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Stewarding investments in science

Dear friends and colleagues: Last week I officially joined the Evidence for Democracy team and community. I have been welcomed by a talented team and Board of Directors, as well as an enthusiastic community of supporters. It has been a welcome like no other and I am so thankful for your support.
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Starting a new job in the dog days of a global pandemic presents its own challenges. Starting a new job that deals primarily with the use of science-based evidence in government decision-making at this time adds some additional dimensions to these challenges. Our current predicament casts so much of our work into new light. Our Evidence in Action report about how Members of Parliament access information is more relevant than ever. Same too for our body of work on science integrity and our upcoming reports on transparency and misinformation.

So here’s the thing. I have to talk about COVID-19. I have to talk about what we are living through because it is, in large part, the reason that E4D exists. We are in the grips of a historic and very public exchange between science and policy at every level of government. While I hope to one day be able to share more with you about the journey that brought me to E4D, for now, I wish to share some (modest) reflections on Canadian science and how it is unfolding amid the current state of affairs.

But let’s start at the beginning. By joining E4D, I am fortunate to continue playing a role in the Canadian science enterprise by working with organizations built on grassroots advocacy. I previously held roles with Genome Canada and Mitacs which, like E4D, were founded thanks to the grassroots efforts of scientists who brought forth long-term visions that would help ensure all communities in Canada benefit from transformative discoveries and applications of science.

Thanks to this kind of advocacy, Canada today has a robust science ecosystem and we are seeing the benefits of these long-term investments in real time. Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, this ecosystem has responded by turning its attention to the development of testing and tracing technologies, vaccines, therapeutics, treatments, and more. Public investments in science that span decades are the very foundations helping us find our way out of this crisis.

Another important dimension of science that has come to life over the course of the pandemic is around the appropriate balance of evidence in government decision-making. Related to this are the systems and resources that must be in place to ensure the best available evidence is brought to bear on the matters of the day. The last year has brought forth a remarkable cast of scientific experts in Canada – Chief Medical Officers, Chief Public Health Officers, Science Advisors – who have demonstrated great skill in making sense of complex information under immense pressure and an ever-changing evidence base. They have also shown great resilience when faced with the many ups and downs of the decisions made by the governments they serve.

Figuring out how to calibrate these shifting dynamics into our work at E4D is top of mind as we narrow in on our priorities for the year ahead. In the short term, we are focused on how the upcoming federal budget might impact Canadian science. Yesterday I sat down with the E4D team to prepare for this long-awaited budget, set to be tabled on April 19th. We will be dissecting the implications of this budget against the recommendations we called for in our pre-budget submission in three main areas: ensuring governments and the public can find and use evidence, transparency and openness, and support for research and data collection. We will also be looking for commitments to strengthen the role of science advice, including the protection of the role of Chief Science Advisor through legislation.

The volume of demands to be met in this budget is substantial, which makes the efficient use of public resources more important than ever. But investments in science cannot be put aside. Science-based evidence has been a critical guide for government decisions this past year and we must carry this lesson forward from the pandemic, recognizing that evidence – and those who steward it – is essential in the face of all our grand challenges.

I hope that you will join us as we continue this work. I hope you see yourself reflected in the legacy of science advocates who have made it possible for evidence to be at the table right now, helping lead us toward better days. Ever onwards!


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