Boosting Canada’s image as a leader in science and technology played a large part of Justin Trudeau’s leadership campaign, bringing promise of increased funding and political support for scientific research where Stephen Harper had failed.
The funding portion of the Liberal’s promise has since been witnessed, with $95 million being added to Canada’s primary granting agencies in 2016. However, female scientists are now being treated as “applicants of interest” for the prestigious Canada Research chairs position, with Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan appearing to be more concerned with policing the identity of the holder of the position than actually advancing Canada’s reputation as a nation of pioneering scientific and technological achievement.
As of December 2016, the Canada Research Chairs Program (which receives $265 million a year), saw 30 per cent of the 1,612 positions filled by women, which the Minister says is not good enough. “I believe (that) in a globalized competitive economy, we cannot afford to leave half our talent on the sidelines,” Duncan says. “When I became Minister of Science, I made it clear that I expected the universities to meet the equity and diversity targets that they had agreed to meet a decade ago.”
This latter point is in reference to a version of the program called the Canada Excellence Research Chairs to which the Minister of Science had made changes, requiring that academic institutions applying had to submit diversity plans. A decade later, Duncan asserts “there simply hasn’t been enough progress.” Universities will now have until December 15 of this year to provide their plans for achieving greater diversity among their Canada Research Chair candidates, and from there will have 18-24 months to demonstrate that they are achieving their targets — or risk losing their funding if they fail to do so.
It’s clear that Duncan’s definition of progress is the equality of outcome between males and females, and not the academic yield of those possessing Canada Research Chair positions. But isn’t this fixation on equality of outcome illiberal?
In Canada, we are privileged to live in a society wholly embracing of equality of opportunity, with men and women free to pursue any career prospects that prove to be personally enriching and rewarding. With that said, one must also factor meritocracy into the equation, especially for positions such as Canada Research Chair, which receives grants in the form of taxpayer money and for which credentials and track records matter significantly.
Returning now to the previous statistic revealing that 30 per cent of Canada Research Chair positions are held by women: between 2000 and 2015, 31 per cent of applicants for the position were women. This number shows that women are chosen for the position in proportion to the rate at which they apply, with the most qualified and deserving being selected.
Is it wrong, then, that more females are not applying? In a society already granting people equality of opportunity, the answer is no, especially when figures show that the percentage of female applicants is within one per cent of the total number of female Canada Research Chairs.
Rather, I believe that it is wrong for the government to mandate the outcome of the selection process, not only because it undermines true meritocracy, but because it demonstrates that they care more about the identities of those being awarded the position than they do applicants’ track records and the impact factor of their research — of which scientists are constantly fixated. How can Canada hope to hedge ahead of global competition if innovation, novel thinking, and cutting edge techniques are not the ultimate focus of our science minister?
In celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday, Duncan released a video on her Twitter account announcing that the federal government is welcoming international applicants for its special 150 Research Chairs Program. In her video, the science minister proclaims this initiative further cements Canada’s “commitment to equity and diversity.” Will these external applicants also be judged according to Duncan’s gender quotas? Am I giving the government ideas?