Maryse Lassonde - President (2015-2017)
Here is my final message as President of the Royal Society of Canada. Before passing the torch to the President-Elect, Chad Gaffield, in November, I thought it would be appropriate to provide a short summary of these two years of my presidency.
The start of my mandate was marked by some internal turbulence. After our Executive Director left a year before my official arrival, we had to recruit someone new who only stayed with us for a few months. Fortunately, Darren Gilmour’s return to the National Secretariat helped stabilize the personnel and together, Darren and I were able to follow up on the recommendations in the PWC report for the RSC. Accordingly, standing committees were struck (Finance/Audit; Governance/Ethics; Human Resources) and Council meetings were gradually modified to allow for their greater involvement in the strategic decisions around the future of the RSC. Thanks to the generous guidance of Elvio Buono, Associate Vie-President, Human Resources, at the University of Ottawa, we were able to streamline and better define the roles and duties of RSC personnel. Lastly, renovations were completed on Walter House and our home opened its doors to Institutional Members and the community in May 2016.
During my mandate, a challenge included defining our relationship with the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA). The history of this relationship was marked by some difficulties, which were, among other things, related to the fact that the RSC had initiated measures that had led to the eventual creation of the CCA. After numerous discussions and interactions internally, particularly with the RSC Fellows who helped create the CCA as well as the other founding members of that association, namely the Canadian Academy of Engineering and the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences, the Council finalized the agreement that binds the RSC to the Council of Canadian Academies. These diverse discussions improved our relations with the other two academies and I sincerely hope that these will continue to evolve through regular meetings between the Academy presidents. I would also like to highlight the wonderful work of Carol Herbert, who recently left the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences as President.
Internationally, while continuing to collaborate with our Foreign Secretary, Jeremy McNeil, the RSC reaffirmed its active presence within various international associations, including the InterAcademy Partnership (IAP) and the InterAmerican Network of Academy of Sciences (IANAS). We also strengthened our ties with the Royal Society of Edinburgh with whom we organized an international symposium that resulted in the publication of a book, Constitutional Politics and the Territorial Question in Canada and the United Kingdom, which was co-edited by Guy Laforest, FRSC. International forums were also held with the Royal Society of London and the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, among others. We helped develop scientific statements for the G7 in Japan and Italy as well as the G20 in Germany. Lastly, we also attended important commemorations such as the 350th anniversary of the French Académie des Sciences and the 150th anniversary of the Royal Society of New Zealand. I firmly believe that international relations are one of the RSC’s strengths and I am confident that they will continue to advance during the next presidency.
Many of my messages have alluded to my desire to promote inclusion and diversity within the membership of the RSC. Gender parity exists in the College and Academies 1 and 2 now welcome nearly the same number of men and women in terms of new appointments. Although the number of women admitted to the Academy of Science (Academy 3) has increased slightly, I sincerely hope that our Institutional Members will promote the appointment of women and minority representatives in the coming years. In addition, we have developed a questionnaire to assess diversity within the RSC, which is important for recognizing the rationale for inclusive representation within the RSC. Nevertheless, the Indigenous community continues to be poorly represented in the RSC. Given the significant involvement of one of our former Presidents, Duncan Campbell Scott, in establishing the Residential Schools, the RSC has a distinct duty for reconciliation that must be achieved, among other things, through the recognition of Indigenous people within the RSC. In this context, I had the pleasure and honour of welcoming two exceptional Indigenous women, Michèle Audette and Cindy Blackstock, as Honorary Fellows of the Royal Society of Canada last year. However, these appointments, while they were exceptional, are not sufficient. Recognizing this special duty for reconciliation, the Council, during its last meeting, finalized the creation of a new committee aimed at improving Indigenous representation in the RSC.
Two years seem very short to try to accomplish an array of objectives. Stabilizing the RSC’s revenues continues to be important in order to be able to tackle the various measures that will be presented in the next strategic plan. In my mission statement, I had sought to strengthen the RSC’s regional representation, somewhat based on the model of the Atlantic division. The College has accomplished this superbly and I congratulate its President, Cynthia Milton, who achieved remarkable work in this area and many others. The College has become a model for each of the Academies of the RSC.
I will conclude this final message by wishing our soon-to-be President, Chad Gaffield, the best of luck. After witnessing first-hand the considerable esteem afforded to him by the academic and government sectors, I’m confident that our great association, the RSC, can only continue to progress under his leadership. He will undoubtedly be able to count on the support of Canada’s new Chief Science Advisor, Mona Nemer, FRSC, who has devoted countless hours to various RSC committees. To both of you, Mona and Chad, I wish you the greatest success in your new roles!
Maryse Lassonde, O.C., C.Q., FRSC, FCAHS