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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4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Ted Hsu Kingston and the Islands, ON

Madam Speaker, in the United States, at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, there was an administrative order in December of last year which told its scientists in the United States that they should talk about their research to the public and even talk about their own personal opinions on government policy, as long as they made it clear it was their personal opinion.

In stark contrast to the Canadian government's policy, why would the United States government want its scientists talking to the public about their research?

Opposition Motion—Scientific and social science expertise
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4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Etobicoke North, ON

Madam Speaker, we want our scientists to speak to the public. We want them to share their information. This is their research. This research is paid by the public and they should have the opportunity to share that information.

There was a letter to the Prime Minister. It urged the government to allow freedom of speech for federal scientists. It said:

Despite promises that your majority government would follow principles of accountability and transparency, federal scientists in Canada are still not allowed to speak to reporters without the “consent” of media relations officers.

The letter was signed by several groups, including the Canadian Science Writers' Association, World Federation of Science Journalists, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression and the Professional Institute for the Public Service of Canada, which represents 23,000 federal scientists. It went on to say:

Prime Minister, we want freedom of speech for federal scientists because we believe it makes for better journalism, for a more informed public, for a healthier democracy, and it makes it more likely that Canadians will reap the maximum benefit from the research they fund.

Opposition Motion—Scientific and social science expertise
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4:45 p.m.

NDP

Dany Morin Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Madam Speaker, my question will be brief.

I would like to know what my colleague, who has worked very hard on environmental issues, thinks about the cuts to the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy.

I am proud to belong to the NDP. Sustainable development is one of our values, and we link economic development with environmental protection.

What does she think of these cuts to the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy?

Opposition Motion—Scientific and social science expertise
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4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Etobicoke North, ON

Madam Speaker, I know my hon. colleague well through the health committee, and he works very hard.

We are very disappointed by the cuts to the national round table. Our former colleague was the president and CEO of the round table for seven years. It is an important, unique in Canada, unbiased organization that provides economic and environmental data. It is about sustainable development, development that meets the needs of today without compromising those of the future.

My concern with the government is it pits the economy against the environment, and this is 1950s thinking.

Opposition Motion—Scientific and social science expertise
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4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

Madam Speaker, I am speaking on behalf of the Liberal Party, as I am the party's aboriginal affairs critic.

I agree entirely with the NDP motion, on this opposition day, on the cuts in scientific areas and on the muzzling of scientists, particularly with regard to the effects on first nations communities in Canada.

It is important to put this debate and the motion in context. These cuts are actually based in ideology, the belief of Conservatives that government does not have any role to play in terms of facilitating equal opportunity for Canadians or in the quality of life. This rigid ideology is focused on smaller governments and fewer social programs, leaving Canadians to fend for themselves.

In management talk, it is always that if it is measured, it gets noticed, and if it is noticed, it gets done. If we do not measure, it will not be noticed. It will be less demand for government to do something, and therefore it is content to do nothing.

We recently saw the Conservatives' indignant response to social inequality when the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food highlighted serious food insecurity issues in Canada, particularly in aboriginal communities. The Minister of Health stated that there was no problem in spite of the fact that a Canadian Medical Association Journal article from the McGill scientists showed that 70% of Inuit preschool children were food insecure.

The Conservatives do not like these kinds of numbers. We have seen this strategy play out time and time again. First, they emphatically deny there is a problem, then savagely attack the credibility of those raising the issue. However, facts make the approach more difficult. Evidence makes knee-jerk denials less credible. Even the Minister of Health had to admit that maybe there was a problem, faced with a huge backlash from her community in the north and from Inuit and Métis Canadians across the country.

The Conservative government has no respect for evidence. The Conservatives want to rule by ideology, blind to the facts, blind to the reality of every day Canadians. This is neither competent, nor responsible government.

To facilitate this approach, the Conservative government has muzzled the scientists, as my colleague just stated, bullied non-governmental organizations and slashed programs focused on gathering and analyzing evidence-based data.

Both government and non-governmental sources have noted the lack of data quality regarding first nations, which inhibits a full understanding of the social and economic conditions of first nations people throughout Canada.

The First Nations Statistical Institute was established to fill this gap, to increase the quality and accessibility of first nations statistics to improve planning, decision-making and investment for all first nations as well as federal, provincial and territorial governments. One of its key roles was to work to build the expertise in capacity within first nations and their governments in the area of statistics and data.

With the cancelling of this initiative, it is puzzling why the Conservative government is not reinvesting the money into another initiative to deal with this critical first nations capacity gap. The reason is simple. The last thing the government wants is accurate data on the challenges faced by first nations in Canada.

