Canadian Science Policy Conference 2015


Speaking Points

The Honourable Kirsty Duncan, PC, MP
Minister of Science

Ottawa, Ontario

November 26, 2015

Check Against Delivery

Good afternoon. My name is Dr. Kirsty Duncan, and I'm honoured to stand before you today as Canada's new Minister of Science.

Special greetings to Nobel winner Dr. Arthur McDonald, with whom I was fortunate to meet one-on-one yesterday.

Dr. McDonald's scientific contributions have advanced our very understanding of the universe.

Adding to our knowledge of the innermost workings of matter, his discovery will help set a path for new directions in the study of physics and astronomy.

His work and vision have made Canada a world leader in the field of particle astrophysics.

Please join me in acknowledging and congratulating Dr. McDonald.

And, of course, I'd like to extend a big thank-you to Dr. Hariri and the Canadian Science Policy Centre for inviting me to address you tonight. 

I cannot stress enough what an honour and a privilege it is for me to be here. It's been a whirlwind of briefings and meetings with the scientific community and stakeholders.

As a former scientist, I am very interested in the intersection between science and policy. Evidence-based policy-making matters profoundly to me.

Like you, my life has been about science.

I began teaching university early in my career. Shortly thereafter, recognizing the need for more government action on the scientific issues in which I believed, I started consulting to government.

Around the same time, I began putting together an expedition to discover the cause of the 1918 Spanish influenza—a pandemic that killed upwards of 50 million people in just one year.

Our team headed to an island north of Norway to exhume bodies of individuals who died of the flu and were buried in the permafrost. Our goal was to learn as much as we could about the virus so that we could test drugs against history's deadliest disease—and perhaps even help make a better flu vaccine.

I recognize the importance of broad scientific debate—not just about incremental change, but about transformational discoveries. Discoveries that can truly change outcomes for Canadians, the country and the world.

I come from your world. I want you to know that I am committed to collaboration and openness.

So I want to say something to all of you:

And that is simply, "Thank you."

Thank you—on behalf of the Government of Canada—for the work you do each and every day. It is respected. It is valued. And it is celebrated.

Science, both fundamental and applied, delivers economic, environmental, health and social benefits. It creates jobs and opportunities and is at the heart of an innovation economy.

But our government knows that science is so much more than that. Scientists work for a better tomorrow by making exciting discoveries—from aerospace to astronomy and from biotech to clean tech.

And I would argue that, today, science matters more than ever before because the challenges we face, like climate change and shrinking biodiversity, are ever greater.

So it follows that Canada needs robust science for the public good. A government's ability to protect environmental and human health depends on scientific excellence and integrity. I am proud of the world-class work of federal scientists and researchers.

I like the words of Nobel Prize winner John C. Polanyi, who said that "human dignity is better served by embracing knowledge."

Let me assure you, ladies and gentlemen, we are a government that fully embraces science and research.

We believe good scientific knowledge should inform decision making.

And already we have taken action.

We have made it clear that government scientists and experts can and should speak freely about their work.

I will work closely with Canada's scientific community to ensure that there is open communication about science, now and in the future.

And so, earlier this week at the First Ministers' Meeting, a number of us participated in a Google Hangout on climate change. Two federal scientists shared their work on climate science with Canadians, students, the Prime Minister and Premiers. The presentation was webcast to anyone around the world who wanted to watch.

Bottom line: our government values science and will treat scientists with respect.

I hope you saw that our very first act upon forming government was to reinstate the long-form census.

Because the benefits of good quality data cannot be overstated. For economic and social researchers. For policy-makers. For communities.

As you can all read in my mandate letter—which was made public—my overarching job will be to support scientific research and the integration of scientific considerations in our investment and policy choices.

So my goal has been to hit the ground running.

Since the swearing in, I have been reaching out to many of you in this room—trying to get a good handle on the state of the nation's science and science policy.

What investments have we been making in people, infrastructure and science, and how do we compare internationally? What is student interest in the STEM disciplines? These are the types of questions I am investigating.

I'm eager to start travelling across the country to visit with researchers and hear their thoughts. Also to celebrate the great work Canadian scientists do.

I will establish a new Chief Science Officer. This position will be a key to ensuring that scientific communication is sustained across government in an effective way.

The Chief Science Officer will help ensure that scientific analyses are considered when government makes decisions.

We are already looking at mandates for a chief scientist, but more work needs to be done to put into place the right mechanisms to make this work best.

I look forward to promoting STEM, particularly among women, youth and Indigenous people.

You have seen that I've been asked to work with the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour to help employers create more STEM co-op placements.

I care deeply about youth and education.

Now, I do want to stress that my job will not only be about delivering new policies. It will also involve changing how to arrive at those policies.

I'm speaking about a new style of leadership, a new tone to Ottawa. Prime Minister Trudeau made a commitment to Canadians to pursue our policy agenda in a renewed sense of collaboration. 

In my case, this will involve a large degree of teamwork and partnerships:

  • with my colleagues around the Cabinet table;
  • with provinces and territories;
  • with foreign governments and international forums; and, of course,
  • with Canada's excellent universities, colleges and polytechnics, and non-profit research organizations.

Simply put, I want to work with you. I am here to listen to your ideas. I want to reintroduce scientific considerations into the heart of our decision making and investment choices.

As Minister of Science, I pledge to you that I will do everything in my power to build momentum.

Thank you.

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