Madam Speaker, it is good to see you again. I noticed earlier that you were so eager to hear from me that you might have called on me a little too soon.
Just for your enjoyment, Madam Speaker, before I get to Motion No. 38, I would like to share an image that came to me today while I was thinking about the motion moved by the member for Etobicoke North, a motion I support, incidentally.
It made me think about my first day at my old job, when I showed up at the university to teach. I still remember that day, August 29, 2005. There was a poster that read, “One day, I'll have an office on the top floor. The knowledge economy”. That stuck with me. I wondered how anyone could distort the university's role to that extent when the institution's purpose was to provide a platform for all fields of knowledge, not just to serve the economy.
The reason I mention that is that this motion might solve the problem. The problem is that science has kind of gotten buried under economic interests.
People often ask academics what the point of social sciences, philosophy and the arts is. They also ask us what the point of basic science and discovery is unless there is an application. That is why I think we need a scientific perspective.
That is why I welcome the motion so heartily. Not to pat ourselves on the back, but my party's leader had the great foresight to make that distinction already. I am my party's critic on science, whereas my colleague from Abitibi—Témiscamingue deals more with the innovation and industry side of things. In committee, I generally field the questions on science-related issues.
I also think this is an excellent motion because it allows us to give the chief science advisor a forum, which is essential.
On what grounds can we as legislators make decisions?
I sometimes criticize colleagues because many people seem to be experts in everything. We cannot be experts in everything. When we are called to speak, we must be very diligent about it, and that means considering the science. We might have the opportunity to talk about the much-vaunted green recovery. I will come back to that.
We went through this with the vaccines. No one here can call themselves an expert on vaccines, and yet everyone speaks to this issue. If we want to be effective, we have to listen to the science.
The motion would provide a forum to the chief science advisor and free up the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology. Judging from the work being done by this committee, it has one of the broadest remits of all the committees. For the simple reason that it would slightly free up this committee, which has a very broad remit, and provide a forum to the chief science advisor, I think this motion is fantastic.
However, we have be careful. There are some caveats. A committee specifically dedicated to science must not become an excuse to interfere in scientific work.
One concept I still remember from a political philosophy course I took is that according to Pierre Magnan, science reigns supreme in western countries right now. He equated it to a religion. In ancient times and in the Middle Ages, individuals were governed by religion. However, there is a fundamental separation between religion and politics. Similarly, we must see a separation between politics and science. It is not up to politicians to decide how things work. We may not like the idea of climate change, but that does not mean we can turn to scientists tomorrow morning and ask them to alter their calculations and their approach in order to suit our economic interests.
I think most people would agree that interfering in scientific work is also a problem.
Moreover, splitting the committee must not create a silo where research and science are isolated from the rest of society. Such a siloed vision is not advisable, especially since we have just done some fairly in-depth studies on vaccines and we have seen how long and tedious the process is, in terms of basic research, applied research and clinical trials, and how it intersects with different realities.
If I could recommend one thing to my colleague, it would be to consider what several experts refer to as translational research. Many steps are proposed along the way from the starting point of basic research to its application. As public decision-makers, we must be aware of this.
The committee specializing in science must not create a silo, because there must be interactions with the other steps.
I have read the mandate of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, which, in my view, is one of the broadest of all committees. The mandate of the industry committee covers 17 departments and agencies and 36 acts. Its responsibilities are very broad and very disparate. I will quickly list a few of the topics it studies: business assistance; industrial policy; regional development, a topic that is very important to the Bloc Québécois but that the committee has not had much opportunity to address; scientific research; domestic trade; competition and the effective operation of the marketplace; telecommunications; the functioning of federally regulated businesses; and tourism.
Clearly, science is taking a back seat, buried under a massive pile of different types of studies. I think this is similar to what happened during the previous Parliament.
Since the fall, the committee has studied the accessibility of Internet and cellular coverage in the regions; vaccine manufacturing, during which some scientific questions arose, but certainly not enough; the aerospace industry; foreign investments; and business regulations. The committee studied all of these topics, but others were left untouched.
For example, there is the much-vaunted green recovery plan, which says anything and everything. It took a lot of effort for me to figure out the government's strategy for the green recovery, a key component of which is apparently hydrogen. There are three types of hydrogen: green hydrogen, blue hydrogen and grey hydrogen. I want to thank Professor Karim Zaghib, who explained this to me. Grey hydrogen is actually hydrogen derived from oil or gas. It is anything but green. We need scientists if we are going to do this.
I have had many meetings with the Canadian Association for Neuroscience; with Rémi Quirion, Quebec's chief scientist; with the Canadian Society for Molecular Biosciences; and with the Canadian research forum. They all told me the same thing: we need an entire department dedicated to science.
The pandemic has shown us that we are somewhat unprotected on the science front. The government must also restore funding to 2000s levels.
During the discussions, we heard from a young researcher who will be presenting a research project to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. If memory serves, just seven out of 48 applications get approved. With the United States poised to do a considerable amount of research, Canada is quite behind. We have a 30% success rate for research funding, but that is because of the pandemic. We need to get back to the 30% rate we had before the 2000s, before the Conservatives sadly gutted the sector. The committee would be a good place to study this issue.
Of the 100 research chairs, nine are in Quebec and 50 are in Ontario. Quebec has the largest share of scientific value-added exports at 40%, yet it has 9% of the chairs. That is one more topic that could be extensively studied by a science committee.