Editorial – 29-11

By Mark Henderson, Editor

Another report, another call for Canada to create a chief scientific officer. This time the recommendation is being made by the Royal Society of Canada (RSP), an august scientific society that has recently taken on a more proactive role in its advocacy of policy (see page 6).

And who can blame them? With Canada being attacked both at home and internationally for its handling of science and scientific advice, this nation remains the only member of the planet’s wealthiest jurisdictions without such an advisory body.

With the demise of the Office of the National Science Advisor and three other advisory bodies in 2008, Canada has managed with the Science, Technology and Innovation Council. Its confidential advice renders any assessment impossible.

Since then, Canada’s innovation and productivity performance has declined, research spending has dropped and several once vibrant high-tech sectors have shrunk to a shadow of their former selves.

The RSP is also recommending the implementation of two reports issued several years ago by the Council of Science and Technology Advisors — an advisory group that actually saw some of its recommendations become Cabinet policy under the previous government. Those reports offered considered wisdom for how government could improve its use of science advice and develop a framework to put it to work for policy and evidence-based decision-making.

With the increasingly real prospect of Canada’s knowledge economy being overtaken by established and upstart rivals, the need for change is becoming critical.