Mona Nemer in 2008.

Phillip Jeffrey/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Canada names new chief science adviser

Mona Nemer, a cardiology researcher and vice president of research at the University of Ottawa, has been named Canada's new chief science adviser by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“Scientists need to have a voice,” Trudeau said, making the announcement in Ottawa today.

Nemer's office will have a CA$2 million budget, and she will report to both Trudeau and Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan. Her mandate includes providing scientific advice to government ministers, helping keep government-funded science accessible to the public, and protecting government scientists from being muzzled.She will also deliver an annual report to the prime minister and science minister on the state of federal government science.

Jim Woodgett, director of research at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute in Toronto, knows Nemer well and called her an excellent choice for the job. “Mona's fantastic, she has a very good reputation among Canadian researchers and has had a long and productive career,” he says. “She's got all the cred.”

He added that during her 10 years in university administration, she has picked up political skills as well. “In my interactions with her she has always listened, asked questions and then came to her own decisions, she's not the kind of person who makes rash decisions,” he says.

But Woodgett cautioned his scientific colleagues not to expect the creation of the new position to lead to a big boost in research funding. A report commissioned by Duncan recommended earlier this year that the government increase funding for fundamental science by CA$1.3 billion over the next four years. “A lot of Canadian scientists have an unrealistic idea of the role. She's not there to advocate for research funding, but to provide advice,” he said.

Neither the prime minister nor the science minister made any reference to that report, known as the Naylor report, in their remarks today.

But Katie Gibbs, executive director of the science campaign group Evidence for Democracy in Ottawa, was encouraged by Nemer's own words at the announcement. “She talked a lot about making Canadian science the best in the world,” Gibbs said. “I'm hopeful that she will take up the Naylor report as part of her mandate.”

Gibbs said she was thrilled with the choice, especially because she thinks Nemer's experience as vice president of research gives her an understanding of administration and funding, as well as fundamental research. “She understands the science community and will be a strong voice for us,” Gibbs said.

The appointment comes almost two years after Trudeau first instructed Duncan to appoint a science adviser, and fulfills a promise made by Trudeau during the 2015 campaign. 

Canada's first chief science adviser was appointed in 2004 by Prime Minister Paul Martin of the Liberal Party; the position was eliminated in 2008 by Prime Minister Stephen Harper of the Conservative Party.

Here is the government's official statement:

Ottawa, Ontario

September 26, 2017

The Government of Canada is committed to strengthen science in government decision-making and to support scientists’ vital work.

In keeping with these commitments, the Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, today announced Dr. Mona Nemer as Canada’s new Chief Science Advisor, following an open, transparent, and merit-based selection process.  

We know Canadians value science. As the new Chief Science Advisor, Dr. Nemer will help promote science and its real benefits for Canadians—new knowledge, novel technologies, and advanced skills for future jobs. These breakthroughs and new opportunities form an essential part of the Government’s strategy to secure a better future for Canadian families and to grow Canada’s middle class.

Dr. Nemer is a distinguished medical researcher whose focus has been on the heart, particularly on the mechanisms of heart failure and congenital heart diseases. In addition to publishing over 200 scholarly articles, her research has led to new diagnostic tests for heart failure and the genetics of cardiac birth defects. Dr. Nemer has spent more than ten years as the Vice-President, Research at the University of Ottawa, has served on many national and international scientific advisory boards, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, a Member of the Order of Canada, and a Chevalier de l’Ordre du Québec.

As Canada’s new top scientist, Dr. Nemer will provide impartial scientific advice to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Science. She will also make recommendations to help ensure that government science is fully available and accessible to the public, and that federal scientists remain free to speak about their work. Once a year, she will submit a report about the state of federal government science in Canada to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Science, which will also be made public.

Quotes

“We have taken great strides to fulfill our promise to restore science as a pillar of government decision-making. Today, we took another big step forward by announcing Dr. Mona Nemer as our Chief Science Advisor. Dr. Nemer brings a wealth of expertise to the role. Her advice will be invaluable and inform decisions made at the highest levels. I look forward to working with her to promote a culture of scientific excellence in Canada.”
— The Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada

“A respect for science and for Canada’s remarkable scientists is a core value for our government. I look forward to working with Dr. Nemer, Canada’s new Chief Science Advisor, who will provide us with the evidence we need to make decisions about what matters most to Canadians: their health and safety, their families and communities, their jobs, environment and future prosperity.” 
— The Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science

“I am honoured and excited to be Canada’s Chief Science Advisor. I am very pleased to be representing Canadian science and research – work that plays a crucial role in protecting and improving the lives of people everywhere. I look forward to advising the Prime Minister and the Minister of Science and working with the science community, policy makers, and the public to make science part of government policy making.”
— Dr. Mona Nemer, Chief Science Advisor, Canada