UNESCO: Let’s Talk Science


Speaking Points

The Honourable Kirsty Duncan, PC, MP
Minister of Science and Sport

Ottawa, Ontario
November 27, 2018

Check Against Delivery

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:

Good evening, everyone.

I want to acknowledge that the land on which we gather is the unceded territory of the Algonquin People.

Special greetings to Elder Claudette Commanda.

And of course, to Liette Vasseur and Sébastien Goupil of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO.

As always, thanks to Bonnie Schmidt and the whole Let’s Talk Science team.

I see some friends from Mitacs here too. I’m looking forward to attending the award ceremony tonight.

When I was invited to speak at today’s event, I was very honoured.

I’m delighted to be here to share the Government’s perspective and speak about a topic that I care about deeply: Equity, Inclusion and the Future of STEM Learning. As anyone who has met me knows, these are subjects very close to my heart.

You may have heard the Prime Minister talk about diversity.

“Canada’s strength comes from our diversity,” he says.

And he’s right. We are one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world.

One fifth of Canadians were born elsewhere. Half of the people living in Toronto, our biggest city, were not born in Canada.

That diversity of perspective, experience and knowledge has contributed so much to what makes Canada great…

An open, progressive and prosperous society—one that has succeeded because of diversity, not in spite of it.

I believe Canadian science should be no different—it should embrace diversity and encourage it.

Because when our labs, classrooms and boardrooms represent the Canada we see today, we all stand to benefit. 

And our commitment to diversity isn’t just because it’s a “nice to have” feature.

We are not aiming for inclusiveness for its own sake.

And we are not sacrificing merit for equity.

No, in fact, we are committed because we also know that in a competitive global economy, Canada can't afford to leave any talent on the sidelines.

If we want to be at the front of the pack, Canada simply must have more diversity in senior academic roles.

Just imagine the discoveries, insights and innovations we’ll get as we expand the variety of ideas and the research questions.

Diversity can only strengthen Canadian science.

Here’s a thought-provoking example: newly appointed Canada 150 Research Chair Judith Elizabeth Mank is studying the genetic causes of differences between men and women.

Dr. Mank’s research asks—and it almost sounds like a no-brainer, but it hasn’t been asked before—if we might be missing more effective treatments for women when we’re only screening male mice for drug targets!

This is the kind of insight that comes from diversity of perspective.

But this is a big process. Because it’s about changing hearts and minds as well as programs and policies.

And I want you to know that we are working hard to do both.

In tackling any challenge, the first thing to do is to get a real sense of the scope and scale.

So we have taken a scientific approach, as we promised we would.

We commissioned a full scale review of how the Government supports science in Canada.

I asked the blue ribbon panel conducting the review for specific advice on what we have to do to bring in more diversity and inclusion.

Their report identified four groups within Canada’s research ecosystem for whom inequity persists: women, persons with disabilities, Indigenous peoples and visible minorities.

No real surprises. But now we had an expert report showing that these are the groups we should be really focusing on.

And the good news is we had already begun to take action.

There was a gender imbalance within both the Canada Excellence Research Chairs and the Canada Research Chairs programs.

So we made changes.

The current Canada Excellence Research Chairs competition was launched with new application requirements that required universities to submit detailed equity plans with their applications.

And the Canada Research Chairs program now has new requirements for institutions to develop equity, diversity and inclusion action plans. There are also new public accountability requirements. 

I also personally made it clear to university presidents that I would instruct my program officials to withhold funding for universities that do not meet their targets.

These were not easy conversations to have. Change is never easy. Or fast. But it will come. It must.

I’m truly heartened by the gains we are already seeing.

For example, we recently appointed 25 Canada 150 Research Chairs, and a full 60 percent are women.

I think this is something to really celebrate.

The report also told us that there was a lack of resources to build and support Indigenous researcher capacity.

So we made changes.

I’m pleased to tell you that we are now collaborating with Indigenous communities to co-develop a strategic plan for Indigenous researchers to lead and partner in research.

And in acknowledgement of the value of Indigenous strengths, assets and knowledge systems, these efforts are backed by a $3.8-million investment.

These are some important steps forward, but I know, as federal science minister, that my challenge continues to be to help shape a science culture in Canada that welcomes all people.

So what’s coming next?

