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May you live in interesting times

Doug Jones, PhD

The old statement “may you live in interesting times” is said to go back to ancient China, but could equally be applied to Canada in the last few months.

Provinces have changed governments, and the federal government has also changed in a very dramatic way. One of these changes is that Canada now has not one, but two ministers responsible for science and technology. Does this signal a change in the recognition of the important of science to the people of Canada?

Another change was an announcement at the Canadian Science Policy meeting by Kirsty Duncan, Canada’s new science minister, for more support for fundamental research. It has been several years since Canada has heard anything like that.

Of course it’s too early to know the full impact of this promise. However, in my humble opinion, even the announcement itself is a dramatic change from what has been the hallmark in Canada for many years. It appears to be a recognition that ignoring the generation of new discoveries will undercut the rest of the innovation and development cascade in the same way that the lower part of the food chain feeds everything above that level.

In an atmosphere in which we have seen funding of basic research grant success in our country falling to an all-time low, the implications of such a change in philosophy of science finding are huge.

Another significant difference is that Duncan “knows” the issues of science in Canada in a way that only a scientist who has worked in Canada can. She is a geologist who was a member of the United Nations Climate Change Panel. Having a scientist who understands and has worked in the science environment in Canada is, in itself, an asset when difficult decisions are being discussed at the highest levels of government.

Through Duncan’s promise, we have seen the first indication of encouragement for new faculty members as well as for graduate students who are considering what the future holds for them and the potential of science in Canada. This is encouraging for those who are interested in academia, and even more for those who are looking for non-academic careers which are dependent on fundamental discoveries to drive the development of every aspect of improvement of the human condition.

For those of us at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, the impact that the minster’s statement holds can be substantive, and for those who are looking for successful careers in Canada and globally this is an initial indication of a positive outlook for Canadian science and the competitiveness of our scientists on the world stage.

Of course, this announcement of a change in policy must be followed by real funding initiatives. It is still too early to tell, and it will take some time for even these changes to be reflected in impact. However, these early signs are very encouraging. Stay tuned.

Doug L. Jones, PhD
Vice Dean, Basic Medical Sciences