Science Policy and the Canadian Election – or maybe not.

Tomorrow we vote.

So we’re down to it – only one day left until the Canadian Federal Election, although many who are more organized than I am have already voted in the advance polls. As usual, our beloved national broadcaster has aggregated a lot of content on a dedicated set of webpages, so if you’re really interested in following this, that’s the best place to start that I know of.

Most of the rhetoric so far seems to have centred around the integrity of the existing Conservative government, and about broadly-painted statements about families, taxes, and jobs – no surprises there. Despite some assertions I’ve heard, science funding has been a complete non-issue. Concerns over funding for Geome Canada, for example, which were a big deal following being shut out of the 2009 budget, seem to have largely disappeared. Unsurprising really, in an environment where this election is more about the existing government positioning itself to transition from minority to majority rule, and the two second-runners (the Liberal and confusingly-named New Democratic parties) jockeying for that important “Official Opposition” designation, and maybe, just maybe, sneaking in to power.

Still, I’d thought I’d look at the major parties and see if there were any hints as to their positions on science funding, especially given all the recent activity around this topic on the other side of the Atlantic. This is what I found out… or, as you’ll see, for the most part, didn’t find out.

First off – we have lots of political parties in Canada. Some are reasonable, some less so. I can’t be bothered worrying about most of them, but if you’re interested, the official list is here. The major players, in no particular order, are these five:

1. Bloc Québécois. Their policy document makes only vague allusions to being supportive of research, in particular industrial research. No mention is made of science or basic research per se. Not surprising, really, since separation from Canada and self-rule is their major raison d’être.

2. Green Party. You can debate all you like about whether this is a party worth worrying about. Their platform‘s only references to science and research are in the budget portion, and involve proposals to cancel research by Atomic Energy Canada, and stop federally funded GMO research.

3. Conservative Party of Canada. The incumbents’ platform has the most detail – not surprisingly, since they were able to propose a detailed federal budget recently. There are rather modest budget allocations, of $44 million per year, going forward. The recent budget, which is now tabled pending the election, included lines for the government-funded research councils, Genome Canada, and some other initiatives – nothing earth-shattering, but at least something defined. All indications suggest that if elected, the budget will stand as previously presented.

4. Liberal Party. Until very recently, the major threat to the incumbents. Their platform, which you can find in summary here or in much greater detail here, essentially says nothing about science and research funding, but namechecks similar target areas to the Conservatives, including environmental concerns and neuroscience.

5. New Democratic Party. Don’t be fooled by the name, they’re socialists, and depending which poll you believe, may be ahead of the Liberals. A “costing document”, in essence a mini-budget-proposal, makes no mention of science or research at all. The expanded platform document uses the term “science-based” for monitoring of oil sands mining impact, and of medical “formularies”, mentions a “Green Bond Fund” for green research, “moving towards more publicly funded research and development” for medicines, and research into the Status of Women (their capitals, not mine). None of this is mentioned in the costing document, however.

So there you have it – vague in the extreme. Of course, science and research funding isn’t any kind of platform issue in this election, so we shouldn’t really be surprised by this lack of detail. And arguably, Canadians have many more important things to worry about at the moment. But at least I’ve established one thing for myself – looking for guidance on which way to vote based on science policy is pretty hopeless at the moment, at least in this country.

For more whimsy about the last time Canadians had to go to the polls, by all means read my previous post.

About Richard Wintle

I am Canadian by heritage, and a molecular biologist and human geneticist by training. My day job is Assistant Director of a large genome centre, where I do various things along the lines of "keeping the wheels on". In my spare time, I tend to run around with a camera, often chasing horses, race cars, musicians, and occasionally, wildlife.
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12 Responses to Science Policy and the Canadian Election – or maybe not.

  1. Regarding the Bloc, I think you’ve look at their factsheet, not their platform, since they have the platform (180 pages!) who put the most emphasis on research amongst the 5 main parties. Bloc is also the only one who’ve bothered to defend the right to speak of federal scientists.

