Madam Speaker, the misfortunes of the world sometimes lie in the way we name or fail to name things. We are here to discuss research funding, chairs and the EDI criteria. The use of the acronym EDI sometimes prevents us from understanding what we are talking about. We are talking about equity, diversity and inclusion. These words have been used so indiscriminately that they have practically been stripped of their meaning. Since a word is an amalgam of sound and meaning, it does not make sense when it loses its meaning. Words are used to say anything and everything.
Today, I will try to make sense of all this, so that we can better understand. Although equity, diversity and inclusion may be buzzwords, they are important concepts.
As the member for Trois-Rivières, I am particularly interested in the subject of this motion. The president of the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, with whom I have regular discussions, keeps telling me that he is trying hard to attract the best researchers to all of his chairs, whether it be in social communications, pure sciences or green hydrogen. He keeps telling me how difficult it is to attract excellent candidates. Attracting the best candidates is a difficult thing, period. I cannot imagine that adding any kind of criteria would make his job any easier.
Let us at least try to look at this debate from another angle, despite the claim by some that this is a philosophical debate. Let us take the high road and demonstrate two things. First, for the enjoyment of everyone here, I will quote a philosopher who has always moved me, and that is Heraclitus. What he said can be summed up in four words: All things are one.
According to the “all things are one” philosophy, there can be no light without darkness, no left without right, no cold without hot. All things are one. Everything is included. According to Heraclitus's philosophy, inclusion is the solution to our problem. We need everyone today. That is inclusion.
Let us try to give meaning to this. Today I heard several people try to talk about or avoid talking about discrimination. Discrimination is what separates, what divides, what distinguishes between concepts. However, when discrimination is used to distinguish between concepts, it does not necessarily have a negative value, since we sometimes talk about positive discrimination.
I prefer the word “discernment” to “discrimination”. Discernment is an action that involves distinguishing between two schools of thought, taking context into account. Context is very important here. Oddly enough, EDI—equity, diversity and inclusion—excludes candidates, but I will come back to that.
In life, it is justifiable to want to correct an inequality but, as many have said, we have to remember that we do not correct one inequality by creating another. Everything is one.
Instead, I will talk about striking a balance. In awarding research funds, advancing knowledge should be the only criterion that counts. As we all know, science is not about sex, gender, colour, height, origin or residence. Science is about knowledge, it is about competence. Science is, and must remain, objective.
I will, of course, be the first to say that a diversity of voices can only enrich a discussion, especially in the humanities. Having studied philosophy, I can say that, even in my career as an ethicist, the diversity of voices that one always seeks is hard to come by. When you want to take a 360-degree look at any given subject, it becomes difficult when people's views are identical. People who look alike therefore think alike.
In the quest for truth or knowledge, one must apply what is called the ethics of discussion. Curiously, this step comes after what my colleague just mentioned, that is, after the ethics of beliefs and responsibilities. The ethics of discussion is the validation of our own ideas by a larger, more diverse group, a group that has another point of view. There is richness in diversity.
To get a research grant, first and foremost you have to master a vernacular. That is difficult. You must be well versed in the language, conform to the dictates of the research supervisor, get published in English and so on. The research environment is difficult for everyone. By the way, the requirement that the researcher publish in English is also a form of silent discrimination against francophones that dares not speak its name.
History clearly shows that there is an imbalance, a degree of discrimination against visible minorities, but, as I said, two wrongs do not make a right. Unfortunately, throughout history, minority groups, including francophones in Canada, have experienced negative discrimination. We need to acknowledge that, but, again, two wrongs do not make a right.
If there is discrimination, we need to tackle the reasons for it, not punish candidates who could be eligible for research funding.
Although diverse points of view can enrich the scientific conversation, diversity is not a prerequisite for doing good science.
The Canada research chairs program does not see it that way. According to its criteria, one cannot be a competent scientist unless one meets the diversity criteria. That statement is so outrageous that it would be laughable were it not so serious. If we examine the many criteria set out by the program, we can draw only one conclusion: The criteria are numerous, spurious and even Kafkaesque. The Canada research chairs program is based on an unrealistic vision. It is like trying to build an airplane that is supposed to fly under water.
Second, let us get out of our parliamentary bubble and our big-city bubbles and expand our horizons. Long ago, the Quebec government developed a network of 10 regional universities: the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, the Université du Québec à Rimouski, the Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue, the Université du Québec à Montréal, the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi, the Université du Québec en Outaouais, and so on. This network was set up to develop the regions of Quebec. By comparing these universities, we can see that there are significant demographic differences within the network. I urge my colleagues to believe me when I say this: the demographics of Montreal are not comparable to those of Rimouski.
If we go further, none of these regions is comparable to the Canadian population statistics cited by the Canada research chairs program. There too, Quebec is different.
What will the Université du Québec à Rimouski need to do if the minority referred to by the criteria is simply nowhere to be found in the region served by the university?
The “Canadian” criteria in the research chair guidelines do not match the demographics of Quebec. There is a glaring injustice here, in addition to a demonstrable inequity.
I will say for the third time that diversity usually enriches a discussion, but it still has to be present in the regions in question.
By asking the government to review the criteria for awarding grants to research chairs, we are simply asking it to let science be what it is, which is objective. We are asking the government to let universities be what they are, which is independent. Furthermore, the program ignores the autonomy of universities. Basically, non‑scientists are being entrusted with the task of allocating funds to scientists, even though these non‑scientists sometimes know very little about the process, apart from the diversity criteria.
The Canada research chairs program should be content to act as a facilitator for scientific advances, advances that are based on the skills and qualifications of candidates. It should not be telling universities what to do. This is an infringement on the jurisdiction of universities and Quebec, and that is unacceptable. Through its directives, the federal government is once again interfering in matters that are none of its concern and meddling where it is not wanted.
Through our motion, we are calling on the government to review its guidelines on equity, diversity and inclusion with a focus on the first, equity, which is the first word in the acronym, EDI. It is important to distinguish between equity or equality, for they are not the same thing. When it is properly understood, equity is a criterion that encompasses and transcends diversity and inclusion. Equity is a fair assessment of what each party is entitled to. If we add a little Aristotle and take a philosophical view, I would even say that it is a fair assessment of what each party is entitled to, as much as humanly possible. That should be the guideline used when allocating funding. Its very meaning transcends the convoluted EDI criteria used in the Canada research chairs program.
A word of caution is needed. It is important to remember that certain groups, for any number of legitimate reasons, tend to be drawn to certain disciplines over others. We have to be careful to replace discrimination with colonialism. Discrimination of any kind has no place in our society, and neither does blind, prescriptive virtue.