In praise of Mr. Goodyear

The early days of Gary Goodyear as Minister of State for Science and Technology were on the rocky side. A well publicized stormy meeting with a CAUT delegation, and a reported attempt to intervene in a peer-review process may have been lapses in judgment, but nothing beyond what you’d expect from a novice minister of state. Fast forward 4 short years and Gary Goodyear has become all but her Majesty’s “Godfather of Science and Technology” in Canada, with all the good stuff that often comes with the presence of such a figure.

Say what you want about Gary Goodyear’s qualifications for the position when he was first appointed, but there can’t be any doubt that he has shown a total commitment to the portfolio. He has worked hard, listened, and understood. And in the process of acquiring knowledge about S&T issues, he has shown competence in how to manage these issues, and has exhibited skills in how to engage the research community.

But let’s start from the beginning.

Barely a few months after his appointment in October 2008 as Minister of State for Science and Technology, the Harper government cut the budgets of the three research granting councils, while announcing a huge stimulus budget for other sectors. Mr. Goodyear took the brunt of the anger of the academic research community. In retrospect, this unfortunate “faux-pas” may have been nothing but an honest mistake caused by one hand of government not knowing what the other hand was doing. Minister Goodyear showed class and leadership by having his office call some petitioners (including myself) to explain the government’s position. And the ultimate response was increased funding for the Tri-council in subsequent federal budgets; I seriously doubt this could have happened without him championing their cause.

There are issues surrounding the government’s ideological stand vis-à-vis climate change science. It is a fact that the Harper government “supports the science” by publicly endorsing the basic tenets of climate change, but it doesn’t seem to do anything about it. Echoing “Researcher Forum”, I say that’s politics and not science. And let’s face it, the Liberals also chose not to do anything about this issue when they were in power. That the government is likely to make investments in oil sands research as part of its climate and energy policies instead of renewable energy are economic and political decisions, not scientific ones. These are cabinet decisions and cannot be those of a Minister of State.

I realize that some have disagreed with particular actions/decisions. But the fact is that Gary Goodyear has taken actions and kept R&D high on the government’s agenda. It means we are actually having a debate about whether actions were appropriate instead of spending our time whining that the government doesn’t care about research.

It’s also true that the senior (former) Minister of Industry Tony Clement did show some interest in these issues. But it is Goodyear’s total involvement and commitment which are unique. With Clement moving on to other pastures, Gary Goodyear is the only valid interlocutor of Canada’s research community, and he obviously cherishes this position. We should too, now that there is finally someone accountable in Ottawa we can talk with about R&D issues.

Canada has never had a cabinet minister that is so involved, focused and hands-on about issues of science and technology. Presidents of granting councils used to complain about their lack of access to their bosses in government, namely Industry ministers. Remember Manley, Tobin, and others, who seemed to be always campaigning for the PM job, too busy to deal with the politically negligible community of academics and researchers.

Gary Goodyear has been traversing the country –yes and why not — making funding announcements, but also listening to people. Some say, that he is too omnipresent, somewhat omnipotent, and now omniscient on Canada’s S&T scene. The scientific community shouldn’t have it any other way.

Since he was named Minister of State responsible for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) in August 2009, he has oriented the agency’s mandate to focus mainly on innovation. The new Youth STEM initiative, the Graduate Enterprise Internship, MITACS’ Elevate program are but a few of his initiatives through FedDev. This has also led other regional development agencies, such as the “Western Economic  Diversification Agency” and the “Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency” to follow suit and put training, research and innovation far higher on their agendas. Since so much innovation happens regionally, this is a welcome change, which also makes the “raison-d’être” of regional development agencies much more relevant to the country. There is still work to do, but this is a start.

Goodyear has been clear that we need to support the entire R&D ecosystem from basic research to commercialization (witness the breadth of appointments for the new CERC’s). And let’s say it, we hear so few politicians talk about basic research that a Minister who understands that the entire eco-system is important is a breath of fresh-air. When asked in the House of Commons about the government’s support for R&D, he replied:

“Mr. Speaker, I assure the member that if he looks at the record of this government, he will see broad and extensive research funding for basic research all the way through to applied research.”

