A Paulicyworks Milestone 2020: A Landmark Report — Lamontagne at 50

The politician and the scientist must learn to become partners. They must not only live together but work together and help each other to serve society better. — the researcher will have to remain a true scientist but will also become a servant of the public with important social functions to fulfill….. (the) politician will have to remain the guardian of the public interest but also become more aware that scientific progress needs a climate of freedom- (Volume 1, A Science Policy for Canada, 1970)

50 years ago, in December 1970, the Senate Special Committee on Science Policy tabled its first of four volumes examining the conditions and need for a national science policy. It was chaired by the Honourable Marice Lamontagne.

The Lamontagne Committee’s four-volume study remains one of the most comprehensive examinations ever undertaken of Canada’s science and innovation system. The committee held extensive consultations and hearings, assessed international good practices, and laid out a roadmap for science policy. While it had both its supporters and its detractors, ultimately it fostered a national dialogue on a critical issue impacting Canada’s economy and society.

In its final report of 1977, the Senate Committee made several recommendations that resonate still.

Recognizing that government science was a critical component, the report suggested that science-based departments and agencies should have a science adviser acting as liaison between top management and research services. The Committee also added that there were intramural scientific activities indispensable to the success of government missions, and that government labs also had a role of supplementing and complementing the university and industry sectors.

Noting the vacuum in Canadian university research funding, governance and financial stress in their budgets (this was before the current granting councils were created), the report suggested a Canadian Research Board (CRB) be set up, together with three foundations (covering physical sciences, life sciences, social sciences and humanities) with responsibility for the development of a capacity in curiosity-oriented basic research within universities and similar institutions. Lamontagne recommended that the board also cover the full costs (direct and indirect) of the projects and programs they selected in this area. The report also emphasized that social sciences and humanities should be the order of priority for government support of curiosity research, followed by the life sciences.

Lamontagne concluded the final volume presciently : “Canadians are now facing the collective challenge of inventing the future”. A reassessment of the Senator’s work is long overdue given the current need for a new social contract with knowledge, the public and the polity.

By Paul Dufour