Arthur Carty

Arthur Carty

What Happened

Dr. Arthur Carty advocated open sharing of information across borders and institutions. His role as National Science Advisor was undermined by the federal government, which cut off his communication with the Prime Minister, failed to ask him for his professional advice, and excluded him from science strategy discussions. The government finally phased out his Office entirely, claiming it was no longer needed. During the Office's closure procedures, the government questioned whether Carty had overcharged for meal expenses - tactics that some called a “smear campaign” and a “ludicrous insult.”


Dr. Carty was appointed head of the Office of the National Science Advisor (ONSA) by the Paul Martin government on April 1st, 2004 - the day that Martin was sworn into office.

From 2004 until 2006, ONSA acted as a line of communication between the scientific community and the government. The ONSA had an open-ended mandate to promote a “strong culture of science, technology, and innovation in Canada.” As head of ONSA, Carty advised the government on international scientific and technological issues. His office had the freedom to provide whatever advice it viewed as necessary, in order to promote changes that the scientific community viewed as worthwhile and imperative.

Dr. Carty was known for his strong stance on “open access,” a model of scientific research that encourages scholars to share information across institutions and borders, decreasing the information gap between first and third world countries.

Soon after the Conservative government came to power in 2006, it began undermining ONSA’s influence, first by cutting off the direct line of communication with the Prime Minister, and shifting it to the Industry Minister. Carty later said that he was not asked for advice by the Conservative government, and that he was not included in the 2007 development of Canada’s New Science Strategy.

In May 2007, the government created a new science-related body called the Science, Technology and Innovation Council (STIC), to act as an independent body that would advise the government on policy through the Minister of Industry.  STIC had a narrower mandate than ONSA, and fit into the Harper government’s strategy for science and technology, which seeks to increase privatization of scientific and technological research and development.

STIC consists of 17 members and a Chair, among them three government officials and more members with industry and business backgrounds than scientific backgrounds (Cuddy, 2010: 20-21). In 2010, only six of the eighteen Council members held scientific research jobs, only four of which were full-time (ibid.).  STIC has no direct access to the federal government.

A main goal of STIC is to increase capitalization of scientific knowledge and technology. This goal was at odds with Carty’s philosophy of open information sharing across borders and institutions.

In October 2007, Carty learned that his office was be eliminated, and that month, Carty sent a letter to Industry Minister Jim Prentice, declaring that he would retire from his position as National Science Advisor at the end of the fiscal year - on March 31st 2008, less than four years after ONSA’s inception.

Once the phasing out of ONSA became public, Carty told media sources he was “dismayed that the office is disappearing after four years and that it hasn't become a permanent fixture in science and technology in Canada.” Liberal MP Scott Brison said Carty had told the industry committee that “the need for a National Science Advisor has never been greater,” and “he is ‘dismayed and disappointed’ that the Conservatives find scientific advice ‘unwanted’.”

Numerous professors and researchers expressed uneasiness with the idea of eradicating the advisory position. Scientists told news sources that having someone in the position to advise the Prime Minister or even the Industry Minister gave them more confidence in a political process that already had minimal contact with the scientific community.

In March 2008, after the announcement of the closure of ONSA and before Carty retired, he was questioned by the Industry, Science and Technology Committee about some certain meal expenses he had claimed in a previous job as head of the National Research Council. Dr. Carty refuted the claims, stating he had “never overcharged the government for anything.” Liberal MP Scott Brison accused the Conservatives of launching a “smear campaign.” Bob McDonald, national science commentator for CBC, called the questioning a “ludicrous insult.”

Arthur Carty remains one of the most highly accomplished and respected scientists in Canada.

Relevant Dates:

  • January 2004: The Martin government creates the Office of the National Science Advisor (ONSA) and appoints Arthur Carty as the head.
  • May 2007: The Conservative government creates the Science, Technology and Innovation Council (STIC) as an 'independent' advisory body.
  • January 2008: The Conservative government publicly announces its plan to abolish ONSA, and Carty’s plan to retire at the end of the fiscal year.
  • March 2008: Carty is interrogated about meal expenses in "smear campaign."
  • March 31st 2008: Arthur Carty retires from public service on the day ONSA is finally phased out.

Role or Position

Arthur Carty was the first and only person to head the Office of the National Science Advisor to the Government of Canada (ONSA), from its inception in 2004 to its elimination in 2008. The Advisor was the only scientist in the country to have had direct access to the Prime Minister. Dr. Carty’s record includes ten years of service as President of the National Research Council, and almost thirty years as a professor of chemistry and later Dean of Research at the University of Waterloo. He is currently the Executive Director of the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology.

Implications and Consequences

  • Free Speech: The STIC’s comercially-focused mandate, much narrower than what ONSA's open mandate had been, does not allow the STIC much room to make independent propositions or claims that would run counter to the government’s agenda. This undermines the possibilities for independent expression in the realm of science and technology policy in Canada, and endangers the ability of the scientific community to effectively warn or advise the government on critical policy questions.
  • Transparency: The presence of government officials in the STIC puts pressure on the Council to provide the government with advice and reports that support its agenda. That these reports will be presented as somehow independent of government control fails the government’s responsibility to be transparent in tha manner in which its policies are truly decided.
  • Democracy: The closure of ONSA represents the loss of experienced civil servants and of independent advice to the government. Independent committees are a key component of our democracy: they present the government with unbiased information to make informed decisions that put public interests at the fore of the government’s agenda. Advisers and committees that only tell the government what it wants to hear cannot adequately reflect the views and interests of the Canadian public, and are therefore not democratic.
  • Democracy: The closure of ONSA follows a trend in Canada where government sidelines and silences independent individuals and institutions who have a responsibility to watch out for the interests of Canadians. See, for example, the case of Linda Keen, former President of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

Published on: 17 March 2011

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