Naylor Report provides clear roadmap for science in Canada, but will the government get in the driver's seat?

Ahead of the March for Science, Katie Gibbs & Kathleen Walsh detail how the Canadian science community is unifying around the Fundamental Science Review, and why the March's message is still relevant in Canada. 

From muzzling of federal scientists to a Chief Science Advisor, science has become the centrepiece of many political conversations in Canada. We have come a long way since scientists marched on Parliament Hill in the summer of 2012, decrying the “death of evidence.” As Canadian scientists plan to march once again on April 22 in solidarity with our American counterparts - now is the time to take stock of how far science in Canada has come and how far we still have to go to be an international leader.

Since October 2015, Prime Minister Trudeau has aimed to create a great deal of change for Canadian science. The government has committed to codifying science integrity policies, creating a new Chief Science Advisor, and gave a $95 million funding bump for the tri-council granting agencies in the 2016 budget-- all welcomed victories. Among these wins, the Minister of Science initiated a Canada-wide Fundamental Science Review last spring, appointing an expert panel to consult with researchers, scientific institutions, and science advocates, to report on the state of fundamental science in Canada.

Canadian scientists should celebrate these successes. However, while understanding that 10 years of regressive science policy won’t be undone overnight, we must continue to look forward. This week the expert panel for the Fundamental Science Review, headed by Dr. David Naylor, released its long-awaited report, which is indeed forward-looking, as well as comprehensive, and hopeful. The report includes an accurate painting of just how grave the situation is for fundamental science in Canada. In the context of science internationally, the report’s recommendations are well-timed. In the context of Canadian fundamental science, the observations are pertinent: gender disparities exist at many levels, Canada is falling behind our international peers in funding, and the four agencies (NSERC, CIHR, SSHRC, CFI) together present a largely uncoordinated ecosystem that isn’t reaching its potential.

The expert panel takes two approaches to ameliorating our beleaguered fundamental science system: improved coordination between the various science funding bodies and reinvesting in research. The recommended additional $1.3 billion research funding boost could put Canada on track to catch up with its peers in gross domestic expenditure on research and development. The proposed National Advisory Council on Research and Innovation would aid in coordinating the four agencies’ review practices, structures and agendas, and would help harmonize research funding across the federal and provincial landscape.

Most impressively, the expert panel goes beyond dollars and cents, calling for the federal government to consider hard targets and quotas to address the significant gender inequality at nearly all stages of the research pipeline. Importantly, the panel also points out the need to more actively fund and promote Indigenous research, guided by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report. The acknowledgment of gendered and racialized barriers to research and the academic lifecycle of Canadian scientists shows a refreshingly progressive analysis of the constraints to the exceleration and betterment of fundamental science for all Canadians.

Over the last 10 years, the Canadian science community, in its many forms, has marched, written open letters, and lobbied government. We’ve worked amongst ourselves, with voters, and with the government to see that Canadian science is respected for its important place in our democracy, and is well-funded, transparent, and free from political interference. We have had some successes, and a few failures, yet the scientific community in Canada has been resolute in its commitment to these priorities.

The Naylor report as a whole, and the solid, comprehensive recommendations therein, constitute a roadmap for the Liberal government to rebuild fundamental science. The 200 page report is not presented as a damning indictment of the government, but rather a long-term, forward-thinking and ambitious agenda for establishing Canada as an international leader in science. The way to ensure action, as Dr. Naylor said, is through a common message from the science community. So, if this report is the roadmap, it’s up to scientists and the public to get the government in the driver’s seat, and keep them heading in the right direction.  We need to be unified. We need to to be vocal. On April 22nd, we march.

Kathleen Walsh

Director of Policy

Kathleen Walsh is driven by a passion for social innovation and finding ways to make policy more efficient, inclusive, and evidence-based. She serves as Evidence for Democracy's Director of Policy, and was previously the organization's Interim Executive Director.