Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/5/2010 (2532 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
SORRY, ladies, but the federal government's Canada Excellence Research Chairs program has nothing to do with gender. It is about merit, about excellence in various fields of research and nothing else.
The program is part of the Conservative government's efforts to recruit top scientists from around the world to revitalize this country's faltering research efforts. Think of it as the brain drain in reverse.
Instead of Canada's best researchers going to the United States or elsewhere for more money and greater opportunities, as has been the case for years, top-level scientists are now coming here, lured by long-term and lucrative federal grants.
Industry Minister Tony Clement announced this week the first 19 researchers had been nabbed and named.
This is, apparently, not as easy a thing to do as one might assume. Universities are extremely possessive of their top talent and the head of the selection board likened the process to a bidding war for free-agent professional NHL hockey players in its intensity and competitiveness.
Unfortunately, in the eyes of some feminists and fellow travellers, just as happens in the NHL, there were no women signed to play. All 19 of CERC's recruits are male. What happened to gender equity, they asked, the concept where hiring is proportioned on the basis of the "equitable" distribution of jobs between the sexes?
Winnipeg MP Anita Neville, the Liberal party's shadow minister for the status of women, suggests the universities who recruited these researchers be made to resubmit such a list -- one that would reflect gender equity rather than professional qualifications.
Others are outraged, too. An English professor hints at going to the Canadian Human Rights Commission over the issue. The clamour has been enough to fluster the minister, whose office tried to shift the "blame" for the fact there were no women's names on the list to the universities that submitted their favourite candidates, all of them men.
That's probably because all the hirings are in areas of expertise where women form a small minority. Had CERC been looking for English professors, there would undoubtedly have been women chosen, but instead it was looking at science and technology, which our English professor sneeringly refers to as "commercializable" fields, unlike her pure science of dissecting Margaret Atwood novels.
Neither the universities nor the minister have anything to apologize for. In fact, they should be congratulated for a good beginning of a program to quick-start Canadian research and development. Perhaps they may even set a precedent -- that all federally funded hiring be based on merit rather than gender, but that's probably too radical a thought to even be publicly expressed right now.