A smattering of science and innovation commitments in party platforms this federal election

Like Swiss cheese, there are some big holes in the science and innovation commitments in platforms this election, and the biggest hole of all is a commitment to rebuild trust in science.

By Farah Qaiser, Rhonda Moore, Jeff Kinder, Rachael Maxwell

There are a number of ways we can think about science: it is simultaneously an ever-growing, ever-changing body of knowledge, a methodology, an enterprise, and for some, a way of life. 

Perhaps one aspect that we can all agree on is that science is an important input — among many — that informs public policy decisions. The relationship between science and policy is a two-sided coin: on one side, there are policies that govern the funding and management of the scientific enterprise (i.e., policy for science), and on the other, the use of the insights, data and evidence of science to inform policy decision-making (i.e., science for policy).

When we consider the Bloc Quebecois, Conservative, Green, Liberal and NDP party political platforms collectively, there is coverage for the most pressing issues on both sides of the coin. But no one platform is sufficient.  

When it comes to policy for science, we note the following commitments:

  1. Promote equity, diversity and inclusion in science (Greens, Liberals and the NDP) 
  2. Encourage active and respectful collaboration with Indigenous communities (All parties)    
  3. Improve knowledge translation and mobilization of scientific findings, at least in certain areas, from the Conservatives, Liberals and NDP.  
  4. Reduce barriers to global research collaboration (Conservatives and Liberals)
  5. Take a more mission-oriented approach to research funding (Conservatives, Liberals and Green)   

On the science-for-policy side, there are scattered, targeted investments for science, research and development across the Conservative, Green, Liberal and NDP platforms, with barely a mention for those oh-so-important related science activities. But let’s cut to the chase. The biggest issue facing our planet today is climate change. 

Science — in which we include all social, medical and natural sciences and engineering — has a critical role to play to enable us to reduce our production of greenhouse gases and to mitigate and adapt to the consequences of climate change. While they take different approaches that reflect their party values, all five parties identify roles for science, evidence, and research and development to decarbonize our economy and reduce the impact of climate change. 

All of the above science and innovation commitments demonstrate at least one shared belief: that science contributes to the betterment of our society. Yet, these days, the relationship between science and society — based largely on a social contract forged at the end of the Second World War — is under strain. A growing distrust of science is notable in the declining rates of trust in Canada, fed in part by the surge in misinformation and disinformation, and a lack of clear communication and coordinated, sustained engagement by the broader science community. 

The social contract between science and society requires renegotiation. The Green, Conservative, Liberal and NDP platforms (the latter three in targeted areas) acknowledge that Canada is dealing with an infodemic that requires action, but it remains unclear if their commitments are sufficient. This may be the most crucial commitment of all: rebuilding trust in our government institutions and in science, in order to implement and sustain real change in all the social and economic commitments discussed in these five political platforms.

To read our full non-partisan analysis of science and innovation commitments across the five party platforms, click here

This analysis results from a collaboration between the Institute on Governance and Evidence for Democracy. Interested in digging deeper? Our full-length analysis can be found here.