What the Health Research and Innovation Community Should Take from the 2021 Speech from the Throne for the 44th Parliament

Throne speeches are like mission statements—a formal summary of the aims and values of an organization or company. In this case, the 2021 Speech from the Throne lays out the aims and values of the Liberal government with regard to our country. Of course, we understand that throne speeches cannot delve as deeply or as specifically into the issues at hand as mandate letters or policies and legislation can.

At the same time, throne speeches are symbolic and they give off signals. Advocates look for the latter, poring over these speeches in search of words or sentences that conjure images suggestive of their sector’s role, contribution, importance or anything that recognizes they are going to be a player in the government’s mind in this next parliamentary journey.

The best I can offer with regard to Tuesday’s throne speech is that research and innovation are in the category of “how” we get to the “what” that was presented in this Speech from the Throne. In other words, they were not mentioned. But let’s not get our knickers into a knot;  we know that throne speeches are typically mute on how we should get anything done, and a  lot of other important sectors were not mentioned either. I know the little voice in the back of our minds is saying: “But research and science saved our nation and other nations globally from COVID-19. Isn’t that worth at least a nod in this speech?”

The profound trust bestowed upon politicians by Canadians has to mean that the government understands it cannot safeguard Canadians’ health and security without the science that has been its compass throughout this pandemic. And, we’re not done yet! If what is happening in British Columbia isn’t a provincial canary in the national mine, then I don’t know what is. Only science can build back better physically, digitally and in so many other ways. The knowledge infrastructure we create over the next few decades will be critical to taking us through many years of climate change crises that will directly impact human health.

The way I read this throne speech is that it is about righting a lot of what we have gotten wrong as a country before the pandemic. Letting these issues stand on their own in the speech signals that the government is going to act meaningfully on them in this parliament. Climate change and reconciliation can no longer be ignored and we have to do everything we can to address the former and rectify the latter no matter what. Combatting hate and racism with a renewed Anti-Racism Strategy is long overdue. At the same time, the throne speech recognizes the collective angst of Canadians; we are panicking because of the rising cost of living. The Liberals offer childcare and housing as solutions to tackling this challenge.

I was glad to hear in the throne speech that the government believes that building a resilient economy means investing in people. Support for diverse, highly-qualified research personnel, including the next generation, Indigenous Peoples and people from racialized and otherwise marginalized communities, is something the research community can get behind, as is the commitment to mental health.

We could make the case that this Speech from the Throne is high-level and visionary in the same way a mission statement is, and we all have one of these.  We can tell ourselves that there is a lot in it to which we can tether research and innovation. And then, we can act in our advocacy efforts as though we know research, science and innovation were included in the thoughts of the speech’s authors, if not in their words, and we are confident that our enterprise will be recognized and supported in the deeds of this government. Anything less and we could surely claim this speech sent the wrong signal.