On September 23rd, after Parliament was prorogued for 36 days, Governor General Julie Payette delivered the Speech from the Throne which outlined the government’s priorities as COVID-19 continues to present pressing challenges.
The Speech broke down plans in four main priority areas: protecting Canadians from COVID-19; supporting Canadians through this crisis; building back better; and defending Canadian values while ensuring they are lived experiences for everyone.
While the Speech from the Throne covered a wide range of issues, here are a few highlights that may be of interest to our community that pertain to science, research, and evidence-informed policy.
Steps to protect and support people during COVID-19
The Speech outlined ongoing commitments to continue to address the pandemic, including plans to support provinces and territories in increasing COVID-19 testing capacity and speed, growing Canadian capacity for manufacturing PPE, and continuing to support research in the search for a COVID-19 vaccine. The government also announced plans to extend several COVID-19 relief plans including the wage subsidy and an expanded EI program, and indicated plans to continue moving forward on universal pharmacare.
Action on the climate crisis
As a part of a plan to “build back better”, the government outlined several steps that indicated they are still committed to taking actions on the climate crisis. This included bringing forward a plan to exceed the 2030 climate goals, legislating the goal of net zero emissions by 2050, launching a new fund to support clean tech development, supporting communities transitioning away from coal, and continuing with plans to put a price on pollution. The speech also outlined plans to protect Canadian land and water.
Support for a “knowledge economy”
A focus of the Speech was on addressing unemployment as a result of the pandemic, with plans to create over 1 million jobs, by helping Canadians grow new skills, get education or accreditation they need, and connect with employers. They also indicated plans to support youth in finding employment.
Support for equity and diversity
The Speech recognized that the pandemic has differentially impacted marginalized communities including racialized groups and women. To address this, the government announced several new plans including an action plan to support women in re-entering the economy, new long term investment in child care, support for Canadians with disabilities, new plans to collect more disaggregated data during COVID-19, and commitments to continue action on Understanding the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. As well, steps were announced to address systemic racism in Canada, particularly in the RCMP.
What was missing from the speech with respect to science?
While it’s encouraging that the government continues to emphasize the importance of science and evidence-informed decision-making, the Speech did not directly mention supporting science and research or safeguarding science advice. With the Chief Science Advisor’s three year mandate ending today, there still haven’t been any announcements on how to protect or grow this role to meet the challenges ahead (despite the open letter we sent to the government this month). As well, while the government announced plans to support skill building, there was a lack of clear language on how these plans will support scientific trainees like graduate students, who represent a core component of the future knowledge economy and are facing challenges, or on how to continue to support fundamental research in Canada. Also, while systemic racism was a key factor in the speech, it will be important to see how the government supports equity and diversity across all sectors, including in our research community.
As we continue to respond to COVID-19 and enter a second wave it is critical that our government supports mechanisms that support science and evidence-informed policy. The next months will be essential to see how the government responds to meet this immense challenge, and all challenges to come.