Our New Government: What does this mean for science?

Wednesday, October 23, 2019 - 13:13

Election 2019 has come and gone! 

If you’re like me, you probably stayed up late, watching the votes roll in, and discussing the results with your friends and family. If you’re curious what this new government might mean for science, research, and evidence-based decision-making in Canada, we’ve put together a brief analysis to help you out.

What does our new government look like?

MPs are heading back to Parliament under a Liberal minority government. 

The Liberal party won 157 seats in the House of Commons. The Conservatives remain the official opposition party, with 121 seats, while the NDP ended up with 24 seats, and the Bloc Quebecois gained several seats, landing at 32. The Green Party, for the first time, is now represented by 3 seats in the house. 

All of the leaders of the major parties have retained their seats in the house, except for Maxime Bernier of the People’s Party. 

What is a minority government and what does it mean?

A minority government is formed when no single political party has the majority of seats in the House. In a minority, passing new legislation requires the support of other members in the house. The upside is that this can lead to more cooperation among parties. The downside is minority governments tend to be less stable and don’t usually last the full 4 years until the next scheduled election. 

Justin Trudeau continues as our Prime Minister and in coming days he will be reviewing the state of his Cabinet and shuffling things around as needed. 

What can we expect for science and research with this government?

Given that no single party received a strong mandate to govern, it’s hard to make predictions about what will be the priorities and focus areas of the incoming parliament. But a number of the parties that will likely need to work together to govern have previously shown support for science. 

For starters, the returning Liberals have a strong track record of support for science. Over the past four years, they have invested new money in fundamental research, provided new funds for graduate scholarships, brought in a Chief Science Advisor and implemented scientific integrity policies allowing for scientists to speak freely about their work. 

During the election, through their platform and our science policy questionnaire, the Liberals indicated support for science and research in a number of ways. This includes:

  • A commitment to keep the Chief Science Advisor role, as well as implement Departmental Science Advisors
  • Full implementation of scientific integrity policies
  • Continuation of their past investments/programs for research and trainees 

We know the Liberals will need to work with other parties in order to pass legislation. As indicated by our science policy questionnaire, both the NDP and the Green Party support several important facets of science and research in Canada, including a Chief Science Advisor, full implementation of the Fundamental Science Review recommendations, increased funding for federal science and measures to increase openness and transparency in science. We did not receive a questionnaire response from the Conservative Party. 

Based on this there seems to be a lot of opportunities for cross-party collaboration in support of science, transparency, and evidence-based policies. 

Other election takeaways

One key takeaway from this election, is that the majority of Canadians voted for parties that have strong plans for climate action. Collectively the Liberals, NDP, Bloc and Greens all agree that the climate crisis is an emergency and all support the federal price on carbon. Hopefully this will mean cross-party cooperation for bold, science-based climate action in the coming months and years. 

Additionally, the People’s Party of Canada and their leader Maxime Bernier, who ran on an anti-science platform including that climate change was not caused by humans were clearly rejected by Canadians. They only received 1.6% of the popular vote and Bernier lost his seat in Parliament.

A number of science champions from the last Parliament will be returning to the House. For the Liberals, Science Minister Kirsty Duncan, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains, and Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna were all re-elected. Science critics for the other parties were also re-elected, with Micheal Chong (Conservative) and Brian Masse (NDP) returning to the House. While Green Party science critic Amita Kuttner was not elected, the Greens are returning with a larger caucus of 3 MPs. Trudeau will announce his new cabinet on November 20th with parties announcing their critics shortly after, so we’ll see in a few weeks if they will be staying in these portfolios.   

What now for our community?

It was incredibly inspiring to see the way scientists came together around the #VoteScience campaign! Going forward, especially in a minority government situation, we will have to work extra hard to keep science and evidence on the agenda. Advocacy for science and evidence-based policies is always important, but this is especially true in a minority government. We also need to keep in mind that another election could be called at any time and be ready to engage our candidates all over again. Over the coming weeks and months we’ll be watching for key points where you can push for science, so stay tuned!

Kimberly Girling

Research and Policy Director

Kimberly Girling completed a PhD in Neuroscience at the University of British Columbia. During her work as a scientist, she developed a passion for science policy, and has participated in a number of initiatives relating to global and public health, drug policy and harm reduction.