REACTION: Speech from the Throne

As originally published in iPolitics Wednesday, November 25th 2021.

With contribution from Karl Salgo and Rhonda Moore.

A time-honoured tradition.

A Speech from the Throne or Throne Speech is a highly ceremonial element of the parliamentary process, the centerpiece of the opening of any new session of Parliament following an election or a prorogation. The Governor General, as the representative of the Queen, reads the speech on behalf of “her” government, in which the latter seeks the support of parliamentarians for its legislative agenda for the session.

Parliament debates and votes on the throne speech, which is a matter of confidence, meaning that it must receive majority support if the government is to continue in office.

Canadian throne speeches tend to differ somewhat from their British counterpart, the Queen’s Speech, most conspicuously in length. In recent times the average duration of the Queen’s Speech is about 10 minutes, which means about 1000 words or less.

Our throne speech tends to be much longer – typically in the 3,000 word range (Tuesday’s speech being a bit over 2,700). Arguably, that reflects a greater tendency for Canadian governments to use the speech as a communications tool. Or perhaps it’s just that no one dares to tax Her Majesty with the additional verbiage.

The need for a public statement of strategic direction.

From a governance perspective, the throne speech is one of the more significant manifestations of a core principle: the need for public statements of strategic direction. By strategic direction we mean that specific government initiatives should be part of a broader, coherent agenda.

Such forward planning contributes to effective performance, while the public nature of the plans contributes to accountability, two other core governance principles. Canadian governments have a relative handful of comprehensive strategic statements – electoral platforms for those who have recently been to the polls, throne speeches which often and justifiably resemble electoral platforms, or the federal budget, to name a few.

What’s at Stake?

The Governor General’s concluding remarks gave clear marching orders to Parliamentarians when she said “[the] priorities for this 44th Parliament are clear: a more resilient economy, and a cleaner and healthier future for all of our kids.”

In a mandate that will be marked by an aggressive push for a “return to normal” and “building back better”, we see rich opportunities for action informed by scientific evidence and innovation. 

Emerging from the pandemic will require vaccines for children, COVID-19 “booster shots” for the rest of us. “A cleaner healthier future” is undeniably a reference to transitioning to a low carbon future and investing in measures to adapt to or mitigate the impact of climate change. Science and innovation have key roles to play to achieve these visions. 

But science and innovation alone will not deliver the government’s new mandate. Progress requires the willingness of society to accept the knowledge science provides, and to act on that knowledge. That requires trust. Her Excellency gave a clear directive on that topic, too, when, in her concluding benediction she said: “may you be equal to the profound trust bestowed on you by Canadians, and may Divine Providence guide you in all your duties.”

Accountability comes next.

These points considered, it would be surprising if this throne speech did not resemble the government’s recent campaign platform, which is arguably a reflection of its accountability (i.e., is the government doing what it said it would?). The next step in accountability will be the debate and confidence vote, and the longer term manifestation will be how well the government delivers on this agenda.

When it comes to accountability for public statements, leaving themselves a bit of wiggle room is a time-honoured tradition among Canadian governments.

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IOG Senior Leadership Announcement

After over a decade of service, and fulfilling the role of President and CEO since 2017, Toby Fyfe announces that he will be leaving the Institute on Governance in January 2022.

During his tenure, he rebuilt the organization and the team to focus on the challenges facing today’s democratic public institutions. Toby led the organisation through the COVID-19 pandemic, adapting business lines and adjusting the organisation for a strong fiscal year.

Before assuming the role of President, Toby spent five years building the IOG Learning Lab into a business enterprise where he developed, taught and led leadership programs for public servants across Canada and abroad. 

He expressed his appreciation to IOG staff saying: “I am honoured to have worked with such a great team. Together, we have been through a lot and accomplished even more. I am especially proud of the resilience the IOG team showed in adapting to the global pandemic while quickly embracing digital technologies to deliver learning and advisory programs.”

