Ontario's new chief scientist to serve advisory role

Veronica Silva
December 19, 2017

After a months-long public search, Ontario has announced the appointment of Dr Molly Shoichet as its first chief scientist who will advise the provincial premier on science and innovation policy based on scientific evidence.

Shoichet, a biomedical scientist with the Univ of Toronto, will report directly to Ontario minister of Research, Innovation and Science Reza Moridi, who made the announcement last month in Toronto. Moridi said Shoichet will advance science and innovation in the province and place the province on the global science map. A member of the Order of Ontario and internationally renowned in science circles, Shoichet is expected to develop the province’s strategic research agenda and help explain science to the public.

Shoichet will start work in the New Year assisted by an advisory committee, said Allison Barr, director of the newly created Ontario Office of Chief Scientist, in a public form hosted by Life Sciences Ontario early this month. Her role is to make sure that science is at the table when decisions are made, added Barr.

Paul Dufour, a science policy historian and former member of the team of Canada’s previous national adviser, Dr Arthur Carty, said that one of the first tasks for Shoichet is to familiarize herself with how policy decisions are made in the province. “Her priority should be to make sure that she understands clearly how the Ontario government system works, and connecting with senior decision makers within the Ontario government is going to be critical,” Dufour says.

The Ontario chief scientist is expected to provide an oversight function, added Barr, as opposed to having a say in funding decisions as in the case of Quebec’s chief scientist, Dr Remi Quirion. On top of his role as adviser to the Québec Minister of Economy, Science and Innovation, Quirion also chairs the Fonds de recherche du Québec (FRQS), which promotes and allocates research funding.

Shoichet joins Quirion as the only two provincial chief scientists so far. Quirion was appointed chief scientist in 2011. Yukon Territory’s Executive Council Office has a senior science advisor, Dr Aynslie Ogden.

Quirion says he looks forward to working with his new Ontario counterpart when opportunities arise, and compare notes on provincial strategies and plans with a focus on alignment.

“For the past six years, I was kind of on my own (being the only provincial chief scientist). If we can work together … with (Dr) Mona (Nemer, federal chief science advisor), we can increase the impact of what we do,” he says.

Shoichet’s appointment comes just weeks after the federal government announced Nemer as the national chief science advisor. Asked whether she will work with these provincial and territorial science scientists or advisors and how, Nemer told RE$EARCH MONEY that her mandate is more at the federal level though she has reached out to provincial advisors and will continue to do so if needed.

“Yes, I will work with my provincial and territorial counterparts to advance science in Canada. My mandate emphasizes the promotion of federal science. However, there will be issues where working with my provincial and territorial colleagues will be necessary for generating advice and for helping to improve the science advisory system overall,” says Nemer.

The search for the province’s chief scientist was launched almost a year ago with stakeholder meetings and online consultations occurring from winter 2016 to spring 2017. Premier Kathleen Wynne announced the government’s intention to recruit a chief science advisor in June 2016. During the public consultation, the government changed the job title to chief scientist as it “better reflects the advisory nature and key functions of the position.”

Shoichet is an award-winning expert in the study of polymers for drug delivery and tissue regeneration. In 1995, she joined the Univ of Toronto where she is professor of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry, Chemistry, and Biomaterials & Biomedical Engineering. She currently holds a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in tissue engineering.

She is the only person ever to be inducted into all three of Canada’s National Academies: the Canadian Academy of Sciences of the Royal Society of Canada, the Canadian Academy of Engineering, and the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences. She was named the North American Laureate for the L’Oreal-UNESCO for Women in Science Award in 2015, and in 2017, she won the Killam Prize in Engineering, the most important engineering prize in Canada.


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