Sometimes we wish the Presidents of the granting councils were as clear-headed in their thinking, their convictions and their declarations.

Contrary to what was expected and dreaded by Canada’s research community when the Tories got in, Goodyear did not dismantle the marquee programs that the Liberals had introduced. In particular, thanks to Goodyear, the Harper government embraced and maintained the support for the Canada Foundation for Innovation ($750-million for CFI in the 2009 budget), and continued the federal commitment for the Canada Research Chairs (CRC), as well as the indirect costs for research. Goodyear has not only adopted these programs but has even gone around the country promoting them.

But the main legacy of Gary Goodyear may still hinge on how he handles the findings of the R&D expert panel. He was clearly behind the government’s decision to review and assess the 60+ federal programs currently supporting industrial R&D at a cost of $7-billion to the Canadian taxpayer. It was gutsy of Goodyear to open that file. Now that the panel has produced a substantive set of recommendations for reforming the federal delivery system, it will be a huge part of his legacy if he can convince the rest of government to act on at least some of the recommendations.

One of these recommendations go directly to the subject matter of this post.

“The Prime Minister might assign responsibility and accountability to a single minister to lead the challenge function in government for business innovation… Identify a lead minister responsible for innovation in the Government of Canada together with a stated mandate to put business innovation at the centre of the government’s strategy for improving Canada’s economic performance.”

I nominate Mr. Goodyear for this position. He has earned it.

Coming from one of the organizers of the 2009 petition to the Prime Minister and the leader of her Majesty’s opposition on cuts to the Tri-council, this nomination should count for something.

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6 Responses to In praise of Mr. Goodyear

  1. Rob Annan says:

    Great post, and I heartily agree. Indeed, I challenge researchers – scientists! – to deny the evidence in favour of everyone’s initial hypothesis that Min Goodyear is anti-science, anti-research. The evidence has convinced me otherwise.

  2. Political observers are telling since years now that this government has the characteristic of being very centralized. So you can not write “I seriously doubt this could have happened without him [Goodyear] championing their cause” with the arguments you have in hands. One could argue the change of politics (with the Tri-Council) could simply have come from the prime minister office. Also, let’s not mix cards: critics are saying this government want to control what kind of science is done, not that it is anti-science or anti-research.

    • Ghoussoub says:

      Granted that Cabinet and the PM have to make the final decisions on major initiatives, my point is that if Goodyear –and probably just like any other minister (state or not) looking after his/her portfolio– does not advocate for S&T within cabinet, it (including Tri-council and all) may easily fall off the government’s agenda. My point (also made by the R&D panel) is that having a minister responsible and accountable for S&T is (and will be) a major benefit for Canada’s research community.
      I also agree that any government feels the need to control at least a part of the scientific research agenda, and sometimes –as I said– for non-scientific reasons. The question is how much of this agenda is left to the investigators themselves. There is no consensus yet in the community on whether the “new ways” of the tri-council for example, especially at NSERC, are driven by government or simply by the bureaucracy itself. It may be a case where some bureaucratic appointees are “plus royaliste que le roi”.

  3. The problem with this line of reasoning is that to a certain point, the Tri-Council can never completely “fall off” of the government’s agenda. It is part of the government, so it means that there is somewhere some public employees who are reading their annual reports and must recommend that financing continue, or not. And usually, in government, anything that is there since a few years, do continue. Starting from there, we can ask if this or that minister is responsible for this or that new direction. But the more centralized a government is, the more you can also see if a minister is “independant” or not: you will see that usually not in the budgetary choices, but in the ideas, the concepts, the words, or in the way the department will diverge from the general line.

  4. Pingback: “Embedded” in Ottawa | Piece of Mind

  5. Pingback: Does the new Minister of State for Science and Technology Gary Rickford really need research experience? « FrogHeart

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