Former scientist and broadcaster encourages students to head to polls on Oct. 19

David Suzuki speaks about science in Canadian society. Photo: Eric Davidson

David Suzuki delivered the keynote speech at an on-campus event discussing science, public policy and decision-making in Canada to a large audience of students and community members on Sept. 21. The crowd filled up the Faculty of Social Sciences (FSS) building up to the fifth floor, as they waited for the renowned environmentalist to take the stage.

Suzuki said he believes that in order for science to inform the debate on public policy, average Canadians need to understand it better.

“That’s why I went into television,” he said in an interview with the Fulcrum. “The poor status of science… is a reflection ultimately of scientific illiteracy among the general population.”

“At the heart of it,” he continued, “our challenge is that science should be as fundamental a part of our education as reading, writing and ‘rithmatic.”

The event also included a panel discussion on how science and evidence should be applied to public policy. The panel was made up of Debi Daviau, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, Paul Dufour, director of Paulicy Works, Scott Findlay, associate professor at the U of O and director of the Institute of the Environment, and Munir Sheikh, the former chief statistician of Canada.

Some suggested that having more scientists in the public service and other areas of politics would advance the state of science in Canada. Though Suzuki agreed that it would be helpful, he said “it’s much more important that everyone, whether business people or lawyers, take science seriously.”

The event was sponsored by iVote, a non-partisan organisation that looks to bring students, academics, and politicians together for debates and discussion about Canadian policy. Despite this, all of the speakers at the event were critical of the current government and its handling of science and scientists in Canada.

“There has been this terribly disillusioning process around science policy,” said Daviau.

During the Q and A section of the panel event, one fourth-year science student at the U of O voiced concerns about becoming a scientist in Canada.

“I don’t think they should be discouraged,” said Suzuki, when asked whether potential scientists in this country should be worried. “We need everybody in society to look at the world in a different way, and I think science people should be the same.”

Suzuki also emphasized that Canadians, especially young people, need to fill out a ballot on Oct. 19 if they want things to change.

“They have to vote if they care at all about the future,” he said. “What they do or do not do will reverberate through your entire lives.”

Although Suzuki believes it can be very difficult to affect the way adults vote, he sees hope in the future generations.

“When I look at children that say, ‘I don’t want any birthday presents, I want you to give me money so I can send it to the David Suzuki foundation, or World Wildlife Fund, that really touches me,” he said. “They see what the issues are.”