Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences Congress

Speech

Speech by the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, PC, MP
Minister of Science
Toronto, Ontario

May 28, 2017

Check Against Delivery

Good afternoon everyone. 

Thank you, Ted [Hewitt, President of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada], distinguished guests, honoured colleagues, and most importantly, our social sciences and humanities researchers.

Good afternoon, everyone. It’s a pleasure to be here with you today.

In addition to acknowledging my dear friend and colleague, Dr. Ted Hewitt, may I also recognize Stephen Toope, Past-President of the Federation of Humanities and Social Sciences; Guy Laforest, President-elect of the Federation; the staff and volunteers who have made this year’s congress possible; and finally, today’s Canada Prize award winners. 

I am sincerely humbled to be among so many of Canada’s talented social sciences and humanities scholars so that we can all celebrate your tremendous achievements. 

And could I ask for a round of applause to recognize all those who were nominated. 

For those of you who don't know, my background is geography and you’ve heard that I taught health and environment and corporate citizenship. 

My own research and lived experience cut across the natural sciences, the social sciences and the humanities. 

Twenty years ago, I led a team of world-renowned scientists and experts on a research expedition to Svalbard, Norway, 500 miles from the North Pole. 

As you can imagine, the expedition was an incredible experience that came with its share of challenges. 

Our mission was to find the cause of the 1918 Spanish flu, which killed upwards of 50 million people. 

It killed more than the Black Death of the Middle Ages and more people than all the fighting of the First World War. 

And half of those who died were people between 20 and 40 years of age. 

They were healthy adults. 

I wanted to know why. I wanted to find the virus so we could make a better flu vaccine and test our drugs against history’s deadliest disease.

Our best chance of finding this virus was to exhume the bodies of six young men who were believed to have died of Spanish flu on their way from Norway to the Svalbard islands to take up jobs as coal miners. 

You can imagine the barriers we faced: 

  • raising the money to carry out the multidisciplinary, multinational expedition,
  • seeking government approvals to conduct the exhumations,
  • developing the safety protocols to protect everyone involved,
  • transporting two tons of supplies to the Arctic, and so on.

We didn’t get all the answers we were looking for, but I’m proud to say that our research was recognized for the biosafety standards we set for keeping our teams and the nearby communities safe. 

The point is that first-hand experience helps inform my approach as Minister of Science. 

I firmly believe that it’s our government’s job to help Canada’s world-class researchers and scholars access the support they need to gain new knowledge and make discoveries. 

We are living in rapidly changing times, whether it’s technological advances, climate change or geopolitical realities. 

There is so much that can affect or be affected by the sciences and humanities in today’s world. 

And that’s why I commissioned a review of federal support for research and scholarship to ensure we are doing our best to support students, professors and everyone else involved in our research community. 

A broad external review of the federal ecosystem had not been done since the 1970s. 

Simply put, it was time. 

As you know, the independent review was conducted by a blue-ribbon panel of nine research and innovation leaders representing all regions of the country and all disciplines. 

Their comprehensive, rigorous analysis and recommendations will inform our decisions on the future of Canadian research and scholarship, and I look forward to sharing that vision with you in due course. 

In the meantime, I want to offer my profound gratitude to the Federation for the invaluable contribution it made to the process. 

And I’d also like to thank the many individual researchers who shared their ideas on how to improve Canada’s research ecosystem. 

I was pleased the report clearly acknowledged the essential role of the full range of scientific and scholarly disciplines. Here’s a quote from the report: “Research in the social sciences and humanities holds equal promise to help Canada address many of the challenges the nation faces.” 

As everyone in this room knows, this is true. And I could not agree more.

The social sciences and humanities help us to understand the issues facing our society, culture, environment, technology and even politics. 

It is your research and your insights that improve our communities, businesses and government. 

The fundamental science review also has much to say on the issue of inclusion, equity and diversity. 

These are some of the core values that have informed so many of our government's actions, from appointing the first gender-balanced Cabinet to including the first gender statement in Budget 2017. 

We believe that we must improve access to opportunities so that everyone has a shot at contributing to the future of our country. 

Thirty-five years ago the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms recognized Canadians’ constitutional right to equality. And I know that universities recognize the importance of equity.

However, the report asserts that there is a lot more work to be done in this area. 

The bottom line is we’re not where we need to be on diversity and equity. 

And this is exactly the message I delivered to Canada’s university presidents when I met with them recently. 

I told them that the report advised that I consider stronger measures to entrench diversity and equity. 

Already, we have instituted new diversity and equity requirements in the Canada Excellence Research Chairs [CERC] competition. 

Right now, we have 20 CERCs, but only one is held by a woman. We can do better and I'm expecting results.

Our government is also strengthening its efforts to address the under-representation of four designated groups in the Canada Research Chairs program: women, Indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities and visible minorities. 

While there is gender parity among the most recently appointed chairs in the social sciences and humanities, much more could be done to improve the chronic lack of diversity and equity in other disciplines. 

The recent launch of the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan was an important first step in helping universities meet their Canada Research Chairs targets. 

And if universities are not able to meet their voluntary targets in two years, I will consider withholding peer review and funding. 

I will also continue to explore other measures to promote more diversity, equity and inclusion in the research experience because excellence and equity are not mutually exclusive. 

I am determined to champion this issue for the good of research and scholarship. 

I am grateful to the social sciences and humanities community. You have made great strides toward being both diverse and balanced. 

In fact, the last and current cohort of the Insight Grant recipients is made up of 48 percent women and 52 percent men.

Ladies and gentlemen, I truly believe that one of Canada’s key strategic advantages is our social sciences and humanities. 

I don’t have to tell this group that social science and humanities researchers provide meaningful context to research findings in other disciplines, help provide evidence for sound policy-making and train the next generation of critical thinkers. 

I want everyone in this room to know that the government is on your side. 

We will invest to support your research because we know that a strong culture of research and scholarship will help us build a bold, bright future for all Canadians. 

I am tremendously grateful to count on the support and more importantly, the partnership of the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences. 

Thank you for the opportunity to be here. 

It is a privilege. 

And finally, to our amazing scholars who have been nominated today, I offer my heartfelt congratulations on being nominated. 

We are all so proud of your tremendous contributions.

My friends, thank you and here’s to a wonderful successful celebration. 


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