Science in the Elections – More a Priority in the U.K. than in Canada

This week there are elections in both Canada and in the non-English portions of the  United Kingdom – Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  The Canadian elections happened yesterday, and the Conservative Party managed to finally win a majority of the seats in the Canadian House of Commons.  It had governed with a minority (technically a plurality) since early 2006.  The U.K. elections are scheduled for Thursday and will affect the legislatures in each of the involved nations, which have jurisdiction over certain policy issues and have limited taxation authority.  It’s not federalism as such, but a devolution of authority from the U.K. government (which is why these are referred to as devolved elections).

While it’s all too easy to make facile comparisons between Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President George W. Bush, there are other issues facing Canada and Canadian science policy that the new Conservative majority won’t change so much as continue (how the new leading opposition party will handle things is an open question, at least to a Yank like me).  Canada’s resource-heavy economy still lacks the scientific and science policy infrastructures of its southern neighbor or its mother country, and the current government is hardly conservative about how it changes government practices.

While in the U.K. science funding is as challenged by the government’s budgetary cuts as other programs, there are plenty of government advisers in place with scientific training, and entities like the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) have managed to keep science as an issue, even in the devolved campaigns.  As evidence of this, review the work CaSE has done summarized in it’s May 2011 bulletin and on its blog.  Of particular note is that 12 of the 14 parties running in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland have responded to CaSE’s letter requesting an outline of their policies and priorities in the upcoming election.  While not all of those responses are particularly detailed, few of the party platforms for the Canadian parties give details or address all relevant research sectors in the nation.  And in response to a letter asking for responses about policies for how government scientists can communicate to the public, only one party answered.

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