 publications;
  • Creating a Youth Council to support the CSA and engage young leaders;
  • Working with international colleagues to construct global solutions to COVID-19 and;
  • Expanding the network of Departmental Science Advisors to provide support on issues of science and technology across the federal government.

Unfortunately the current term of the CSA is set to expire in September of 2020. With no new announcements on updates to the office’s funding or mandate, the future of science advice is uncertain.

As we continue to adapt and respond to the evolving challenge of COVID-19, and as we look towards rebuilding, science advice must remain at the forefront of government decision-making. The world has changed since Dr. Mona Nemer started her term as CSA almost three years ago, but the need for strong science advice in government has solidified and grown. The position of CSA must reflect the changing landscape globally and here in Canada and must be protected to ensure it can stand up to future challenges, emergencies, and changes in government.

In order to protect the role of federal science advice in Canada we recommend that the Government of Canada:

  • Formalize the CSA position by enshrining the position in legislation;
  • Expand and update the CSA mandate to reflect the changing landscape of science including: maintaining a science and technology (S&T) lens in Canada’s COVID-19 recovery plan; developing a national S&T strategy that engages provinces, territories and Indigenous governments; supporting work on equity, diversity, and inclusion, including work on integrating Indigenous knowledge in policy; ensuring adherence to Scientific Integrity Policies and the Open Science Roadmap; supporting S&T foresight capacity; and leading a whole-of-government review of evidence-informed decision-making;
  • Provide $2 million in additional annual funding to the Office of the CSA to support increased capacity to carry out a revitalized mandate.

That’s why we are sending an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, and Minister of Innovation, Science, and Industry Navdeep Bains. You can read the full open letter here. 

Having a Chief Science Advisor to provide leadership on science advice in federal decision-making is something we fought for together in the science community and we are lucky to have this champion in Canada. Let’s keep it that way. 

The period to sign this open letter has ended. We are now sending this open letter, with over 2000 signatures of support, to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, and Minister of Innovation, Science, and Industry Navdeep Bains. We will keep our community and all those who signed updated on the progress of this campaign. Stay tuned for more ways to take action!

Please join us in thanking the government for taking this important step and calling on them to implement our outstanding recommendations. The below tools will allow you to reach out to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Minister Chrystia Freeland, and Minister Navdeep Bains:

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