With less than 10 days before the Parliamentary elections, representatives of four of Canada’s major parties participated in a science debate hosted by the CBC radio program Quirks and Quarks. Program host Bob McDonald moderated the debate, as he did for a local science debate in Victoria, British Columbia last month. The full audio is available for listening.
There were representatives participating from the ruling Conservative Party, the Official Opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), the Liberal Party, and the Green Party. Questions covered greenhouse gas emissions, the Conservatives’ policy on managing communications by government scientists about their research, and the parties stances on federal funding of research.
Notably each of the representatives were either trained in science and technology and/or have experience with those issues in government. The Conservative representative was Gary Goodyear, who served for a time as Minister of State for Science and Technology under Prime Minister Harper. The NDP representative was Megan Leslie, who has represented her party in Parliament as Critic (the Canadian term for a shadow minister) for Health and for Environment. Marc Garneau represented the Liberal Party. He is a former Canadian astronaut and headed the Canadian Space Agency prior to running for office. His training is in physics and electrical engineering. Representing the Green Party was Lynne Quarmby, who is the Chair of the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at Simon Fraser University.
What would be the American equivalent of this debate? Controlling for the differences between our presidential system and the Canadian parliamentary system, I think it could be one of two possible scenarios:
- A debate between the Chairs and Ranking Members of the Congressional committees involved in science and technology matters. As the number of committees engaged in those topics grows, it’s no longer accurate to say that one particular committee (really two, one for each chamber in Congress) is the definitive science and technology committee. This arrangement could be done for every election year, not just the ones where a presidential race is on the ballot.
- A debate between the leaders of the major science and technology agencies in Congress and designees from the relevant campaigns. In the case of an election with no incumbent President, it would be all designees. I think this would be problematic because I would not expect candidates to have their potential agency heads identified months in advance of the election. I also think the potential debaters may be reluctant to participate for concerns over making a future confirmation hearing more difficult for them. An advantage, I think, for the parliamentary cross-party debates is that the participants are typically themselves up for election. But the stronger division between the executive and legislative branches in the U.S. presidential system has advantages I’d rather not give up.
The equivalent debate would probably be on Science Friday and/or C-SPAN Radio, assuming there were willing participants. Given the circus atmosphere surrounding our presidential debates (which is not unique to this year), I’d understand any reluctance to participate in something which would require more detail and ask for additional scrutiny than the broader gabfests we’ve gotten used to in the U.S.
But back to the Canadians. I’m very happy to see that they were able to organize and execute a debate like yesterday’s as quickly as they did. May you all have a happy Thanksgiving and get out to vote on the 19th.