Following a rich career spanning the CBC, consulting, and the Government of Canada, Toby plans to continue exploring the challenges facing public institutions in the 21st century through  teaching, writing, research and facilitation. He looks forward to sharing his experience in change management with organizations of all sizes and across sectors.

Aurele Theriault, chair of the IOG Board of Directors, thanked Toby for his contribution to the organization. He announced that Laura Edgar, Vice-President Board and Organizational Governance, will be taking over as Interim President while a search firm is engaged to find a successor.

The new federal Cabinet, science & innovation

By Rhonda Moore

On 26 October, thirty-eight masked faces, eager to deliver their government’s platform to Canadians became our new Federal Cabinet. Some faces are returning to their portfolios, some are shuffling to new seats, and others are brand new to government and have already landed a cabinet role.

Of the 38 cabinet members, six ministerial bios confirm backgrounds in what we can call ‘science and innovation friendly’ studies, such as mechanical engineering, nursing, and medicine. Another 12-15 ministerial bios demonstrate strong ties to local communities, where many have invested their time and talents to make their communities better, safer, healthier. May the scientists and the community-minded find each other in cabinet, and find ways to work together and pool their knowledge and their passions for the betterment of Canada. 

Science and communities – or society – require each other. In Canada our scientific enterprise – the elaborate system designed to fund, review, and conduct science – is based on a strong relationship with society. One where society – through government – agrees to fund science for the benefits to health, wellbeing and the economy that may result. In exchange, science has been provided a great deal of autonomy. The blueprint for this enterprise dates back to the end of the Second World War when science had been successfully mobilized during the war and had also yielded some significant medical advances.

Fast forward 75 years and the relationship between science and society is strained. The blueprint is outdated; it doesn’t include considerations for international collaboration, or promoting equity, diversity and inclusion in science. Nor does it count on a mass rejection of science by large tracts of society. By all accounts the relationship is under strain.

At the IOG we have launched a collaborative research initiative, Government Science and Innovation in the New Normal that is examining eight facets of this blueprint that desperately need updating:

  • Promote equity, diversity, and inclusion in order to expand the participation of historically underrepresented groups (women, minorities, LGBTQ, Indigenous peoples) and overcome the inherent biases that are rampant throughout multiple dimensions of the scientific enterprise. 
  • Strengthen and formalize an approach to global research collaboration and infrastructure to better support science diplomacy, international research infrastructure and governance, and big collaboration to address global grand challenges and opportunities facing society.  
  • Adopt an inclusive innovation approach that considers: Who and how should people be included in innovation? What activities are considered innovative? How should governance of innovation evolve to be more inclusive?
  • Give equal privilege to interdisciplinary, Indigenous and Other Ways of Knowing in order to be inclusive of the social sciences and humanities, and acknowledge the importance of and support interdisciplinary approaches. A contemporary scientific enterprise should seek to interweave Western science, Indigenous traditional knowledge, and other ways of knowing while respecting the cultures and practices of each. 
  • Invest in a mission-directed approach to research and innovation by considering how to create the greatest possible compatibility between the new knowledge that scientists create AND the public’s capacity to assimilate it for society’s long-term benefit.  
  • Mandate science communications, outreach and public engagement to ensure science fulfils its full potential, in partnership with society. A new framework must embrace a broader skillset and new incentive systems to reward mentoring, community engagement, knowledge mobilization, and ideation in partnership with society. 
  • Reconceptualize the necessary skills and knowledge of a scientist. Those trained in the sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines increasingly require additional skillsets to successfully navigate today’s complex world.  
  • Bolster trust, integrity, and science ethics to ensure that that science is pursued with integrity and can produce knowledge for the benefit of all Canadians. Science can also help us understand how we internalize knowledge, why we believe what we do, and how to work together collaboratively to rebuild trust.

Science needs to innovate not just for society, but with society. For more information about this research initiative, please visit our web page.