Thursday, September 18, 2008

Science and polittics: Canadian elections

While the world watches the run-up to the US election in a background of near economic collapse few noticed that Canadians will also go to the polls this fall. Canadian's themselves seem to be paying attention to the south more than their own backyard (66% favor Obama, 14% McCain). While there was some coverage of science issues in the US election we have yet to hear much about it in Canada. A quick look at the campaign sites of the 5 major parties shows that all focus to some degree on global warming but don't delve much deeper. Liberals are pushing their "green shift" but don't pay much attention to other science issues. Conservatives don't seem to have a definite plan but like to boast about their environmental record. The NDP mentions both environmental protection and the increasingly popular cap-and-trade system. The green party is not-surprisingly the most thorough. The Bloc Quebecois have a nice video.

So over the next weeks we'll try to see how the different parties stack up on science issues. Yes the environment is a particularly pressing one, but there are many others: science funding, reinstating a scientific advisor etc...

leave it to Nature, a British journal, to have the best editorial and news on the issue so far...

follow the link for more reading:

Indeed, many Canadian scientists are seeing, and complaining about, an undue emphasis on commercially focused research over long-term basic research. Such complaints are heard in many other countries too. But in Canada the problem is compounded by the fact that the current government has channelled new science funds into four restrictive priority areas — natural resources, environment, health and information technology — and that scientists are often required to scrounge matching funds from elsewhere to top up their grants. Furthermore, the government this month defined sub-priority areas that mix in obvious commercial influences: alongside 'Arctic monitoring', for example, sits 'energy production from the oil sands'.


Kamel said...

I've been warming up for taking a run at this topic - good job getting it started.

As a question for our readers, what are the science issues you'd like to see the parties address?

Anonymous said...

If their strong environmental platform isn't strong enough to persuade you to vote Green, their platform also includes legalizing (and taxing!) marijuana.

Anonymous Coward said...

Intellectual property and patenting law in biomedicine

open access to government funded research

keeping up with rising powers in terms of funding and innovation

re-instating a science adviser post

addressing millennium developmental goals

environmental protection

alternative medicine consumer protection and regulation (C51)

Addressing the paucity of jobs in research and Canada and contemplating the Irish model

Providing funding infrastructure to biotechnology in Canada so that our incubators don't end up being acquired by foreign companies even though our tax money took on the risk of the original public research.

Making sure our policy decisions in waste disposal, public health, warfare, arctic development, energy etc... are well grounded in science (hence the need for a science advisor).

And that's just off the top of my head please contribute more. These obviously have a large overlap with what American citizens should also expect from their own government.

Corey said...

I seem to remember an international organization finding the NDP to have a better environmental than the green party. I don't remember where I read that though

Anonymous said...

"Addressing the paucity of jobs in research and Canada and contemplating the Irish model"

What is the Irish model?

Anonymous Coward said...

"In Ireland, as in many small countries, there is now a
particular difficulty with the funding of post-graduate
research. Given the low levels of ‘pay’ (the word is used
advisedly) and the low cost of support for post-graduates,
it would appear that this is a good way of producing
employment for the benefit of the country as a whole. It
also offers industry a very valuable and cost-effective way
of getting research completed."

Anonymous Coward said...

from, this paper

Anonymous said...

I can't see the paper, but I still don't get it. That quote translates to me as: "Grad students are cheap and can be exploited. Use them as labour." Isn't that sort of what already happens? How does that 'address the paucity of jobs'? What happens to this graduate student 'workforce' when it graduates?

Anonymous said...

OK, I managed to get the first page of the paper (no abstract so it was a 'preview').

It sounds like the Irish model is to make it attractive for foreign companies to set up shop to perform R&D in Ireland. Your quote would suggest that part of it is a cheap, well-trained workforce, but part of (the first page of) that paper talks about tax-breaks and grants for these foreign companies to make Ireland more inviting. Doesn't that run counter to your next point about "Providing funding infrastructure to biotechnology in Canada so that our incubators don't end up being acquired by foreign companies even though our tax money took on the risk of the original public research."

I could be way off though - I can only see part of the paper.

Anonymous said...

Yeah I guess I'm advocating for home-grown Biotech R&D to take advantage of all the trained qualified workforce that graduate student present. I mean nothing has happened since Biochem Pharma and QLT, and from what I can gather from entrepreneurs, what is missing in the picture isn't so much tax breaks, but investment capital. But even if you just consider tax breaks somehow countries like Ireland offer more because all the R&D from Merk and Pfizer that used to happen here has set up shop there....

Anonymous Coward said...

Israel is pretty good example of a hotbed for homegrown biotech and part of the reason is industry grants and royalty sharing deals with the government. But there is probably more to it...