Aboriginal Canadians are working to build sustainable prosperity in their communities, but they can no longer count on the federal government as a partner. Despite lagging first nation educational outcomes, the Conservatives have failed to address the growing $2,000 to $3,000 per student annual funding gap between students on reserve and those in provincial schools.

With first nations suicide rates five times the national average and Inuit suicide rates 11 times higher, the Conservatives are cutting the aboriginal youth suicide prevention strategy.

Even though aboriginal Canadians are much more likely to suffer from diabetes and have significantly higher infant mortality rates and significantly lower life expectancy, the Conservatives are cutting aboriginal health programs in the national aboriginal health organizations as well.

The aboriginal diabetes initiative, the aboriginal health resources initiative and the aboriginal health transition fund have all been cut by the government.

The National Aboriginal Health Organization, NAHO, which was created as a response to the royal commission, will have to roll up its programs by the end of this month. Everywhere we have been in Canada we are hearing horror stories from the medical community as to what that means, the data that this organization has created, the knowledge translation and the toolboxes. It houses the Journal of Aboriginal Health. Everyone is asking who will do this essential work.

I note with some regret that the NDP motion is obviously narrow and is not able to deal with these cuts but it underscores why generating accurate socio-economic and health statistics is so important.

Despite overcrowding rates on reserves six times those off reserve and more than 40% of on reserve homes in need of major repairs, the Conservatives have no plan to deal with the crisis in first nations housing.

Despite supporting a motion on the right to clean, safe running water, we see no new funding to upgrade the huge number of first nations waste and waste water systems, which the government's own national assessment determined to be either high or medium risk.

The Conservative government is turning its back on first nations, Métis and Inuit Canadians and the Canadian values of compassion, fairness and the tradition of evidence-based policy.

The Conservative government will argue that First Nations Statistical Institute work will be completed by other organizations, such as Statistics Canada or the First Nations Information Governance Centre. However, neither Statistics Canada nor the governance centre will address capacity development on first nations' governments in the area of data collection. Further, the government is not reinvesting the money saved from cutting the statistical institute and these other programs.

The Conservatives have killed the mandatory long form census. They have cut what first nations have called the count in accountability. It eliminates the ability to measure whether we are making progress and whether we are closing the gaps in health outcomes and educational attainment.

In killing the mandatory long form census, participation has dropped from 94% in 2006 to an abysmal 69% for the Conservatives new national household survey. It means that the data is no longer comparable. The worst part is that statisticians and policy-makers cannot identify which segments of the population were not counted by the NHS, which means that they are unable to measure the data's bias or rely on its accuracy.

Studies have shown that eliminating the mandatory long form census will negatively affect rural communities, ethnic groups, women, the poor and aboriginal Canadians. By eliminating the mandatory long form census, the Conservative government has essentially said that it wants to marginalize these Canadians. It does not want to measure, it does not want it to be noticed and it does not want to do anything. The Conservatives will no longer be able to help the poor, the disabled, ethnic or aboriginal communities because Canadians will not know they exist.

Rather than working with first nations, Inuit and Métis Canadians to develop solutions for the unacceptable socio-economic gaps between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians, the Conservatives' answer is to simply shut their eyes to these appalling programs. Again, if it is measured it gets noticed, if it is noticed it gets done. The Conservatives have chosen to stop measuring so it will not be noticed and, therefore, there will be no demand for the government to do anything.

It is a sad day for Canada and it really is a contempt of knowledge in this country. As Andrew Coyne said last year, “What was once a war on the elites is now a war on knowledge.” The Conservatives should be ashamed.

Opposition Motion—Scientific and social science expertise
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4:55 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, I am inclined to agree with the member that not all of these overt attacks on science, data, facts and knowledge are even about money.

I would ask the member for her view on one example that has come to light with the Experimental Lakes Area in northwestern Ontario through the Freshwater Institute in my home province of Manitoba, where it has been demonstrated that the research has paid for itself over and over again. It is a paltry $2 million a year, and I do not say that lightly. Given the fact that it is unique in the world and internationally renowned and acclaimed, is it not more about shooting the messenger pre-emptively than even about saving money, when it is an almost insignificant amount of money when we are talking about a $40 billion deficit?

By preface, I would like the member's views on one recent piece of research by these scientists. We knew that phosphates and nitrates going into Lake Winnipeg were bad so we were trying to eliminate them both. The scientists at the Baltic Sea had the same problem.

