Inquiring into Ontario science and research

Mardi, juin 11, 2019 - 13:58

A few months back, we shared an update on science and research in Ontario, including some concerns about potential reductions in funding for scientific research and an update on our work regarding the dismissal of the Chief Scientist. In February, we sent a letter to Premier Ford reminding him of the importance of the position and inquiring about the status of hiring a replacement Chief Scientist for Ontario.

 At the time, we submitted two Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to the Ontario government. The first inquired about any documents discussing potential changes to funding for research programs, and the other asked for all documents (including written communication) pertaining to efforts to fill the vacant position of Ontario Chief Scientist. What we got back was disappointing. Regarding research funding, we were denied access to most documents on the grounds that they were protected under specific exemptions including Cabinet Records, Advice to Government, and Solicitor Client Privilege. The records that were available to us could only be accessed with the payment of a prohibitive fee, and, given the conditions of the exempted materials, the accessible information is likely to lack significant value.

As for our request for information regarding the Chief Scientist, the response from the Ontario government came up with two records. We were granted access to one record in full: a short email thread. The thread, from November 2018, contained talking points positioned to the media regarding the current status of the position. The points were as follows:

  • Whenever a new government is elected, it is common for the appointees of the previous government to be reviewed and in some cases replaced.
  • I want to thank them for their time and work in the public service.
  • We are reviewing each of their roles and jobs and I can promise you that we are bringing in a great team of highly qualified individuals to support the government and to support the people of Ontario.

Based on this, we haven’t seen any indication that the Ontario government has made any efforts to fill the Chief Scientist position.

The role of Chief Scientist is key to ensuring evidence is used in policy and decision-making and helps to coordinate research locally and across provinces. It also ensures that the province has a research strategy and helps to build public trust in science. Without a qualified candidate championing this role, science can fall to the wayside and Ontario risks losing its position as a leader in science and technology.

Send a message to Premier Ford and your MPP that Ontario needs a Chief Scientist to help ensure policy decisions are backed by robust evidence.

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.