For Engineering Professionals in Ontario’s Eastern Region
Moderated by Michael Monette, P.Eng., a member of OSPE’s Board of Directors, this timely event invites representatives from four leading federal parties to voice their views on topics pertinent to the engineering community, including nuclear power, renewable energy sources, infrastructure renewal and the development of Canada’s skilled work force. Featuring representative riding candidates from the Conservative Party of Canada, Liberal Party of Canada, New Democratic Party of Canada and the Green Party of Canada.
That’s all good and fine, but in truth, all this effort matters little in the grand scheme of things. Engineers have very little political say in this country despite being given token attention such as the meeting above. I believe this state of affairs is common throughout the Western world.
According to a magazine published by the Canadian government, the Canadian Parliamentary Review, a 2009 article titled A Parliamentary Career for Scientists and Engineers writes:
Scientific and engineering expertise is at the core of economic growth, and it is vital for resolving the most complex issues faced by countries in recent years. In Canada, diverse crises have been particularly acute, threatening the population’s public health and safety and raising deep concerns about the government’s ability to act quickly and precisely. From one nuclear crisis to the next—as well as problems related to public health, climate change, environment, drug safety, bioethics, and biodiversity—complex challenges requiring solutions from experts in science and technology must be addressed in the new global landscape.
Trapped in the midst of all these crises, there does not seem to be anyone to whom we can turn for advice and expertise in the House of Commons. In fact, science and technology expertise has always been under-represented in Parliament except for physicians who have been consistently in the top ten occupations represented in the House of Commons over the last 50 years. Very few elected officials have a basic understanding of the science and technology method and mindset.
I’ve bolded that last sentence because it is very relevant to how government sometimes operate, on the basis of political ideology rather than on sound science. The latest episode here, of which I’ve ranted on many times over at Flying Flux, is how the government tried to coerce the head national statistician into saying something that he knows to be wrong, and rather than go along with a twisted government agenda, decided to step down from his position as head of Statistics Canada.
According to the article above, out of 308 seats in the House of Commons, “only one or two professional (licensed) engineers have held a seat” in the last seven sessions of government (typically 4-5 years per session). In the eyes of engineers, 1 or 2 out of 308 might as well be zero. The effect is negligible.
While I was reading the article, what first popped into my mind was the introverted nature of engineers, making them naturally shy away from representative politics, where it’s all about campaigning and sound bites. One of the article’s conclusions certain match my thinking, stating “this lack of interest is based upon the findings of a study comparing personality characteristics that suggests that engineers are rather solitary birds.” However, it also makes one other very important and valid point. The scientist or engineer, by pursuing a political career, incurs a heavy opportunity cost if there is a desire to ever re-enter their original field of choice. The same cannot be said for lawyers, whose legal careers can only be enhanced through success in politics.
The dearth of engineering representation in Western politics stands in stark contrast to China, where 8 of the top 9 politicians that make up the highest and most powerful decision-making body in that country, the Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party, are engineers by training. Obviously, the word “communist” in the Communist Party of China is nowadays an archaism. But I wonder if that word’s legacy, with its proletariat-focused, utilitarian workers-paradise philosophy, is what has resulted in so many engineers heading the top of that country.
So how involved are you, dear engineers, in politics? Do you participate beyond being just a voter? Do you care, do you not, and why?