Editorial – 19-16

By Mark Henderson, Editor

Working below the radar is often an effective approach to making progress on complex, politically sensitive issues that require negotiation, frank debate and compromise. The downside for any individual or organization is a lack of public profile and the perception that there are few results to show for time and effort.

The Office of the National Science Advisor (ONSA) may be a victim of such a conundrum. As this issue’s lead story demonstrates, national science advisor Dr Arthur Carty and his office have been active on a number of fronts, both domestically and internationally. Yet there’s a perception that Carty hasn’t accomplished much in 18 months on the job.

Carty’s task is to provide S&T advice to the prime minister — advice that may or may not be accepted and transformed into new policies or programs. Such a role necessarily requires a degree of discretion, even invisibility. But in this era of transparency and accountability, such a low profile can be counterproductive.

The ONSA has been successful in moving decisively on several key mandates and these should be highlighted and disseminated throughout the S&T community at large. But there are obstacles.

Lack of financial resources and space have made the job of the ONSA more difficult than it should be. Compared to science advisors in other advanced nations, Canada’s ONSA looks like an afterthought. It’s time to get serious about science policy in this country. The financial and administrative shackles should be removed so that the office can deliver on its mandate and communicate effectively with Canadians.