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Government slams door on Science Council.

Finance minister Don Mazankowski's February budget brought bad news to Canada's scientific community with the announcement that the Science Council (SC) of Canada would be abolished. Its doors are scheduled to close June 26 with 27 people forced out of work.

One of the aims of the budget was to reduce government spending, but the SC's operating budget of $3.2 million can be considered a drop in the bucket compared to other federally funded programs. SC chairman Janet Halliwell told ACCN that Council's budget was augmented with funding from other sources. All told, the government plans to trim $1.4 billion from operating budgets and 46 government agencies will be eliminated, deferred, merged or privatized.

At the time of the notice, the SC was working on a number of projects, large and small. Some are near completion and reports will be published. Others will be dropped. Come June 26, the doors close and the work ceases. it is not a gradual phase-out.

One major effort of the Council was a study of 15 industrial sectors and how companies in each are using technology as an industrial lever as well as looking at their R&D investments. Halliwell had hoped these sectoral studies would cross over into the public domain. She said that the studies will be continued by another agency.

Another major study concerned sustainable agriculture. Scientific, technological, environmental and social issues were studied in the context of what sustainable agriculture means to Canada. A number of discussion papers have been published and the full report should be available shortly after the Council closes its doors. A smaller, but related, project is looking at alternative agricultural practices.

Other smaller efforts were studying a science and technology internationaliztion initiative: a definition of issues; priority areas; how Canada positions itself abroad and how external factors affect Canada's position. This also included scientific and technological advice to the government. One goal was to obtain a broad dialogue on science and technology, to see what's needed, including scientific arid political ponts of view.

The Council was also conducting studies on research instrumentation, and assessing how industrial associations could be used to underpin industrial competitiveness; could associations play a more important role?

According to Halliwell, the reason for closing the Council was to "streamline the business of government. I was told it was not an adverse reflection of the Science Council's work."

NDP science critic Howard McCurdy (M.P., Windsor-Lake St. Clair) believes otherwise. He is leading an effort to save the Science Council. In the House of Commons' Question Period, February 26, McCurdy asked the Prime Minister: "The Science Council has been killed under orders from the Prime Minister's Office. It cannot be because of costs because it costs so little. Can it be . . . that the Science Council would look at the so-called prosperity agenda which promised more training, more education, more technology, more research and development and identify it for what it is, a crock and a scam? "

Perhaps demonstrating the importance of the issue, the Prime Minister himself answered the question, saying that the Science Council had done good work, but that many of its responsibilities had gradually been taken over by the National Advisory Board on Science and Technology. McCurdy then claimed one reason why the SC was killed was because it was too critical of the government. The Prime Minister also denied this: "They were not critical at all. They were supporting the policies of the government."

The president of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, Claude Lajeunesse, also criticized the decision, saying it sent out "absolutely the wrong signal" about the priority the government gives to scientific research in Canada, and urged the Tories to reconsider.

Halliwell herself does not believe the decision will be reversed. However, she added that there is an opportunity for the creation of a not-for-profit institute, outside of government, that is "able to see the big picture", able to place science and technology in its proper perspective in the country.

Halliwell is pursuing this belief, but needs an "external champion. This is an exceedingly important area for Canada." She believes something will rise from the ashes, "like the Phoenix. It must!"

Science and technology research in Canadian universities is "modest", Halliwell said, and must be strengthened. "A blow like this shows how little is left. We need a buffer capacity."

After some second thoughts following the announcement to dose the SC, Halliwell will co-chair a Science & Technology Task Force which is managing the Prosperity Initiative consultations. "I was assured of independence in voice and direction of the S&T task force. maybe it's my affinity for brick walls, but it also shows the strength of the work the SC does."

Halliwell hopes the Task Force will be able to pull together the threads of the SC's work and perhaps the results will "show the truth of what I've been saying, and it could lead to a new association. But," she stressed, "it's a separate trajectory."

She noted that the abolishment of the Science Council ultimately leads to a dissipation of talent, vision and capabilities that Canada can ill afford.

The Task Force co-chair job is short-term, lasting until August. After that, Halliwell concluded, "My own future is shrouded in mist.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Chemical Institute of Canada
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Title Annotation:abolition of the Science Council of Canada
Publication:Canadian Chemical News
Date:May 1, 1992
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