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May 2013: Everyone should have expected the Harper inquisition

May 9, 2013


At the end of April, Elizabeth May sent Kathleen Wynne flowers to thank the Ontario premier for saving the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA). Despite the global importance of the decades-long freshwater research conducted in the ELA, the Harper government last year withdrew funding and is now resisting rescue efforts.

Last summer, in an unprecedented demonstration, government scientists took to the streets in Ottawa to stage a “death of evidence” funeral. They felt compelled to draw attention to anti-science measures in Bill C-38, including the axing of funding for the ELA and the equally important Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL) in Nunavut, and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) Marine Contaminants research program.

Bill C-38 also gutted the Environmental Protection Act and amended the mandate of DFO to prioritise the interests of commercial fisheries and aquaculture. Since then, Bill C-45 has reduced the number of rivers and lakes covered by the Navigable Waters Protection Act from more than 2.5 million to 159 – and ignited the Idle No More movement.

The almost daily drip, drip of abandoned environmental treaties, nobbled scientists and access denied to existing government science is a bit like Chinese water torture for those who believe government policy should be evidence-based, rather than ideology-based.

This is, however, nothing compared to the body blow of seeing the full extent of the Harper government’s war on science pulled together in one place, as Joyce Nelson has done in the current issue of Watershed Sentinel.

Nelson details 21 projects which have been completely defunded. As well as the ELA and PEARL, the list includes:

Funding has been dramatically slashed to a further 25 programs, including oil spill protection and important Environment Canada water monitoring projects.

And Canada’s once internationally admired National Research Council has been turned into an industry lapdog.

The science and technology minister Gary Goodyear denies there is a war on science. He offers as proof the $5.5 billion of taxpayers’ money funnelled into the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI).

The CFI is the key decision maker for all science funding in Canada. Nelson’s examination of who is making these decisions reveals a list of directors and members peppered with oil and gas export, water privatisation and biotechnology boosters, begging the question of just how politicised funding for scientific research has become?

According to Jim Turk, director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT): “The Harper government wants politics to always trump science.  It wants its political views to dominate even if science shows that it’s wrong.” (CAUT recently launched a website,, which also details the war on science.)

As Nelson reports, Canada’s Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault has announced plans to investigate the extensive muzzling of government scientists. Her decision followed a complaint from the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Clinic, including a 128-report documenting the “systematic silencing since 2007 of federal scientists involved in research on climate change, the Alberta tar sands, fish farms, and other areas”.

How thorough the Commissioner’s investigation will be – or when her findings will be released – remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, as to whether or not Harperites are anti-science, the votes are in.

In case you missed it, on 20 March 2013, NDP science and technology critic Kennedy Stewart put the following motion to the House of Commons:

“That, in the opinion of the House: (a) public science, basic research and the free and open exchange of scientific information are essential to evidence-based policy-making; (b) federal government scientists must be enabled to discuss openly their findings with their colleagues and the public; and (c) the federal government should maintain support for its basic scientific capacity across Canada, including immediately extending funding, until a new operator is found, to the world-renowned Experimental Lakes Area Research Facility to pursue its unique research program.

The motion was defeated by 20 votes. Every Conservative MP present voted against it.

From → Columns

  1. It seems the Harper government is prepared to ‘allow’ the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) to take over and continue the crucial work of the Experimental Lakes Area.

    “I think this is a great day for underscoring how important evidence-based science is in helping guide policy decisions,” said Scott Vaughan, president and CEO of IISD. Vaughan also notes that the organisation may need to do some fundraising to cover the annual $2 million cost of operating the ELA.

    Yes, that’s right. All this important science put at risk by the Harper government for $2 million – a rounding error in most goverment departments and or .0004% of the CFI’s taxpayer funded research budget.

    More at:

  2. Although the content is unrelentingly grim (except Rick Mercer), good to see the war on science pulled together.

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