Student groups host panel discussion to advocate for science in Canada’s upcoming federal election. DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

A coalition of science and student advocacy groups have launched a campaign titled #VoteScience to encourage Canadians to advocate for pro-science candidates in Canada’s upcoming federal election on October 21.

U of T’s Toronto Science Policy Network (TSPN), together with the Canadian Society for Molecular Biosciences (CSMB) and the Royal Canadian Institute for Science, held a panel on August 27 to inform voters about how they can identify and support these candidates.

Panel members included U of T Professor of Medicine Dr. David Naylor, Research Associate Dr. Amanda Veri, and CSMB Vice-President and Ryerson University Professor Dr. Imogen R. Coe.

Canadian research lacks steady funding, says Naylor

Throughout the event, Naylor stressed the importance of advancing science education through steady investments in research. Although the current Liberal majority government has made some progress, Canada lags behind other developed nations in research investment, according to Naylor.

Naylor cited Germany’s sustained research funding as an exemplary model. “Think of Germany,” he said. “Since 2006, Germany has been increasing research spending across the board by three per cent per annum, right through the meltdown in 2009 ongoing, and very recently an agreement was reached to continue that support for another decade.”

“This is predictable, steady, across-the-board support — something we have not seen in this country in a little while.”

Storytelling can stoke politicians’ support

After Coe shared her story on her path to becoming a scientist, she highlighted the power of storytelling in mobilizing support, especially in influencing political leaders and policy makers.

“One of the points I’d like you to take away is that we need to be storytellers; we need to think about the stories that we can tell when we are trying to influence… politicians,” she said.

“All politicians are human beings,” she continued. “They all have family members who have been sick or they’re all worried about their futures.”

“[Storytelling] is a continual… active process, and I think all scientists need to be engaged in and involved at levels that [are] comfortable to them… It is something that we can all do.”

Student-led advocacy for science education

Farah Qaiser, a second-year master’s student in Molecular Genetics at U of T and president of the TSPN, spoke about the #VoteScience campaign that the group is running in an interview with The Varsity.

The goal of the campaign is to provide “people with the tools they need to advocate for science, regardless of what level they are in in the scientific field,” Qaiser said.

Voters, from undergraduate lab assistants to professors, as well as non-scientists, would be motivated by the campaign to email or write a letter to political representatives to support Canadian research.

In the panel discussion, Veri recalled her experience advocating for science as a U of T graduate student, after feeling disappointed with the Ford government’s decision to fire U of T Professor Dr. Molly Shoichet from her position as Ontario’s Chief Scientist.

Veri decided to email Ontario Premier Doug Ford and her local MPP for King—Vaughan, Stephen Lecce, through the Evidence for Democracy advocacy group to urge the Ontario government to hire a replacement. This exemplified one of the ways that Qaiser outlines for voters to advocate for science.

Veri also took it one step further. She recounted writing out her MPP’s “name in fungi on a petri dish and letting it grow.” She said, “I just did the simple thing of sending a picture in a tweet inviting him to come to my lab to talk about science and to talk about the need for an Ontario Chief Scientist.”

“Less than two hours later, I had a response from him right away stating that he was willing to come and meet with me.”

During Lecce’s visit to her research lab, Veri leveraged the opportunity to discuss many of the issues that are important to her and the rest of the science community, such as the need for increased science outreach and diversity in science-oriented fields.

Throughout her talk, Veri emphasized that “it doesn’t have to be a lot of work to have this outcome” of communicating with representatives about the importance of science.

She also noted that interactions with political candidates will be more positive and productive if communication lines are open and all parties involved are enjoying themselves.

Qaiser highlighted to The Varsity that she also encourages people to record their experience advocating for science with politicians through a Google Form set up on #VoteScience’s website, as it allows the student-led advocacy groups to follow up with politicians about their promises after the federal elections.

The TSPN president further emphasized the need for a unified voice from voters who advocate for science.

“If we do come together and advocate for science, we can make a change,” she said. “We have seen that in the past… [with] a campaign called Support the Report.”

The campaign, which lobbied the federal government to implement Canada’s Fundamental Science Review in 2017, may have contributed to the government’s decision to provide a 25 per cent increase in its federal budget to support research in basic science.

Editor’s Note (September 15, 11:05 pm): The article has been updated to reflect that the Royal Canadian Institute for Science was an organizer of the panel, and that the event occurred on August 27.

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