    You may be interested to know that this blogger already analysed the 5 platforms:

    And in French:

  2. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Wow, thanks for a great round-up, Ricardipus!

    I knew about the Green Party’s wish for a blanket ban on federally funded GMO research, and that is (a minor) part of my reason for resisting various friends’ exhortations to vote Green so they get more money for the next campaign. (The major reason is, of course, tactical voting to try and keep the Conservatives out in my riding, which is looking like less of a close race than it did a few weeks ago, but still runs the risk of splitting the left-wing vote and letting a Tory in).

    The only candidate I’ve met in person during the campaign was our local Liberal, and I specifically asked her about Genome Canada funding; she said a Liberal government would immediately restore GC funding to the level it was at before Harper cut it, and then seek to increase its funding in subsequent budgets. She also said (unprompted) that they would also increase tri-council funding. I also met our NDP incumbent a few weeks before the election was called, and had a very brief chat about science; he claimed to be strongly in favour of increased science funding. Mind you I’d take all of that with a pinch of salt given that I told both of them that I’m a first-time voter who works at the BC Cancer Agency before asking any questions about research funding…

    Given the lack of clear blue sky between the various parties on science funding, I’m basing my vote on other issues of importance 🙂

  3. ricardipus says:

    Pascal – thanks for that, I either missed the link to their policy document, or it was made available after I wrote this (it’s been in the works for a while). That analysis you link to is very helpful.

    Cath – in my riding, we have a Conservative candidate who is an ex-chief of Police (in three major jurisdictions including this one) and previous Ontario Commissioner for Emergency Management. He’s currently the Minister of State for Seniors. By contrast, The Liberal candidate is a long-term municipal politician who is widely rumoured to have ties to the mob. I have no idea who the others are.

  4. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Yay, Canada – the best science policy comes from the party that most of us couldn’t vote for even if we wanted to!

    From brief meetings with my LPC and NDP candidates, plus following them on Twitter and Facebook and reading articles they’ve written in the local press, they both seem like good people who would do a good job as local representative. I’m lucky to be in a position where I would very happily have voted for either of them, if their party was the one I thought had the best chance to win locally.

    We had a discussion during the Canucks game intermissions on Saturday about the relative importance of party vs. local candidate in most people’s voting choices. I propose that older people / established Canadians are more likely to go by party, and younger people / new Canadians are more likely to go by personality of the local candidates. But that’s not based on a single shred of evidence 🙂

  5. ricardipus says:

    I was quite surprised to discover that there were only four candidates on my ballot. No Bloc, obviously, but none of the other registered parties, nor any independents. I’d never even heard of the Green or NDP candidates, and don’t think I’ve even seen any of their signs (or very few).

    On the other hand, I did come across a city worker removing election signs from a location across the street from the polling station. Both Liberal and Conservative candidates had them illegally displayed. As he was taking photographs before removing them, I suspect (and hope) that some fines will be in order.

  6. My ballot listed candidates from the LPC, NDP, CPC and Green Party, plus the Libertarian Party, Communist Party, and Marxist-Leninist Party. I’m extremely concerned that the latter two will split the vote though 😉

  7. Steve Caplan says:

    One thing I could never understand was how people in Winnipeg were always staunch Conservative voters (at least back when I was a teen), yet in the provincial elections, arguably more influential with regards to economics for the average citizen (taxes, business, etc.)–the popular party was almost always the New Democratic Party (NDP).

    How does one explain that? I guess it’s not necessary–it’s Winnipeg…

    • Cath@VWXYNot? says:

      Do they hold the provincial and federal elections at different times of year? Maybe CPC voters are more likely to be deterred by the cold, and left-wing voters by clouds of black flies? 🙂

  8. ricardipus says:

    Steve – I think it might be related to the fact that Bob Rae, once NDP Premier of Ontario, recently ran for leadership… of the Liberal Party.

    There are many other examples…. i.e. the parties just aren’t that different from each other.

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