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Finance & Innovation

Justin Trudeau and Bill Nye's Conversation About Space Had an Important Message for Women

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Bill Nye “The Science Guy” sat down together at the University of Ottawa this morning to discuss science innovation and Canada’s federal budget.

The conversation started with Nye recounting how he originally became interested in science.

“I was on our front porch in the city of Washington, D.C., and I got stung by a bee,” Nye said. “And my mother put ammonia on it.”

That instance, when Nye was about 3 years old, led to his fascination with science (and, at first, bees).

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“The thing is, that every single human being starts off as a scientist,” Trudeau said. “You’re curious, you’re always asking questions.”

But as people grow older, they forget about being a young scientist, the prime minister explained.

And that’s why an important part of the plan for Canada when it comes to science research is to continue to encourage curiosity — to encourage young people to get involved and chase the answers that the world does not yet have.

The Liberal government is committing $3.8 billion over the next five years for various science research programs, according to the Globe and Mail.

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Trudeau explained the importance in fundamental research, even if its return on investment isn’t immediate.

“That fundamental research is essential,” Trudeau said.

Nye gave the thumbs up when it came to discussion around Canada’s investments in science, and the understanding that there might not be an immediate return on investment.

Nye calls that misconception the “homerun mentality.”

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“You just don’t want to have any science program where you have that expectation that you’re going to have great success right away,” he said.

Even the workers at Space X are allowed to make mistakes, he explained.

The conversation switched gears to the real-life people working in science.

Because Canada is open to immigration, Trudeau pointed out that the country benefits from a diversified group of researchers — which is an important part of exploring science.

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“I really encourage Canadians to pursue space, invest in space, because it leads to innovations,” Nye said.

Nye praised the Canadian Space Agency for its continued involvement in space missions around the world.

“I always carry a Canadian fiver,” Nye said, taking a bill out of his wallet. “On the back of your money you celebrate the space program.”

Trudeau also referenced the importance of women in STEM, stating that the different ways in which women approach science is important as he feels a woman’s approach may often be more impactful on the community.

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“Half of the people are girls and women, so why don’t we have half the scientists and engineers being women?” Nye said, to applause from the crowd.

Young researchers Ayda Elhage of Ottawa University and Caitlin Miron of Queen’s University joined the discussion around women and science.

“It’s really important that we have role models,” Miron said. “If she’s done it, then why can’t I?”

Miron is working on research that could result in finding a way to “turn off” cancer cells.

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The group took questions from the crowd that ranged in topics from the budget allocated to mental healthcare and innovations, the connection between arts and sciences, Canada’s overall healthcare system and today’s science programs for kids.

Nye also asked Trudeau to speak to the Kinder Morgan pipeline, after mentioning that Canada has the ability to power its entire nation using renewable energy.

The Kinder Morgan Trans pipeline is a pipeline that carries crude and refined oil from the province of Alberta to the west coast of the province of British Columbia.

Some argue that an expansion like this creates more chances for pipeline ruptures, it increases oil tanker traffic and could lead to an increase in Alberta’s oil sands.

Trudeau agreed that Canada has the chance to lead on renewable energy, which is why the government is investing in research science.

“However, we can't get there tomorrow,” he said.

And so, while Canada develops its research, Trudeau said residents still need to be able to power their homes in the meantime.

Alberta has an emissions cap that limits the greenhouse gas emissions for oil sands sites to 100 megatonnes (Mt) per year.

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Trudeau said that this cap, combined with Canada’s national carbon pricing plan, are part of the country’s plan to meet the carbon reduction targets set out in the Paris Agreement.

He also argued that the pipeline will allow fossil fuel resources to reach new markets, which means Alberta will benefit, and in turn, the Canadian economy will too.

“A pipeline is safer than oil by rail, it's certainly safer than oil by trucks, a modern pipeline can be very carefully monitored and can be done safely,” he said.

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