Many Canadian scientists are celebrating the result of yesterday’s federal election, which saw Stephen Harper’s Conservative government defeated after nearly 10 years in power.
The center-left Liberal Party under Justin Trudeau won an unexpected majority government, taking 184 of the 338 seats in the House of Commons. The Conservatives will form the opposition with 99 seats, while the left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) fell to third place with just 44 seats.
“Many scientists will be pleased with the outcome,” says Jim Woodgett, director of research at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto. “The Liberal party has a strong record in supporting science.”
Harper’s government had been extremely unpopular with scientists, who accused it of ignoring evidence in policymaking, preventing government researchers from speaking publicly about their work, and focusing too much funding on commercially driven applied research. The Liberals have promised to reinstate the position of chief scientific officer, restore the mandatory long-form census, lift the “muzzle” on government researchers, and invest more in basic research. Trudeau has also said his party will embrace “evidence based policy” and “data-driven decision-making,” do more to address climate change, protect endangered species, and review the environmental impact of major energy and development projects.
Woodgett welcomes those pledges, but warns that they would not address the larger issue of what he sees as the government’s neglect of basic research funding. “I hope we will see less short-term thinking and much greater support for discovery research going forward,” he says. “We are at serious risk of a lost generation of scientists and it’s critical that younger researchers are given a clear indication that Canada is open to their ideas and needs.”
Science advocates plan to watch the new government closely to ensure it lives up to its promises. “Great to see Harper gone, but another majority is an awfully big blank cheque,” wrote Michael Rennie, a freshwater ecologist at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, on Twitter.
Katie Gibbs, executive director of the science advocacy group Evidence for Democracy, today read an open letter to the new government on CBC radio’s national morning program The Current, urging it to rebuild the country’s science and research capacity, reinvest in fundamental research, and base policy decision on solid evidence. “Your new government has the opportunity to re-establish Canada as a leader in science, innovation, and evidence-based decision-making,” she said. “You have lots of work to do in order to restore our reputation as a leader in science and technology both home and abroad.”
Among the lawmakers who lost their seats yesterday were Conservative science minister Ed Holder and his predecessor Greg Rickford, who presided over the withdrawal of government funding from the internationally renowned Experimental Lakes Area in northern Ontario. NDP science critic Kennedy Stewart won re-election in his Vancouver-area riding in a close race.