As part of last week’s Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC), MP Kennedy Stewart, Official Opposition Critic for Science and Technology, released a paper on behalf of the New Democrat Party (NDP). The NDP is new to the role of Official Opposition, and MP Stewart is new to Parliament, though he is on leave from Simon Fraser University’s School of Public Policy.
(Regardless of how well the paper is received, I think this is an excellent sign of how well the CSPC and its organizers have done over the past few years to raise the profile of science and technology policy in Canada.)
The paper is titled Toward a National Science Policy, and sketches the NDP’s conception of federal science policy with an eye toward soliciting public input. At the end of the paper, there are three questions that MP Stewart is looking for responses from the Canadian public:
- What is the main policy problem regarding science and its advancement in Canada?
- What do you believe causes this problem?
- What can be done to fix this problem?
Great questions, and hopefully a large number of Canadians will respond. The paper is worth reading, especially if the NDP follows through with its promise to make it the first of several science policy papers. Because this paper, on its own, does not give a comprehensive assessment of the Canadian science and technology policy enterprise. It really focuses on funding – not just the budget, but also who performs the funded research in Canada. That’s an important piece of the entire enterprise, but I don’t want to see my Canadian colleagues fall into the tunnel vision that occasionally transfixes well meaning science and technology policy researchers and decision makers about budgets.
I also want to caution the NDP to remember that researchers are not their only target audience for science and technology policy. I feel I have to raise this due to language on page 2 (page 3 in the digital file):
“Responses to these questions will be reported in a future NDP National Science Policy “Orange” Paper. In addition to outlining identified problems, the Orange Paper – much like a traditional government green paper – will propose a series of options for each problem. The scientific community will also be invited to comment upon, modify, or propose new options to solve identified problems and help drive science policy for Canada.”
To bastardize some Star Trek (“The Omega Glory,”[[ original series), science and technology policies must apply to everyone, or they mean nothing! Policies are not just for those who are directly obligated by them, but for everyone in the polis.
This paper is a great development. It may not be as detailed as similar papers in the U.K., though that may emerge from the entire series of papers. I think the engagement model, done outside of the traditional party conference, may help make whatever science and technology policies the NDP advocate for more representative of (and responsive to) the interests of all Canadians.