The Harper government is engaged in a broad assault on environmental protection and environmental science, gutting laws, programs, budgets, and research projects. “An Open Letter to the World on the Governmental Destruction of the Environment in Canada,” from a former employee at Environment Canada. Censorship of science communication and the muzzling of Canadian government scientists. And pulling the plug on what has been called Canada’s greatest freshwater defender and scientific achievement. An authoritarian rampage in the north country.
Oh Canada: the government’s broad assault on the environment (Guardian, July 2):
Prime minister Stephen Harper’s government has been weakening Canada’s environmental regulations and slashing funds for oversight and research – while promoting aggressive resource development.
…Canada’s pristine image — and more importantly its environment — is not likely to recover from what critics across the political spectrum say is an unprecedented assault by the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper on environmental regulation, oversight, and scientific research. Harper, who came to power in 2006 unapologetic for once describing the Kyoto climate accords as “essentially a socialist scheme to suck money out of wealth-producing nations,” has steadily been weakening environmental enforcement, monitoring, and research, while at the same time boosting controversial tar sands development, backing major pipeline construction, and increasing energy industry subsidies.
Critics say that assault reached a crescendo in recent weeks with the passage in Parliament of an omnibus budget bill known as C-38, which guts or significantly weakens rules relating to fisheries protection, environmental assessment, endangered species, and national parks. Under this bill, the criteria that currently trigger environmental assessments, for example, have been eliminated, leaving such reviews more to the discretion of the Minister of the Environment and other political appointees. The Fisheries Act will no longer be focused on habitat protection; instead, it will restrict itself largely to the commercial aspects of resource harvesting. Ocean dumping rules will also be changed to allow the Minister of the Environment to make decisions on permitting. And Parks Canada will no longer have to conduct environmental audits or review management plans every ten years. In addition, budgets cuts will eliminate the jobs of hundreds of scientists working for various government departments that focus on the environment and wildlife….
In addition to Bill C-38, the Harper government has ended funding for the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences, which had doled out more than $100 million in research funding over the past decade. It has withdrawn support for the Experimental Lakes Program in northwestern Ontario, which has used 58 lakes to conduct groundbreaking studies on phosphate, mercury, and bacterial contamination, as well as research on how climate change affects freshwater systems. And it has killed funding for a program that helps keep more than a dozen Arctic science research stations operational.
The elimination or severe reduction of funds for research into climate change and the Arctic has especially serious implications, given that the Canadian Arctic is warming faster than almost any other region on earth. Scientists say that Harper’s sharp cutbacks will mean a drastic shortage of funds to monitor huge environmental changes in the Arctic, including melting sea ice, thawing permafrost, a rapidly changing tundra environment, and widespread impacts on fauna and flora….
May 18, 2012
My name is Naomi. I am Canadian. I worked for Environment Canada, our federal environmental department, for several years before our current Conservative leadership (under Stephen Harper) began decimating environmentalism in Canada. I, along with thousands and thousands of federal science employees lost any hope of future work. Their attitude towards the environment is ‘screw research that contradicts the economic growth, particularly of the oil sands’. They have openly and officially denigrated anyone that supports the environment and opposes big-money oil profit as ‘radicals’ (http://tinyurl.com/7wwf8dp).
Every day in Canada, new information about their vendetta on science and the environment becomes quietly public and keeps piling up. I have been privy to much first-hand information still because I retain friendships with my ex-colleagues (though my blood pressure hates me for it).
While I was working there, scientists were effectively muzzled from speaking to the media without prior confirmation with Harper’s media team (http://tinyurl.com/7bnsqp4) – usually denied, and when allowed, totally controlled. Scientists were threatened with job loss if they said anything in an interview that was not exactly what the media team had told them to say. This happened in 2008. The public didn’t find out for years.
During one of my contracts, I was manager of a large, public database set. Contact information for all database managers was available for anyone. I knew what was going on with the information and could answer questions immediately and personally. During this time, I noticed that the media team started asking me “What would I say” to certain questions. I answered unwittingly. After a certain period of time, I noticed that all contact information had been removed from the internet – eliminating the opportunity for a citizen to inquire directly about these public data sets without contacting the media team. The Conservatives effectively removed another board from the bridge between science and the public, and I had inadvertently helped.
Since then, the Conservative government has been laying off thousands and thousands of full-fledged scientific employees that have been performing research for decades at Environment Canada, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and Parks Canada (e.g. http://tinyurl.com/8xtkaro , http://tinyurl.com/7gvzc7r, http://tinyurl.com/clgn97u ), shutting down entire divisions and radically decimating environmental protection and stewardship in a matter of a couple years.
I am afraid for my country. Canada is the second largest land mass in the world – though our population is small, you can be sure that when a country that encompasses 7% of the world’s land mass, and has the largest coastline in the world says “screw it” to environmental protection, there will be massive global repercussions.
The Conservative leadership have admitted to shutting down environmental research groups on climate change because “they didn’t like the results” (http://tinyurl.com/7kpqk7d), are decimating the Species at Risk Act (our national equivalent of the IUCN Red list), are decimating habitat protection for fisheries, are getting rid of one of the most important water research facilities in the world (Experimental Lakes Area – has been operational since 1968, and allows for long-term ecosystem studies [http://tinyurl.com/cdygbdk] ), are getting rid of almost all scientists that study contaminants in the environment, have backed out of the Kyoto protocol – and the list goes on and on and on.
Entire divisions of scientific research are being eliminated. Our land, our animals, our plants, our environment are losing all the protection that has been building for decades – a contradictory stance to the rest of the world….
