Editorial – 29-18

By Mark Henderson, Editor

Some dubbed this year’s Canadian Science Policy Conference the most successful event in its seven-year history. With nearly 500 delegates and strong representation from the federal government, the Ottawa conference was a heady affair with renewed optimism and hope for the future pervasive in virtually every panel session and keynote address.

So what’s changed? True, the new Liberal government has successfully branded itself as a champion for science, and science-informed advice. Senior bureaucrats are more open than they’ve been in years and previously confidential advice and reports are likely to be swept away with a promised wave of openness and transparency. The levers of science policy and advice are certain to be altered, engaging stakeholders and the public in a show of inclusiveness that hasn’t been seen since 2006.

Then there’s the reality of the Canadian economy. Years of natural resource-focused policies and the shunning of science advice have left the country with precious little fiscal room to expand support for science, technology and innovation.

The Liberal Party platform acknowledged as much, with a thin package of modestly priced STI commitments with a modest price tag. The government is facing the worst fiscal environment in recent history, with a high-tech sector struggling against aggressive competitors and a structural deficit that leaves little room to maneuvre. Smart policy and systems-wide strategic planning and championing of the knowledge-based economy are the only options available until the nation’s finances improve.