Bill C-558: Parliamentary Science Officer

NDP CALLS FOR CREATION OF INDEPENDENT SCIENCE WATCHDOG

TORONTO (21/11/2013) ­– Opposition Science & Technology Critic Kennedy Stewart announced today a new bill that would give public science a stronger voice in the federal government. MP Stewart’s proposal calls for the creation of an independent Parliamentary Science Officer tasked with providing Parliament with sound information and expert advice on scientific issues. Dr. Stewart made the announcement while speaking to the annual Canadian Science Policy Conference.

“This bill represents the strongest effort yet to protect the pursuit and use of scientific research in the federal government. It goes beyond what we had in the past and charts a bold vision for where we need to go,” said MP Kennedy Stewart (Burnaby-Douglas), an Associate Professor on leave from Simon Fraser University’s School of Public Policy. “After years of muzzling, mismanagement, and misuse of science by the Conservative government, this new office will promote real transparency and ensure decisions made in Ottawa are based on the best available scientific evidence.”

Modeled on the current Parliamentary Budget Officer, the UK’s Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology, and the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy, the Parliamentary Science Officer would be established as an independent agent of Parliament. It would have a legislated mandate to:

  • Assess the state of scientific evidence relevant to any proposal or bill before Parliament;
  • Answer requests from Committees and individual Members for unbiased scientific information;
  • Conduct independent analysis of federal science and technology policy;
  • Raise awareness of scientific issues across government and among Canadians;
  • Encourage coordination between departments and agencies conducting scientific research.

“Beginning with the closure of the National Science Advisor to the Prime Minister, the Conservatives have used every tool at their disposal to prevent, limit, and restrict Canadian scientists from sharing their research with policy-makers and the public,” said MP Laurin Liu (Rivière-des-Mille-Îles), Deputy Critic for Science and Technology. “Being independent from the government and responsible for serving the needs of the legislature, a Parliamentary Science Officer would revitalize scientific integrity in Ottawa.”

Dr. Stewart will table the Parliamentary Science Officer Act  in the House of Commons next week. 

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 TABLING BILL C-558 IN PARLIAMENT 

"Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise today to introduce my very first private member's bill, an Act to establish the position of Parliamentary Science Officer.

Science in Canada is at a crossroads. For too many years we have heard that scientific evidence is often ignored by policy-makers and that federal scientists are being unduly prevented from sharing their research with Canadians.

My bill calls for the creation of an independent office tasked with providing Parliament with sound information and expert advice on all scientific matters of relevance. This would revitalize the exchange of knowledge between scientists and politicians and give public science a more robust voice in the legislative process.

Modelled after the U.K.'s Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy and our very own Parliamentary Budget Officer, my proposal aims to help ensure decisions made in Ottawa are informed by the best scientific evidence available.

A parliamentary science officer would be a significant improvement on the previous Office of the National Science Advisor, which lacked the institutional independence from the government of the day.

As science is fundamentally a non-partisan issue, I hope this legislation will receive the support of members from all sides of the House." (December 3, 2013)

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IN THE NEWS

The Toronto Star, December 2, 2013
 
Ivan Semeniuk, The Globe and Mail, November 21, 2013
 
Emily Chung, CBC News, November 21, 2013 
 
Charlie Smith, The Georgia Straight,  November 21, 2013
 

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PUBLIC SUPPORT

"The state of Canada’s finances are important — but so is the state of Canada’s public interest science. Perhaps the time has come to create a well-resourced Parliamentary Science Officer (PSO), charged with providing independent analysis to Parliament on the state of Canada’s public interest science. Such an office would also provide an objective analysis of the current state of scientific understanding on a range of policy and legislative issues and, perhaps most importantly, synthesize and evaluate the scientific evidence relevant to policy or management alternatives. This oversight function would serve to expose instances where scientific evidence has been misrepresented or ignored, and highlight where there is simply little scientific evidence on which to draw. Does Canada need such an institution? Yes, desperately."

  • Paul Dufour, former Executive Director of the Office of the National Science Advisor; Fellow and Adjunct Professor with the Institute for Science, Society and Policy at the University of Ottawa.
  • Scott Findlay, co-founder of Evidence for Democracy; Associate Professor of biology and member of the Institute for Science, Society and Policy at the University of Ottawa.

"Federal scientists and researchers who inspect the food we eat, monitor our environment, approve our medications, and contribute to Canada’s innovative capacity have repeatedly and increasingly expressed concern with the direction of science in Canada in recent years. Restrictive communication policies, cuts to science programs and personnel, political interference in research, and the misuse of evidence are systematically dismantling Canada’s scientific capacity and placing the health and safety of Canadians at risk. The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), which represents over 15,000 federal scientists and researchers, endorses Bill C-558 to establish a Parliamentary Science Officer. The need for unbiased and independent advice on science policy is essential in order to protect the health and safety of Canadians and the environment."

"If a government is set on ignoring the public service's expert scientific advice, it should not also be allowed to keep Parliament and Canadians in the dark. A Parliamentary Science Officer would shine an essential light – either on the science our country needs or on a government that would keep it from us."

  • The Toronto Star

"Canadians and their elected representatives also need unbiased and non-partisan advice on science policy. The Office of the National Science Advisor had been designed to fill this role, however imperfectly, until it was eliminated in 2008 by the Conservative government. One potential new approach would be to create a Parliamentary Science Officer (PSO), … who would report to the Senate and the House of Commons. The PSO would provide independent advice and analysis to Parliament about the adequacy and effectiveness of the nation’s scientific policies, priorities, and funding."

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PETITION TO PROTECT PUBLIC SCIENCE BY CREATING AN INDEPENDENT SCIENCE WATCHDOG

We, the undersigned residents of Canada, draw the attention of the House of Commons to the following:

  • WHEREAS since 2006 the federal government has undermined scientific integrity, ignored scientific evidence for political reasons, and unduly muzzled public scientists working in the civil service.
  • WHEREAS the position of National Science Advisor was eliminated in 2008, lacked institutional independence from the government, and had a limited mandate to advise only the Prime Minister.
  • WHEREAS Parliamentarians of all stripes need access to sound information and expert advice on scientific matters so as to ensure policy decisions are based on the best scientific evidence available.

THEREFORE we call on the Government of Canada to support Bill C-558, NDP MP Kennedy Stewart’s private member’s bill establishing an independent Parliamentary Science Officer.

Click here to download the petition in support of Bill C-558.

Completed petitions can be sent to Kennedy Stewart, M.P. // House of Commons // Ottawa, On // K1A 0A6  (No postage required)

You can download the government's response here.

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For more information, please contact:
Andrew Cuddy, Legislative Assistant, Office of Kennedy Stewart, MP