Monday’s Canadian election resulted in the end of the Harper Government, which has led Canada since 2006. The new ruling party is the Liberal Party, which made a significant turnaround in this election, moving from third in seats to first. The incoming Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, will name his Cabinet on November 4, but we can examine some possible intentions for science and technology policy in Canada based on the election results and the Liberal party platform.
Let’s start with the election results. Only one of the four party representatives at the recent science and technology debate managed to win a seat in the upcoming Parliament. MP Marc Garneau will remain in Parliament, and his experience in the Canadian Space Agency means he may be able to better manage the changes sought in official government (as opposed to Parliamentary) policy.
The Conservatives will now shift to being the Official Opposition (the largest party not in power). However, the current cabinet minister responsible for science and technology, and at least two of his predecessors, lost their seats. The party that was the Official Opposition, the New Democratic Party (NDP), lost several seats, returning to the third largest party in Parliament. (However, they appear to be a more natural ally for the Liberals than the Conservatives) MP Kennedy Stewart, who has championed the establishment of a Parliamentary Science Officer, barely retained his seat. He will likely remain as the NDP science critic.
The Liberal party platform, summarized in this campaign document, focuses on reversing a trend of what they consider the restrictions and isolation of the Harper government. While the policies on media access to government scientists are part of this trend, they may not be the first priority for Trudeau and his cabinet. It may turn out to be something similar to the transition from the Bush to the Obama Administrations. Changes to policies concerning so-called political interference with science were promised, but have not gotten the thorough commitment from the Obama Administration that some would have liked and/or expected.
Put another way, this is a start, and not the end, to the kind of policy changes Canadian scientists have clamored for. Arguably American scientists dropped the ball, and I’d rather not see it happen again north of the border.