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Cabinet reshuffle shakes up Canadian science

Posted on behalf of Hannah Hoag.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has appointed former nurse and lawyer Greg Rickford as Canada’s science and technology minister.

Rickford most recently served as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. He has been relatively quiet about science since his election in 2008, but has faced some of the current unrest in the Canadian research community.

Rickford represents the electoral district of Kenora, which includes the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA), the freshwater research station that the federal government stopped funding on 31 March. In May, Rickford announced in parliament that federal government and the Winnipeg-based International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) had signed a memorandum of agreement to set up the transfer the ELA to the IISD.

In his new job, Rickford will report to parliament through Industry Canada and its new minister, James Moore. The department oversees the activities and budgets of most of Canada’s science agencies, including the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council, the Canadian Space Agency (which faces steep budget cuts over the coming years) and the newly revamped National Research Council of Canada. Genome Canada and the Canadian Foundation for Innovation also fall under the Industry portfolio.

Paul Dufour, a science-policy analyst at the University of Ottawa, told The Globe and Mail that Rickford — and Moore — have limited experience with science and technology issues.

Rickford also inherits a disappointing report on Canada’s performance on science, technology, and innovation performance, which called the country’s capabilities “mid-level” and criticized Canada for “treading water” as it dropped from 16th to 23rd among industrialized nations in overall spending on research and development relative to GDP.

The cabinet shuffle replaced other notable science ministers. Leona Aglukkaq swaps her health post for the environment portfolio, replacing environment minister Peter Kent, and takes on the responsibility of finalizing federal regulations on greenhouse-gas emissions in the oil and gas sector. Gail Shea relieves Federal Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield from his job, and Rona Ambrose was sworn in as Minister of Health, a position that oversees the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the federal agency funding health research.

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    Sergio Stagnaro said:

    In developing science, the friedom of Scientists is more important than the experience of politicians with science and technology issues.

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