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CAUT Bulletin Archives

January 2016

Science the big winner in federal election

Science was the big winner in the 2015 federal election, and a victory for CAUT and Canada’s academic staff associations that mobilized to ensure it was a ballot box question.

“The Harper years were marked by not only major cuts in government programs and in research, but also by incessant attacks on science itself,” says Sylvian Schetagne, CAUT’s director of research and political action. “There was a need to act, to mobilize, and that’s what we did on campuses across the country.”

Nationally, 14 academic staff associations joined CAUT’s “Get Science Right” campaign and organized events in 10 cities identified as key to the election: Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon, London, Kitchener, Waterloo, Kingston, Quebec City, Fredericton and Halifax.

“Through these public meetings, by handing out pamphlets, and going door-to-door to talk about the importance to society of having a strong science policy, our members succeeded in making science a real issue in the election, and it had a domino effect,” says Schetagne.

In total, about 1,000 people attended the meetings, more than 15,000 pamphlets were delivered to homes, and the campaign’s Facebook page topped 3,000 visits and 1,000 likes. “We invited people to choose science and not ideology on election day, and it worked,” says Schetagne.

Between 2006 and 2013, private investment in R&D in Canada fell from $17 billion to $14 billion (in constant dollars), a drop of 17.7 per cent. A reduction in government spending of 6.1 per cent beginning in 2007 has resulted in 4,000 layoffs. These drastic changes put Canada at 22nd place — down from 16th — on the list of OECD countries in terms of spending on research.

“The Conservative strategy for science and technology was a dismal failure, and we have to make up for lost time,” says Schetagne. “The Liberals have their work cut out for them. They have promised to put science on the front burner again. Our job now is to make sure their good intentions turn into actual funding.”

CAUT will continue to act to ensure federal science policy follows these guiding principles: basic research stimulates innovation and creates jobs; scientists and researchers — not CEOs and politicians — decide how research projects are funded; facts — not ideology — are the foundation of public policy; and scientists who work for the government have the right to talk openly about the results of their research, without risk of reprisal.