Well, our most recent budget sets aside an unprecedented $1.7 billion for our granting councils—but ties this support to the expectation they develop new plans to ensure that the next generation of researchers is more diverse.

We are also looking at ways to collect better data on under-represented groups to inform granting council programs.

And, moving forward, we are going to bring in a made-in-Canada version of Athena SWAN–that’s Scientific Women’s Academic Network, or “SWAN.”

Established in the UK in 2005, Athena SWAN is an internationally recognized program that celebrates higher-education institutions that are working to advance equity, diversity and inclusion in the sciences.

During the summer, I held roundtable discussions with Canadian university leaders and researchers on the opportunities and challenges of bringing the program to Canada.

We are aiming to launch our pilot of Athena SWAN in 2019—so watch for that.

There will also be new grants to help higher-education institutions identify and eliminate barriers that impede the inclusion and advancement of under-represented groups.

So that’s the short- and medium-term progress. But we are also looking to the future of science in this country.

Of course, I’m talking about young people interested in the STEM fields.

These are tomorrow’s Art McDonalds and Donna Stricklands.

I can’t tell you how much I enjoy interacting with young scientists and researchers.

It really makes me hopeful about the future of Canadian science.

This past September, I joined the Prime Minister to welcome students from across the country to Parliament Hill for the Prime Minister’s Science Fair.

The young scientists, researchers and innovators who participated in this year's fair showcased amazing work.

Their inventions, curiosity and creativity have the potential to build a better world for all, and our government is committed to supporting a scientific ecosystem that encourages and inspires them to do their best work.

I just love supporting events like that. Our young people need to know they can do anything and that the path to their greatest dream can start with science.

I think it’s an empowering message—that they can dream big. And we are here to help them achieve their goals.

Our government really wants to foster a culture where young people and the public are engaged in and excited about science.

We know that improving young people’s participation in science-based education and increasing awareness of STEM careers will enhance the supply of talented and innovative people who fuel Canada’s economy.

And, overall, even if kids don’t go into research careers, increasing public awareness of the importance of science helps inspire Canadians to be innovative.

It helps boost people’s appreciation of the role of fundamental science in our society and their respect for the role of sound scientific knowledge in informing decision-making.

All good things.

To help foster that culture of curiosity, we launched #ChooseScience, a national social media campaign to encourage young Canadians—especially girls and young women—to enter science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

The campaign aims to engage young women in science, through home-based experiments, citizen science projects and testimonials from Canadian women working in STEM.

We are also making big investments to give the next generation of researchers the skills and education they need to do the great things they will do.

For example, we support PromoScience, a program that provides financial support to organizations working with young Canadians to promote an understanding of STEM. These are great hands-on learning experiences for young students and their science teachers.

Budget 2017 announced a PromoScience investment of nearly $11 million to get young people—especially young girls and young Indigenous Canadians—interested in pursuing careers in STEM.

We are also providing support to Mitacs, a great not-for-profit partner to the Government that is dedicated to building links between academia and industry.

To help give young academics a leg up in today’s competitive job market, we have made investments to help Mitacs provide 10,000 work-integrated learning placements a year.

Our recent Fall Economic Statement also proposes to invest an additional $7 million in Mitacs to expand the International Incubators Internships program.

I would add that these investments are in addition to a $73‑million investment we have made in the Student Work-Integrated Learning Program to create 10,000 paid student work placements in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and business.

We’re providing lots of support for internships. These are such great experiences for students to get ready for their careers.

I can also point to the CanCode program, which will equip young Canadians with the coding and digital skills they need to be prepared for the STEM jobs of the future.

I’m so excited to say that almost one million young Canadians will benefit from CanCode-funded educational initiatives by March of next year‎.

These efforts are all in support of our long-term vision for the future of science in Canada.

We want to strengthen science and evidence-based decision making.

We want to grow a culture of curiosity in this country.

This is a vision that sees Canadian sciences re-energized in a forward-looking and bold global pursuit, a thriving economy powered by homegrown discoveries and innovations, and a country world-renowned as a science leader.

I know that all of us here this afternoon share these goals.

I’m just so pleased to be working with such wonderful partners to achieve them.

I’ll finish up then, by thanking you, one and all, for everything you do every day to help make Canadian science great.

Thank you very much.

Page details

Date modified: