House of Commons Hansard #134 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was scientists.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Scientific and social science expertise
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Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

I will have to give the hon. member time to respond.

The hon. member for Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher.

Opposition Motion—Scientific and social science expertise
BUSINESS OF SUPPLY
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Nantel Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

Madam Speaker, I am being asked to respond, and I will respond, but honestly, the answer is self-evident because my colleague is giving me an example that has nothing to do with what I am talking about.

First, I invite him to go and see the people from Archives Canada, the people who are in the park and who are protesting. They could tell him about the people doing research at the University of British Columbia.

Second, this is classic. In Bill C-38, the government is deliberately including worthwhile things, such as the enhancement of the travelling exhibitions indemnification program, but it is also including a bunch of garbage. Then, I will be criticized for voting against the enhancement of assurances with respect to travelling exhibitions.

Opposition Motion—Scientific and social science expertise
BUSINESS OF SUPPLY
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Romeo Saganash Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher for his excellent presentation and his contribution to this House. I will have the honour of running a relay race with him on June 24.

Knowing the importance of information and statistics to governance issues in any society—there is a saying that "knowledge is power"—I would like him to comment more on this shift that seems to be taking place on the other side of the House, judging by all the measures being proposed here.

Opposition Motion—Scientific and social science expertise
BUSINESS OF SUPPLY
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Nantel Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

Madam Speaker, first of all, the hon. member is right. We are going to jog and exercise together to have a sound mind in a sound body.

Second, in response to his question, I honestly think that the government is not interested in knowledge per se, because they do not have a long-term vision for our society. They are constantly looking for short-term solutions. So, in the short term, when a lobbyist comes in the door, they ask him what he wants and say, “Sure, man. We will do that for you.”

Opposition Motion—Scientific and social science expertise
BUSINESS OF SUPPLY
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Madam Speaker, in response to the “Black Out Speak Out” national campaign that denounces Bill C-38, and in support of which members wore black buttons yesterday, the Minister of Natural Resources said, “We want people to know the facts, not the distorted or exaggerated version.”

Frankly, this is an insult to our intelligence. The last thing this government wants is for people to know the facts. It would seem that they do not even want to know the facts themselves.

In my view, the Conservative government period will be the age of scientific darkness. The government is making cuts to science. Over the past year, 12 research organizations and programs have been eliminated in a number of areas: Statistics Canada, Citizenship and Immigration, Human Resources and Skills Development, Industry Canada, Public Safety Canada, Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, to name a few.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada is one of the hardest hit departments. Does the Prime Minister know that oceans are not just for warships? There are actually many coastal communities that rely on the sustainability of oceans.

The government cannot ignore it, but it does not seem to be bothered about it. In fact, it is so indifferent to it that it is making reckless cuts to Fisheries and Oceans, slashing $80 million, including a number of layoffs in research and science-related areas.

It is ending the Experimental Lakes Area program in northern Ontario, it is eliminating the aboriginal inland habitat program, and it is cutting the funding for aquaculture sciences activities. Furthermore, it is eliminating the ocean population monitoring program at Fisheries and Oceans, which means, for this program alone, the abolition of 75 scientist positions.

We know that these cuts drastically reduce our ability to resolve marine pollution issues, such as the problems associated with municipal sewer systems, contaminated sites, the impact of pesticides on salmon and the effect of PCBs on killer whales.

I would like to stress what a Conservative member said just a few minutes ago, which was that the Conservatives were here to support and help the municipalities.

With all the cuts announced by the Conservatives over the past few weeks, the municipalities in the Gaspé and Magdalen Islands region will not be able to pick up the slack and continue the scientific programs abolished by the Conservatives. The people in remote areas will not be able to take over.

In the Conservatives’ view, which private sector organization would in fact be able to take over the scientific programs in the Gulf of St. Lawrence?

Furthermore, five research centres will be axed: the Freshwater Institute in Winnipeg, which works in cooperation with the Experimental Lakes Area in Ontario; the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia; the Institute of Ocean Sciences in Sidney, British Columbia; the Gulf Fisheries Centre in Moncton; and the Maurice Lamontagne Institute in Mont-Joli, in the Gaspé, in my riding.

The Maurice Lamontagne Institute is a centre of excellence in cutting-edge research in a number of scientific areas. The facility specializes in research and innovation in science. The institute also generates more than 400 jobs in a region where jobs are precious. These are well-paid jobs. The loss of 400 jobs means that 400 families will no longer be able to support themselves and that 400 families will soon be moving to another area, probably one of the larger cities.

Endangering or cutting 400 jobs in the Gaspé and the Magdalen Islands will hit these people hard.

The Conservatives are making fools of themselves claiming that they are creating jobs, when they are actually cutting jobs in areas where employment is badly needed.

Clearly, they do not care about those jobs. We know their strategy. They say that all of those people can go work for less pay thanks to their employment insurance reforms. Maybe they can get McJobs or commute far from home, at least 100 km or maybe even to remote locations in Alberta. This reminds me of the bad old days when people were shipped off to work camps.

The Conservatives' disdain for coastal communities is blatantly obvious. They are planning to change fleet separation and owner-operator policies in the fisheries sector. These policies protect the culture of coastal communities that depend on fishing. The Conservatives' decision to eliminate fish habitat protection from the Fisheries Act proves that they do not care about the sustainability of fish stocks. We have to protect the whole ecosystem if we want to protect populations of fish that depend on other species for their survival. If the government eliminates the fleet separation policy, huge processing ships will move in, which could easily result in the same problems that we experienced in the 1990s, when fish stocks declined dramatically. We must not let that happen again. That is why we need science.

The Conservatives would know this if they listened to scientists. They are putting the lives of sailors and recreational boaters in danger by closing the search and rescue centres in Quebec City and in Newfoundland and Labrador. With their changes to employment insurance, the Conservatives are attacking coastal communities whose economic activities are mainly seasonal.

Canadians deserve better than a government that has no long-term vision. They deserve better than a government that makes decisions based on ideology. They deserve better than a government that tries to hide information from them. The culture of secrecy is so pervasive among the Conservatives that the government is muzzling scientists.

To name just a few, consider the following examples: Dr. David Tarasick, a scientist at Environment Canada; Kristi Miller, a scientist at Fisheries and Oceans; and Scott Dallimore, a geoscientist at Natural Resources. They were all muzzled by this government. The Conservatives prohibited them from talking to the media about their research—research, I would point out, that is paid for by us, the taxpayers.

The research conducted by these scientists on climate change or on declining fish stocks is crucial to sound management in Canada. To slash funding for science means slashing the information needed to govern properly. How can the Conservatives claim to believe in science or to base their decisions on science if they cut funding for scientific research?

The Conservatives' war against science has long-term consequences that they are not taking into account. I want to emphasize the fact that in my region, we saw fish stocks collapse in the early 1990s. The economy in our region and that of the entire Gulf of St. Lawrence suffered greatly as a result. The communities in my region have had a very hard time recovering to where they were 20 years ago. Making the same mistake of not taking an accurate and thorough inventory of the fish stocks is a recipe for disaster.

While countries like Germany are increasing funding for basic research, Canada is at risk of losing its scientific expertise to other, more visionary countries. Is this government trying to trigger a brain drain? The Conservatives have forgotten that they are here to serve the public, not control the public. Canadians have the right to be informed. The Conservatives do not have the right to control information and to shut down scientific facts when findings do not suit them. That is the basis of morals and ethics. Of course to the Conservatives, whose ideology is taking us back to the Dark Ages, this seems perfectly normal.

The Conservatives are waging an ongoing war on research, data collection and the development of fact-based policies because these things interfere with their ideological agenda and force them to recognize embarrassing truths, such as the human causes of climate change.

That is why I am urging the government to support the motion of the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas. I am urging this government to drop the ideological rhetoric and make decisions based on scientific facts.

I am urging the government to get back on the right path and support scientific research for Canada's short- and long-term benefit.

Opposition Motion—Scientific and social science expertise
BUSINESS OF SUPPLY
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Ted Hsu Kingston and the Islands, ON

Madam Speaker, in my opinion, this government fears criticism.

In the hon. member's opinion, what do the scientists who were muzzled have to say that could scare the government?

Opposition Motion—Scientific and social science expertise
BUSINESS OF SUPPLY
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Kingston and the Islands for his question.

Certainly, when scientists are muzzled, it is a great loss for Canadians. Canadians and all the scientists in the world can trust the research that Canadian scientists have done because it is sophisticated and renowned.

For example, there is the announced closure of the Experimental Lakes Area program in northwestern Ontario. This program is known throughout the world. It is an enormous loss for some Canadians to no longer have access to that research. The private sector cannot take over. When the federal government does this type of research, it is done over the short and long term and, most of the time, private companies are more interested in the short term.

My question is for the government: who exactly is going to take over?

Opposition Motion—Scientific and social science expertise
BUSINESS OF SUPPLY
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Tyrone Benskin Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Madam Speaker, there seems to be a sense of fear on the government side, and it is a fear of too much information. There seems to be this need to just shut down all of the avenues of information that help Canadians and the government and the House work for Canadians.

Along with that, there is a sense of “Trust us, we know what we are doing. Trust us, the cheque is in the mail.”

The reason we have institutions like committees and outside arm's-length and very distant organizations to monitor certain things is to make sure that everything is done for the needs of Canadians.

Could my hon. colleague comment on that? The word “fear” has been used a couple of times by my colleague from the Liberals as well, so maybe he could say a few words on that.

Opposition Motion—Scientific and social science expertise
BUSINESS OF SUPPLY
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Jeanne-Le Ber.

We do indeed appear to be going through a period in Canada where the government wants to operate in the dark. When people are afraid, they are less likely to complain. I can give as an example what is happening in the public service right now when layoffs are being announced. In some departments, a letter of termination will be sent to 20 or so employees, but they know that perhaps only four or five will actually be laid off.

This is creating a culture of fear that is harmful to sound scientific development. It pits employees against each other. It really means a loss of efficiency. The federal system will have at least a one-year period during which the public service will be frozen and it will be very difficult to cope in this situation. It is really very frightening.

Opposition Motion—Scientific and social science expertise
BUSINESS OF SUPPLY
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

The hon. member for Vaudreuil—Soulanges has 30 seconds for a final question.

Opposition Motion—Scientific and social science expertise
BUSINESS OF SUPPLY
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls Vaudreuil-Soulanges, QC

Madam Speaker, I totally agree with my colleague.

Even today, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans defended the fact that the government will no longer be conducting environmental analyses on small streams. It astounds me that the minister does not understand the facts of hydrology. We have seen this on a number of occasions from all the members of this government, who do not base what they say on science.

Can the member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine tell us more about the cabinet’s scientific ignorance?

Opposition Motion—Scientific and social science expertise
BUSINESS OF SUPPLY
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Vaudreuil-Soulanges for his question.

Up to now, I myself have been very disappointed in the work by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. I believe he is letting down the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

I would like to ask him the following question. What is he waiting for to do his job and defend what needs to be defended? I think that people want answers, but so far the only thing we are hearing from him is a lot of silence.

Opposition Motion—Scientific and social science expertise
BUSINESS OF SUPPLY
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Etobicoke North, ON

Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for St. Paul's.

Two days ago I had the privilege of giving a keynote address at the world congress for the Society for Brain Mapping and Therapeutics. As a former scientist, I was thrilled to hear about cutting-edge research regarding new technologies for imaging the brain, and the promise of stem cells and personalized medicine. I was pleased to share my work advocating for 2014 to be the Year of the Brain, and for a national brain strategy.

Science should be a driving force for public policy—for example in determining whether or not to put in place a national dementia strategy—and should always be impartial. By the way, the science is overwhelming that Canadians need to address this public health priority of dementia, which is a ticking time bomb.

Since the Conservatives came to power in 2006, there has, however, been a gradual tightening of media protocols for federal scientists. Researchers who once would have responded freely and promptly to journalists are now required to direct enquiries to a media relations office, which demands written questions in advance and still might not permit scientists to speak. Federal scientists are under growing surveillance and control. Numerous studies have shown a pattern of suppression, manipulation and a distortion of federal science. Officials have limited public access to scientific information.

Canadian journalists have documented numerous cases in which prominent researchers have been prevented from discussing published, peer-reviewed articles. For example, there is a Canadian government scientist whose work in the prestigious journal Science suggested that an unexplained virus was resulting in a higher death rate for some salmon. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans declined to make her available to the media for over 15 months.

An Environment Canada team concluded that a 2°C increase in global temperatures may be unavoidable by 2100. That is associated with dangerous climate change. Environment Canada's media office granted no interviews.

A Natural Resources Canada scientist could not talk about research into a flood in northern Canada 13,000 years ago without pre-approval from political staff in the office of the natural resources minister.

An Environment Canada scientist's research showed an unprecedented loss of ozone over the Arctic, a 2 million km2 ozone hole. He was interviewed three weeks later, saying, “I'm available when media relations says I'm available.”

I can attest not only to the muzzling but also to the fear of scientists. I used to consult for Environment Canada, and I have numerous friends who are scientists across Canada and the United States. Because of fear of retribution if they speak out, Canadian scientists often ask me to speak to American colleagues, who can freely comment on what is happening in Canada.

I had one friend who was so concerned that he or she wrote to me from the spouse's email account to my old university email account, and then explained that he or she would call on the spouse's cell phone from a busy mall so that the call could not be traced.

Surely everyone in this House should be outraged by the climate in which our scientists are being forced to perform. Surely everyone should be outraged by the quashing of dissenting opinions, by the war on democracy, environment and science.

Nature magazine, one of the world's leading journals, recently reported that policy directives confirm the government's little understanding of the importance of the free flow of scientific knowledge. The journal reported that, “rather than address the matter, the Canadian government seems inclined to stick with its restrictive course and ride out all objections”.

The government's untenable position is coming under increasing pressure as a result of the scientific integrity policies taking shape in the United States. As environment critic for our party, I have repeatedly called on the government to recognize that Environment Canada's ability to protect environmental and human health depends on scientific excellence and integrity, and should therefore ensure that a scientific integrity policy is developed to foster the highest degree of accountability, integrity and transparency in conducting, utilizing and communicating science within and outside Environment Canada, and to protect the department's scientific findings from being altered, distorted or suppressed.

Recently, a symposium called “Unmuzzling Government Scientists: How to Re-open the Debate” was held at the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver. The Conservative government's media policies were centre stage in the international spotlight. According to Nature, “The way forward is clear: it is time for the Canadian government to set its scientists free”. We used to be praised internationally for our openness and now we are seen “as a pariah”.

During the symposium, journalist Margaret Munro said that during much of her career it was easy to reach federal scientists to talk about their published research, but in recent years that had changed dramatically. Now the government is taking control to quite incredible extremes. Munro said that federal scientists faced many layers of approval before they could speak to the media, even going all the way up to the Privy Council Office. Approved interviews are often taped. Sometimes when the timelines are too tight, journalists receive written lines approved by the government. Munro discovered that it was the result of a new governmental policy that said a single department should speak with one voice. However, as she rightly points out, science depends on debate and discussion. If there is only one voice, where is the scientific questioning, where is the debate?

Acclaimed climatologist, Professor Andrew Weaver, said that most scientists were frustrated with the policies and their inability to speak about their research, some so much so that they were looking for jobs outside the government.

Professor Thomas Pedersen, a senior scientist at the University of Victoria, said that he believed there was a political motive in some cases. For example, he thought that the federal government would prefer that its scientists did not discuss research that pointed out just how serious the climate change challenge was.

Yesterday was Black Out Speak Out, and Liberals stood in solidarity with organizations across the country, organizations that are committed to showing the Conservative government's consistent assault on democracy and the environment. Many of the 500 organizations that joined Black Out Speak Out joined because Canada's environment was being threatened by the government, destroying 50 years of safeguards through Bill C-38 and the 2012 economic action plan.

The Conservatives are severely cutting the budget for Environment Canada, gutting environmental legislation, cancelling the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, silencing dissent from environmental non-governmental organizations, continuing to muzzle government scientists and, in so doing, impacting our economy today and in the future.

Anyone who disagrees with the Prime Minister is told to sit down and shut up. All Canadians should ask who next will be under attack for voicing their opposition. Silence is not an option. It is time to stand up and speak up for democracy, the environment, science and Canada.

Shockingly, the environment minister says that concerns about the muzzling of scientists are being driven by a small number of impatient Canadian journalists. Specifically, he has stated:

There is an element in all of this controversy, second-hand information and criticism from the scientific community abroad responding to a few, a very small number of Canadian journalists who believe they're the centres of their respective universes and deserve access to our scientists on their timeline and to their deadlines, and it simply doesn't work that way.

The environment minister should stand up for science, for scientists, for unmuzzling researchers and for ensuring a scientific integrity policy so Canadians can receive the best science, cutting-edge science to ensure evidence-based decision making.

Opposition Motion—Scientific and social science expertise
BUSINESS OF SUPPLY
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Madam Speaker, the exposé from my colleague in the Liberal Party was very informative, but I would ask her to elaborate a little more. I was particularly interested to hear about muzzling scientists and the effect that has on Canadians' understanding of the situation we are in, especially with regard to the environment. If she could speak a little more on that, I would be very interested to hear it.

Opposition Motion—Scientific and social science expertise
BUSINESS OF SUPPLY
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Etobicoke North, ON

Madam Speaker, we have a real problem on the environment right now. The government has slashed Environment Canada. These are severe cuts to Environment Canada. Last summer it announced cuts of 700 scientists and most recently 200 scientists. It muzzles its scientists. The National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy has been cut. This was started under a former Conservative prime minister. It provided good data on the economy and the environment. Its only mistake is that it produces evidence-based reports that do not fit with Conservative ideology.

The government shuts down its critics. Non-governmental organizations are being affected by changes at Canada Revenue Agency. It cannot silence its critics. We want all opinions and all evidence. This is a return to 1940s style McCarthyism.