David Schindler, a professor from the University of Alberta (and founder of ELA) quoted. “I think we have a government that considers science an inconvenience.”…
This Conservative minority leadership was voted in on a thin string in the lowest voter election turnout in recent history, but thanks to our ridiculous voting laws, have 100% full power to do whatever they want. And in the name of short-term monetary oil profit, they have realized that progressive science and the environment are threats (obstacles) to their goals, and are doing so many things to eliminate both.
We are depressed, and frustrated, and mad, and need all the help we can get to protect the value of science and our environment. In the age of globalization, intentionally non-progressive leadership is going to affect everyone. We share our waters, air, and cycles with all of you. Science IS a candle in the dark, and we cannot let greed extinguish that flame. What happens in Canada– will happen everywhere.
A Canadian that cares about science and the environment
**Update (May 22, 2012). There has been a huge overwhelming response to this letter. Over 40,000 people have viewed it, with hundreds of comments. There are a lot of different organizations that want to be part of a larger movement. There are also quite a few scientists who may want to speak out, but still cannot. I encourage anyone who wants to contribute and organize, and may desire to do it more discreetly (ie: anonymous and or/not as a public comment), to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please let your colleagues know as well. I will never publish your information unless you want me to, and will be organizing interested parties somehow, so that we can effect greater change – for ourselves, our freedom, and our beautiful planet.
**Update (May 25, 2012). An excellent opinion piece by a DFO scientist on the axing of the pollution programs at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/news/2012/opinion-mass-firing-of-canada2019s-ocean-scientists
Canadian government is ‘muzzling its scientists’ (BBC News,Vancouver, February 17, 2012)
Speakers at a major science meeting being held in Canada said communication of vital research on health and environment issues is being suppressed….
The allegation of “muzzling” came up at a session of the AAAS meeting to discuss the impact of a media protocol introduced by the Conservative government shortly after it was elected in 2008….
Andrew Weaver, an environmental scientist at theUniversity of Victoria in British Columbia, described the protocol as “Orwellian”….
Professor Weaver said that information is so tightly controlled that the public is “left in the dark”.
“The only information they are given is that which the government wants, which will then allow a supporting of a particular agenda,” he said.
The media protocol was obtained and reported three years ago by Margaret Munro, who is a science writer for Postmedia News, based in Vancouver. Speaking at the AAAS meeting, she said its effect was to suppress scientific debate on issues of public interest.
“The more controversial the story, the less likely you are to talk to the scientists. They (government media relations staff) just stonewall. If they don’t like the question you don’t get an answer.”…
Professor Andrew Weaver believes that the media protocol is being used by the Canadian government to “instruct scientists to deliver a certain message, thereby taking the heat out of controversial topics”.
He added: “You can’t have an informed discussion if the science isn’t allowed to be communicated. Public relations message number one is that you have to set the conversation. You don’t want to have a conversation on someone else’s terms. And this is now being applied to science on discussions about oil sands, climate and salmon.”
The Gem of Canadian Science that Harper Killed (Andrew Nikiforuk, May 23, The Tyee, British Columbia)
Over the Victoria Day weekend Canadians lost another vital national institution that quietly stood on guard for the nation’s 4 million lakes.
Just as citizens flocked to their cottages and launched their boats, the government of Stephen Harper pulled the plug on Canada’s greatest freshwater defender and scientific achievement: the Experimental Lakes Area.
And though its muzzled scientists haven’t been able to talk about the program’s impressive research in recent years without Ottawa’s approval, this uniquely Canadian endeavor both changed and educated the world. It also drove global public policy on watershed protection.
In a move that stunned and appalled scientists around the world the Harper government laid off as many as 40 scientists associated with the legendary program working out the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Winnipeg’s office.
According to Ottawa’s tiresome newspeak, the program no longer “aligned with the department’s mandate and is not responding to our research priorities.”
The killing of the program is the latest in a series of coordinated attacks on environmental science and the gutting of most of the nation’s environmental legislation. It not only trashes Canada’s international reputation but confirms the Harper government’s pathological hatred for science of any kind.
In fact the country has now officially entered a Dark Age for science. After spending $2.5 million renovating the Arctic Institute of North America’s Kluane Research Station, the Harper government just eliminated the funding for the global leader in climate change and boreal mammal research. It also provided federal Arctic researchers at a recentMontreal conference with Iraqi-like minders to control their comments. Nature, one of the world’s foremost science magazines, has written editorials about the muzzling of Canadian scientists.
In this new political order of attacks on science and environmentalists, the closure of the ELA program takes on special significance. The irrational decision strikes most scientists as a feat of colossal stupidity, economic folly and ideological backwardness….
The future of proposed studies on nanoparticles and oil sands contaminants such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) may now be dead. “There were some troubling signs that toxic nanoparticles of silver could go through biological membranes,” says Schindler.
But the Harper government apparently doesn’t want you to know that truth. Nor does it want Canadians to learn about what role oil sands pollutants such as PAHs might play in fish deformities in Lake Athabasca or cancers in Fort Chip. “Politicians have never understood what the ELA does or why it’s important,” says Schindler from his cottage nearBrisco,British Columbia. “We are losing an opportunity to improve the public’s scientific literacy on water.” He adds that “democracy, to be effective, needs to have an informed electorate.”
In this regard the full scale assault on science funding and scientific freedom in Canada makes the country look increasing like another sorry Arab oil exporter. The sheiks, a group as fundamentalist in their orientation as Harper’s Tories, don’t like science either.
As molecular biologist Rana Dajani explains in a 2011 Nature editorial, the political and religious environment in most Arab states currently “fails to sustain creativity, curiosity and striking out into the unknown — all of which are essential for science to flourish.”
And that’s where Harper is taking Canada: back to an Arab winter.