These scientists realized that if the phosphates were eliminated to reduce the algae bloom and the nitrates, it may in fact be counterproductive. We saved $400 million by not going after the nitrates with the same zeal as the phosphates. In the Baltic Sea, they saved $3 billion by concentrating their efforts where it was effective. It was all because the scientists were doing original research.

Does the member agree with me that this is not really about saving money, that this is about pre-emptively shooting the messenger to avoid messages the government does not want to hear?

Opposition Motion—Scientific and social science expertise
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5 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

Madam Speaker, the member is absolutely correct. This is not really about saving money. It is about following an ideology.

The government does have absolute contempt for basic research and for investigator-driven research where people have a hunch that a return on investment might not be tomorrow with a new drug, but that it will be in saving lives and actually improving the quality of life.

That institute has paid for itself time and time again. It is this very linear thinking by the government that the savings must be found in the same department or in the same part of a department. Whole of government approaches or how this country works is just of no interest to the government.

The government just wants to know how it can cut, and particularly cut the stuff that will find things that might be embarrassing and that it might have to act on.

Opposition Motion—Scientific and social science expertise
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5 p.m.

Liberal

Ted Hsu Kingston and the Islands, ON

Madam Speaker, I was just looking at openparliament.ca, where I found a quote by the Minister of the Environment on February 6 in question period. He said, “Our government believes that what gets measured gets done”. That is exactly what my colleague, the member for St. Paul's, said.

I think we should believe the minister when he says that in question period, of course. What that must mean is that if the government does not want to do something, it will try as hard as it can to avoid measuring it.

I was wondering if my colleague would comment on the relevance of that quote.

Opposition Motion—Scientific and social science expertise
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5 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

Madam Speaker, it is a matter of choosing what we want to measure, choosing the issues upon which we want to act and choosing to actually shut down the measurements of the things that might be embarrassing.

In the industry committee hearings on the long form census, I remember the mayor of Iqaluit, Elisapee Sheutiapik, stating that his community wanted the long form census to measure the number of people living in any given home and the number of bedrooms. Up there, where it is too cold to be homeless, they wanted people to know so the government would then need to deal with the housing crisis in the north.

When the government was first elected it talked about liberally funded social science research as though it was one swear word, because the liberally funded social science research never proved the ideology. It only proved that its ideology was following the wrong path that would not get results.

Opposition Motion—Scientific and social science expertise
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June 5th, 2012 / 5 p.m.

NDP

Dany Morin Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak.

Today we are discussing a very important motion made by my colleague, the member for Burnaby—Douglas, whom I would like to thank.

I will read the motion, so that the people at home fully understand why this NDP initiative is important. This initiative aims to make the Conservative government take a step back with respect to all the cuts it is imposing on all federal government departments:

That, in the opinion of the House, Canadian scientific and social science expertise is of great value and, therefore, the House calls on the Government to end its muzzling of scientists; to reverse the cuts to research programs at Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Library and Archives Canada, National Research Council of Canada, Statistics Canada, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada; and to cancel the closures of the National Council of Welfare and the First Nations Statistical Institute.

I just listed a number of programs that will be cut. However, these programs help various segments of the population. One cut that particularly bothers me is the abolition of the operating budget of the National Council of Welfare. Few Canadians know that body. It has a very small annual budget of $1.1 million, which accounts for 0.0001% of the Government of Canada's budget.

A few weeks ago, I asked the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development why she was cutting funding for this federal but independent organization, since it allows it to collect information on people living in poverty in Canada. Unfortunately, there are many of them, including seniors and families. We must help these people get out of poverty. In order to do so, we need information. The minister provided an absurd answer. She said some programs were redundant and that was the reason why she was cutting the budget of the National Council of Welfare.

Before talking about cuts, let us first describe the role of the National Council of Welfare, so that people at home really know what the Conservative government and the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development are abolishing.

The National Council of Welfare was created by the Government Organization Act of 1969, to give advice to the Minister of Health and Welfare. The title was different at the time. Today, we refer to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development.

As I said, the council currently reports to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development. Its mandate is to provide advice to the minister on social development issues that the minister submits to its review, or that the council deems appropriate to examine. In other words, the council acts as an advisor to the minister, so that she has a better knowledge of the plight of people living below the poverty line. She can then help the government make the right decisions. A government does not only represent those who voted for it. It represents people from all walks of life: the rich, the poor and the middle class. That is why the council has been in place since the 1960s.

The organization advises the minister on issues related to poverty, conditions faced by low-income Canadians, and related programs and policies, by communicating directly with the minister, imparting information, transferring knowledge and raising awareness of poverty-related issues among the various stakeholders and the general public.

