When you think about scientific research, its association to politics may not be the first thing to cross your mind. But it’s important for us to seriously consider the need for good quality, available evidence as we head to the polls on October 19th.
Advocacy groups such as Democracy Watch, Evidence for Democracy and the Canadian Association of University Teachers have been calling for change for years now. Most are non-partisan organizations, but all agree the current state of affairs is unacceptable. We’ve been hearing more and more about the 'muzzling' of government scientists, and even though a parliamentary investigation has taken place it’s unlikely the results will be released before Election Day.
The details of the investigation are yet to be revealed, but there are numerous examples to suggest the federal government's policy decisions are being guided by ideology, not evidence. The long-form census has been scrapped, research centres shut down and their libraries trashed, and thousands of researchers have been dismissed from their positions. Most notably has been Canada’s failure to act on climate change, which is arguably the most important issue facing the country.
On Election Day, let’s afford public research the priority it deserves
The potential and real impacts of these attacks on scientific research are farther reaching than many of us realize. Former Environment Canada researcher and co-founder of Evidence for Democracy summarizes the issue saying “I think most people don’t understand that science underpins most of the issues that we do end up discussing. You know, things like economic policies, social policies, the environment.”
If there is any good that can come of the restrictive practices seen in the past two terms, it may be the opportunity for more Canadians to recognize that science and politics do not exist in isolation from one another. To insist that evidence should inform policy — not the other way around. The interaction between the two must be transparent and accountable, and should be conducted and disseminated with the interests of the Canadian public in mind.
On Election Day, let’s afford public research the priority it deserves. Take a moment to consider that the stance of the party you choose on this issue will influence the way they form future policies of any nature. Remember that independently conducted, good quality, and readily available evidence is critical for democracy, and for the health and well-being of Canadians.
Want to learn more about issues that are not being addressed in the election? Upstream and the Wellesley Institute have developed a health equity impact assessment looking at just that. Find it here. Don’t miss Upstream’s Vote 4 Health video on childcare, jobs, climate change, pharmacare, and housing.
Dr. Daniel Fuller is an assistant professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Saskatchewan. He received his PhD in public health from the University of Montreal with a specialization in health promotion. Dr. Fuller’s research interests include population health, social inequalities, physical activity, the built environment, and natural experiments. You can find more information at walkabilly.net
Shelby Huffman earned a Bachelor of Health Sciences from the University of Western Ontario, and is currently completing a Master of Public Health at the University of Saskatchewan, where she also works as a research assistant. The research she currently works on involves active transportation, sedentary activity, and the social determinants of health.