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Canada creates science-minister post

New prime minister Justin Trudeau gives research a higher profile.

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Canada's new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, took office on 4 November — and as one of his first acts, created the post of Minister of Science.

Kirsty Duncan, a medical geographer at the University of Toronto in Canada, will be the first to hold the job. Duncan, who contributed to the 2001 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has also written a book about her expedition to Norway to determine the cause of the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic.

Her appointment marks a change from the government of former prime minister Stephen Harper. His administration placed oversight of science in the hands of a junior minister of state in the Industry Canada department.

“Harper collapsed the purview of science into the purview of industry, and we've seen a dramatic decline of pure science and public interest research as a result,” says Carol Linnitt, an environmental policy analyst at the Vancouver-based non-profit environmental group DeSmog Canada.

Scientists and science groups say that they are excited by Duncan's appointment but want to know more about the Minister of Science's responsibilities. “A real minister! And someone with a PhD!” says Marc Saner, former director of the Institute for Science, Society and Policy at the University of Ottawa. “From the point of view of image, it’s great. How this works in practice, I don’t know.”

More appointments

Trudeau has also appointed Navdeep Bains, a financial analyst, as Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development.

“If we take it at face value, we now have two ministers responsible for science,” says Rees Kassen, a biologist at the University of Ottawa and chair of the Partnership Group for Science and Engineering, an Ottawa-based association of science and engineering organizations.

He suspects that Duncan will work to ensure that the government conducts research in areas that universities and businesses are not exploring, whereas Bains will seek to encourage technological innovation in the private sector.

Trudeau, who is expected to appoint a chief science advisor, has also named an environment minister — renaming the post as Minister of Environment and Climate Change. The new minister, Catherine McKenna, is a lawyer whose work has focused on international trade, investment and constitutional issues.

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