Science & Policy Exchange welcomes new Chief Science Advisor

By: Shawn McGuirk

September 26, 2017

Science & Policy Exchange congratulates and welcomes Dr. Nemer as the new federal CSA

Yesterday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Science Minister Kirsty Duncan introduced Canada’s new Chief Science Advisor as University of Ottawa’s Dr. Mona Nemer. Dr. Nemer will be leaving her position as a heart researcher and Vice President of Research at University of Ottawa to give scientific advice to the Prime Minister and Minister of Science, as well as ensure transparency of government.

As an entirely student run organization, SPE is unique in its capacity to bring a student voice to science policy matters at the provincial, federal, and international levels. In doing so, we also provide interested students with firsthand experience in science policy, as there are limited avenues for students to breach this field.

SPE co-President Shawn McGuirk notes,

"We are overjoyed to welcome Mona Nemer as our new Chief Science Advisor, with whom we hope to develop strong ties much like we have with the Chief Scientist of Québec, Rémi Quirion, over the last few years. We particularly look forward to the formation of Dr. Nemer's student advisory committee, which we hope will follow the model of Quirion's Comité Intersectoriel Étudiant and New Zealand Chief Science Advisor Peter Gluckman's own Science Policy Exchange which was itself developed from our model."

"Most importantly, we need to make sure this position is a permanent one - one of the keys of science advice in Canada is in the strength of the office that represents it at the highest level."

On the role of the Chief Science Advisor in Canada

As put in an article in CBC by Merhdad Hariri, CEO of the Canadian Science Policy Centre,

"A national scientific adviser is a critical position to ensure science is on the agenda every time the government considers a policy".

This is echoed by a piece from Paul Dufour (Fellow and Adjunct Professor, Institute for Science, Society and Policy, University of Ottawa) and Arthur Carty (Inaugural Executive Director of the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology and former National Science Advisor) in Research Money from last year, who note of the position:

"Firstly, it is advisory, hence advice can be implemented, deferred or ignored. Secondly, it requires serious resources. A well-funded secretariat with capable and knowledgeable professionals is a sine qua non, and must be supported by an open Science Advisory Council. Thirdly, the CSA must have some form of independence from political interference and be quickly able to establish trust with the communities served — both across the government and with the other stakeholders in research, education, business and civil society.

The position demands the ability to marshal sound evidence from all sources, domestic and international. Public outreach, consultation and communication — a touchstone of the current administration — will be key. It will be critical in getting past bureaucratic risk aversion and rivalries that tend to stifle or ignore the dissemination of useful advice. That the position may eventually be legislated to prevent its easy removal as administrations change is also to be applauded."

Although it is not in the mandate of the Chief Science Advisor, per se, to advocate for the adoption of the recommendations of the Naylor report, in particular the reinvestment of 1.3B$ into fundamental research, we do hope that Dr. Nemer will do her best to ensure this issue is addressed by the Trudeau government in a timely manner. SPE co-President Vanessa Sung further stresses the importance of these recommendations to students:

"Students and young researchers are crucial and generally unrepresented stakeholders in these discussions, particularly as their futures are dependent on funding levels. We look forward to further actions that support the report, and we hope to have fruitful discussions with Dr. Nemer on this topic and many others in the near future."

Read the Government of Canada’s press release here.

Click here to read and sign our open letter to support the Naylor report from the student perspective.