One aspect of its activities is therefore to inform people through the media and its Internet site. I recommend consulting the site while it still exists. It contains a great deal of very important information as well as excellent studies conducted by the National Council of Welfare.

The council also gives those affected by poverty, in particular low-income Canadians, a way to inform the government of their points of view.

The organization fulfills its mandate and achieves its objectives by publishing many reports and managing a website on poverty and social issues; by submitting briefs to groups such as parliamentary committees—as a member of several parliamentary committees, I know that obtaining advice from experts in their areas of expertise is very important if the right decisions are to be made, even by the government—by commenting to the minister on issues raised at council meetings or in council reports; by meeting various stakeholders to encourage well-informed conversations on ways to address poverty; and by answering requests from researchers, the media and the public for reports on scientific data and other information about poverty, as well as related policies.

As I mentioned, the council publishes reports and informs the minister of its opinions on a wide range of issues. Some of the issues studied in recent years include income security programs, child benefits, the taxation system, income adequacy, employment programs, the judicial system, social services such as child care and child welfare, the costs of poverty and issues that affect certain populations, such as children, single-parent families and seniors.

In relation to the program, the council operates outside the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development, and its reports are published under its own authority. The organization is therefore quite independent, at least for as long as it continues to exist.

The council secretariat also operates independently from the department with respect to the department's responsibilities to the council, while it discharges its administrative and financial responsibilities in compliance with public service standards.

Earlier, I mentioned some of the issues that have recently been studied by the council. These show that it is a very serious body that addresses very important Canadian issues, whether we are talking about the 1960s or the 2000s. Poverty issues are still important today. Far too many people live in poverty in Canada.

I reported what the minister answered a few months ago when I asked her why the government was cutting this program. She referred to program redundancy, adding that she felt the role of the council was no longer necessary or important. However, she forgot to mention that the National Council of Welfare was the only organization to advise the minister on poverty-related issues in Canada.

By cutting the lifeblood from this organization, the Conservatives were fully aware that they were getting rid of its expertise. They wanted it to die so that they would not have to hear the demands of people living in poverty in Canada. It is quite absurd to eliminate a program that has proved its worth and that, even today, is still dealing with matters that are very important for Canada.

After my remarks in the House and the minister's response, I made a public statement in the media. I was delighted to receive testimonials from people working in their communities all across Quebec, and in whose eyes the National Council of Welfare is very important. I am going to quote some of their responses so that hon. members can see that I am not the only one to feel that it is important to have the National Council on Welfare. It is important to many other community organizations.

Let me start with Ginette Dionne, the coordinator of Les Gens Oubliés in Hébertville. This is what she said: “Les Gens Oubliés in Hébertville, an organization that stands up for the individual and collective rights of people receiving income security, wishes to support the position that you—meaning me—are taking to urge the federal government to reverse its decision to end funding for the National Council of Welfare. The NCW is a source of important information for community groups engaged in fighting poverty. It is critical for us that it continue to operate.”

Then, Joan Tremblay, the president of and Quebec City spokesperson for the Collectif pour un Québec sans pauvreté, responded as follows: “Behind the numbers, we can clearly see what is upsetting the government. The council is not just providing it with information and advice on developing and assessing its social policies, it is also informing civil society, which can now verify the soundness of any government action.”

Nancy Lemay, coordinator of the CLÉ en éducation populaire de Maskinongé, wrote this:

Being in an environment where we work daily with people living in poverty and social exclusion, we believe it is imperative to keep an organization that informs the federal government about issues related to poverty and the living conditions of impoverished people and advises the government on programs and policies related to those issues.

Marie-Ève Duchesne, the spokesperson for the Front commun des personnes assistées sociales du Québec, had this to say:

For our organization and its member groups, the NCW has always been an outstanding information tool with respect to the quality of its presentations on the realities of impoverished individuals—

Opposition Motion—Scientific and social science expertise
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5:10 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

Order, please. It being 5:15 p.m., pursuant to the order made earlier today, all questions necessary to dispose of the opposition motion are deemed put and a recorded division deemed requested and deferred until Wednesday, June 6, at the expiry of the time provided for government orders.

Opposition Motion—Scientific and social science expertise
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5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Carleton—Mississippi Mills, ON

Madam Speaker, I ask that you see the clock at 5:30 p.m.

Opposition Motion—Scientific and social science expertise
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5:15 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

Does the hon. minister have the consent of the House to see the clock at 5:30 p.m.?

Opposition Motion—Scientific and social science expertise
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5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed from April 24 consideration of the motion that Bill C-273, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (cyberbullying), be read the second time and referred to a committee.