I’ve been paying attention to Canadian politics as I look forward to exercising my democratic rights ina couple of weeks. I’ve never been seriously interested in the NDP, for the simple reason that they never seemed to be in a position to take power, but with the Liberals melting down in the polls recently, I’ve come to view the NDP as a serious contender for (at least) the opposition. Since I would normally vote Liberal, this now leaves me pondering my choices more carefully.
To help figure out what I’m going to do, I sat down tonight to review the platforms of both the Liberals and the NDP. Mr. Layton’s was interesting, with many ideas on important issues like climate change, the economy, and so on. But if you’ve read this blog for any time at all, you’ll know that I’m a Ph.D student in Biology, and that science is very important to me. So what is the NDP stance on science and scientific research in Canada, you ask?
The NDP platform is weirdly vague to begin with. But doing a search through the document reveals a single mention of the word “science”, and that’s in regards to climate-change. Searching for “research” leads to such vague platitudes as:
[we will…] Encourage the best young minds to stay here in Canada by increasing funding for university and college-based research, and for graduate and post-graduate studies.
[we will…] Introduce measures to ensure that new drugs are evaluated through evidence-based research to be more effective, before they are prescribed by doctors and paid for by Canadians.
[we will…] Work with the provinces and territories to encourage research and develop strategies to minimize the effects of climate change on communities, vegetation and wildlife.
Stop the hollowing out of Canadian industries by strengthening the Investment Canada Act. Foreign takeovers of Canadian companies will be subject to more stringent tests respecting job protection and creation, head office location, and the promotion of research and development in Canada.
That’s literally every mention of the word “research” in the NDP platform (and every single mention of “university” as well, come right down to it), yielding not a single concrete item on the matter. Contrast that with this section of the Liberal platform:
A Liberal government will increase support for the indirect costs of university-based research to $500 million a year, which at full implementation will represent a more than 50 percent increase over current levels.
For researchers and graduate students, a Liberal government will increase the budgets of the three granting councils by 34 percent over four years. Support for the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) will both increase to $1.275 billion a year from the current levels of $960 million. Funding for the Social Sciences and Humanities Council (SSHRC) will be increased to $450 million a year from the current level of $320 million.
We will also create an Interdisciplinary Sustainability Fund of $100 million. This Fund will be available to scientists, researchers and graduate students for projects that reach beyond the barriers of their discipline. Interdisciplinary research is the way of the future. It is how we will address complex scientific challenges – like adaptation to the climate change crisis – that affect our economy and our society. government will increase the budgets of the three granting councils by 34 percent.
You see, now there’s a set of hard targets that I can vote on. Seeing as I’m funded (well, I *hope to be* funded) by NSERC, knowing that the Liberals would increase their budget is useful information. Since NSERC and its sister agencies fund much of the public scientific research in Canada, this is a sign that the Liberals would take basic and applied science seriously.
But the NDP? I have no idea what they would do. They’re going to “encourage the best minds”? How? I might be interested in voting NDP, but I just really need to know more than this big steaming pile of nothing that I’ve got before me right now. Jack Layon, or one of your supporters, if you’re reading this: help a guy out. Help me vote for you. Explain what the hell you’re talking about.