Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Wednesday’s announcement of the new federal cabinet included the revelation that Kirsty Duncan (second from left), most recently the minister of science and sport, has been moved from that post to deputy house leader.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Canadian researchers are raising concerns that the loss of a dedicated science minister signals a reduced voice for their agenda around the federal cabinet table.

Wednesday’s announcement of the new federal cabinet included the revelation that Kirsty Duncan, most recently the minister of science and sport, has been moved from that post to deputy house leader. The science portion of her portfolio has been folded into the responsibilities of Navdeep Bains, who will continue to lead the newly rebranded Ministry of Innovation, Science and Industry.

Operationally speaking, the change is not a big one. Ms. Duncan’s role has historically always been housed within the broader domain of the department of industry. But scientists quickly took to social media after the announcement to express their disappointment, asking not only why Ms. Duncan was being removed but why her role was being dissolved.

Story continues below advertisement

“People are wondering if the government thinks its science agenda is done,” said Marie Franquin, a doctoral student in neuroscience and co-president of Science and Policy Exchange, a student-led research-advocacy group. “There’s still a lot of work to do.”

Speaking with reporters after the announcement, Mr. Bains praised Ms. Duncan’s legacy and pushed back on the premise that the new arrangement means science has taken a back seat

“Science has been and will continue to be a priority for our government,” he said.

But Paul Dufour, an Ottawa-based science-policy veteran, pointed out that Mr. Bains will have plenty of other things on his plate, including delivering on five innovation superclusters that the government announced last year

“It’s not clear to me that science will get a lot of attention in his portfolio," Mr. Dufour said.

An early indication will come when Mr. Bains receives his mandate letter – a to-do list from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Science advocates hope the document will be made public as was done the first time Mr. Trudeau formed a cabinet in 2015.

Back then, scientists were elated when Mr. Trudeau handed the title of Minister of Science to Ms. Duncan, a PhD and former academic researcher. Ms. Duncan’s appointment carried symbolic weight for a government that pledged to embrace evidence-based decision-making.

Story continues below advertisement

While not a powerful player within cabinet, Ms. Duncan proved to be an ardent booster of Canada’s research community and engaged with its issues, including the muzzling of federal scientists by the former Harper government and the need to improve gender equity in the research ecosystem.

Among Ms. Duncan’s accomplishments was the appointment of a federal chief science adviser and the commissioning of a landmark review of Ottawa’s support for fundamental research, chaired by former University of Toronto president David Naylor.

Scientists rallied around the 2017 review with a “support the report” campaign that helped spur a boost for academic research funding in the 2018 budget. But many of the report’s other recommendations, including those advocating for a more coherent federal research funding apparatus, have yet to be taken on board. With the elimination of Ms. Duncan’s ministerial role, it is unclear how much the Naylor report will be a driver of science policy going forward.

“I think the page has been turned on the Naylor report,” said Andre Albinati, managing principal with Earnscliffe Strategy Group.

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Albinati said he expected Mr. Bains would continue to push forward on the government’s science agenda. He added the role of science in government is now further bolstered by chief science adviser Mona Nemer and a growing network of departmental science advisers.

Dr. Nemer’s visibility within government has been growing since her appointment two years ago, while Ms. Duncan’s role was divided when Mr. Trudeau added sport to her portfolio in 2018. The change was another indication that creating a dedicated ministry of science may not have been a long-term objective of the Prime Minister’s Office but instead was viewed as a way to stabilize a policy area that was seen as marginalized under the Harper government.

Mehrdad Hariri, president of the Canadian Science Policy Centre who last week conducted a public interview with Dr. Nemer during an annual policy conference in Ottawa, cautioned that the chief science adviser’s role was best described as “science for policy,” meaning the use of science advice in decision-making. He added that the government still needed a separate role like that filled by Ms. Duncan and, now, Mr. Bains, to champion “policy for science,” meaning decisions that optimize Canada’s research enterprise.

Molly Shoichet, a University of Toronto researcher who was Ontario’s chief scientist until she was fired from the still-vacant role by Ontario Premier Doug Ford last year, called the loss of a dedicated federal minister of science a “lost opportunity."

However, she added, if Mr. Bains “can carve out attention to this sector, then it is not necessarily bad. … In an ideal world, science would be part of everyone’s portfolio.”

Story continues below advertisement

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies