Harper government works to produce a science-free Canada

Posted by on May 19, 2012
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In this blog, I try to comment on news, and particularly new science results, that affect our understanding of the environmental crisis.  Sometimes I comment in detail on specific issues such as ocean acidification, other times it’s more of a pot pouri.  I’ve been away on vacation for two weeks, and so many disturbing things have happened I am not sure what to tackle first.  So, in no particular order… let’s start with another example of the Harper government’s approach to supporting environmental science.

Canada’s federal government seems intent on taking actions that call into question whether its leadership has any understanding of, or indeed any interest in the state of Canadians’ environment.  The latest such action occurred yesterday, when budget cuts at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans were announced to staff. (No public announcement appears to be planned.)   The cuts include elimination of about 400 staff at DFO and closure of the world-renowned Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) in northwestern Ontario.  Over its 40+ year lifetime, the ELA has produced an impressive array of sound science concerning the behavior of fresh-water ecosystems and their responses to such things as acid rain, air-sourced mercury pollution, phosphorus pollution, and releases of pharmaceutical estrogen mimics and disruptors.  The quality of the science has helped build Canada’s reputation in environmental science – a reputation now being rapidly eliminated – while ensuring that our laws and treaties concerning environmental matters were well founded in sound science.

The ELA employs about 13 permanent staff, and has an operating budget of about $600,000.  Pretty small potatoes when it comes to reducing Canada’s deficit.  Perhaps the real reason is to get rid of one more body that produces science this government would prefer not to see – such as its 40+ year record on climate change which shows that central Canada is in the process of a significant warming and drying out.

Long-term science, and the resulting long-term data sets that result, is an appropriate responsibility of national governments, and Canada used to recognize this fact.  Not anymore.  Now the government vaguely proposes to seek to have the University sector take over the program (presumably with no federal dollars to make this happen).  Famed limnologist, David Schindler, who was awarded the first Stockholm Water Prize (equivalent to a Nobel) in 1991, summed the situation up nicely: “I think we have a government that considers science an inconvenience”.

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