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 research.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Scientific and Social Science Expertise
Business of Supply
Government Orders

June 5th, 2012 / 11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Cambridge, ON

Madam Speaker, what I would recommend to the hon. member is that when he tightens that towel around his neck at nighttime that he not do it for more than 20 seconds. It actually ends up causing cerebral anoxia that leaves permanent brain damage.

What I can say is that we obviously support basic research all the way through to applied research. In fact, we are looking at particle accelerators that can create the next generation of medical isotopes. We are working on the CERN project, which is the Large Hadron Collider where we are trying to smash together protons. In Canada, we are investing in i basic research for the pipeline of the future and applying it so that we can create jobs today.

The question is this: Will that member support this budget or reject it like he always has?

Opposition Motion—Scientific and Social Science Expertise
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to ask the minister a question but maybe I should put it into context for the members.

Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale is one of the five ridings that make up the greater city of Hamilton. Within that, through the KIP funding, we funded two programs at McMaster University. One was around nuclear research building renovations, another was health promotion and innovation, and also projects at Redeemer University College. All of these were to sustain and enhance the capability of researchers to perform research in their particular scientific areas.

Therefore, I would ask the minister, particularly because this would not only impact those institutions but also the local economy, why the NDP would vote against these things when they have the opportunity to vote for them.

Opposition Motion—Scientific and Social Science Expertise
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Cambridge, ON

Madam Speaker, there are a couple of purposes behind that type of investment. One is that, while we rebuilt those facilities, we created jobs right away, when the economy needed them most, for construction workers, architects, draftsmen, drywallers and so on. Obviously it allowed for a better quality laboratory facility for researchers to work in.

Indeed, one of the research projects down in that area brought the world's expert in automotive energy storage from the United States. This is one of the largest automotive initiatives for innovative discovery literally in North America. That is a great news story for Canada and a great news story for the automotive industry. That is why we are attracting bright minds. That is why we know we will create those high quality jobs of the future.

Opposition Motion—Scientific and Social Science Expertise
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Kennedy Stewart Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Madam Speaker, in his speech, the minister of state said that NSERC made the cut to the MRS program but then, in his answer to my previous question, he said that the government found efficiencies and made the cut. I am just wondering what it is. Did NSERC make the cut to MRS or did the government make the cut to MRS, and will it restore the funding if it is the government's choice?

Opposition Motion—Scientific and Social Science Expertise
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Cambridge, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for the opportunity to clarify that.

In fact, these were recommendations that the efficiencies be found in these various programs. That has happened all across the government. We took great pains to look at the various areas where we could find these savings, not just in science and technology but all departments that had the least impact on the overall outcomes, including the effect on full-time people.

We have seen moderate reductions across the government meeting our commitment to the Canadian people in the last election in finding those efficiencies. Of course, those were recommended up the ladder to the departments and on.

Opposition Motion—Scientific and Social Science Expertise
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Ted Hsu Kingston and the Islands, ON

Madam Speaker, this is the first time that I have spoken in this House as the lead critic for the Liberal Party.

I would like to thank all those who make it possible for me to do the job of representing the people of Kingston and the Islands for their support.

I also thank those who made it possible for me to study and work in the field of science, and that includes the Government of Canada and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. I thank the member for Burnaby—Douglas for his motion today that allows us to discuss the value of science and the effects on ill-considered cuts to scientific research programs of the Government of Canada.

Today, before I focus on the main idea of my speech, I will mention some things that concern me and what are ill-considered cuts to research. Two examples that come from NSERC, which have already been mentioned in debate today, are the proposed elimination of the research tools and instrumentation program which provides money to buy and repair medium-sized equipment and is crucial to building a research laboratory, and the major resources support program which is crucial to funding the operation of infrastructure that the Government of Canada has already invested in. It is crucial to allowing us to get a return on our investment.

Scientists are telling me that cutting the research tools and instrumentation program is like sending carpenters to work without hammers. They are using words like “major disaster” or “extremely ill-advised”. Some examples of things that researchers are saying that they would not be able to buy without this program are trucks for biologists who go out and do field work, and simple things like microscopes, magnets and lasers. The program is very important because it is used to repair equipment. Equipment could break down at any time and the process for getting equipment grants from a program like CFI takes a long time. CFI is not structured to fix equipment that breaks down. So the researcher may have to choose between firing some graduate students or fixing a crucial piece of equipment.

One scientist told me that such shortages could potentially ruin the careers of new researchers.

I am hearing from young researchers that they do not want to come or are regretting coming to Canada after hearing about these proposed cuts. One of the concerns I will convey to the minister during this debate is that the policies set forth in budget 2012 would result in these cuts. He may blame NSERC for these cuts but he is the minister and he needs to take responsibility and he should be listening to the strong language that is being used by scientists in reaction to these proposed cuts.

I will now turn to the MRS program. These proposed cuts will affect facilities, as I have said before, where we have invested in large scientific infrastructure and whose use will be curtailed because of these cuts. It is like owning a car but having no money for gas. This includes the Super Dual Auroral Radar Network in which we have international agreements to monitor the sky around the earth with radar. This affects any business that has to do with satellites. The proposed cuts to MRS will curtail the use of the Canadian Institute for Neutron Scattering. It will curtail the use of the Brockhouse Institute for Materials Research, which is found in Hamilton at McMaster University in the riding of my hon. colleague who asked a question previously. It will affect living collections of algae and cyanobacteria and fungi that have been carefully isolated, which could have all sorts of uses and applications in industry and cannot be replaced at a later date.

These are things that concern me. It is just a small sample of the massive number of comments and emails that I have received from scientists in Canada who are concerned about the cuts to research funding. That is just the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council.

The motion today is not so much about the overall level of funding for science or support for industry or business competitiveness as it is about how the government chooses to value science in the service of good government.

As one of the few scientists in the House today, I am proud to support the motion on the value that scientists and the scientific approach have to offer to the Government of Canada as it serves the people of Canada.

I am also proud to speak for the party that I chose to join, the Liberal Party, because Liberals believe that for good governance, slogans and ideology are never a good substitute for facts, evidence, a scientific approach and just hard work.

Liberals are the most likely to say that such and such an issue seems complicated and before they decide what their position is on that issue, they will do some homework. This is the kind of party of which I want to be a part. These are the kinds of colleagues with whom I want to work. They can best serve the people of Canada.

By contrast, the Conservative government believes that if enough ministers and MPs fan out across the country and repeat the phrase “responsible resource development” enough people will believe it so they can pass Bill C-38, the omnibus budget bill, and get re-elected. That is not the best thing for Canadians. When the Liberals hear that, they simply smile and say that it is an empty slogan.

We must put scientists in place and give them the resources to evaluate the risks of government policies so government can make informed development decisions for natural resources. We must provide them with the equipment and the staff to monitor the natural environment so they can measure any damage to the environment or any danger to people.

Additionally, we must let these scientists speak freely to the public about their research. People need to have a dialogue with scientists to understand the knowledge that scientists have gained for their benefit, knowledge for which taxpayers have paid. Governments must not be allowed to control this flow of information, at least democratic governments. This is really the only way Canadians can be assured that true responsible development is occurring.

Instead of cutting 11% of the workforce, over 700 employees of Environment Canada, cutting scientists who monitor water pollution, industrial emissions or climate change, let us put money on the table now and make a multi-year commitment to fully fund the environmental monitoring of resource development projects such as the extraction of bitumen. Then let those scientists speak freely of their research for the benefit of the people of Canada.

Scientists must be able to speak freely for the benefit of the people of Canada.

Why are Conservatives against free speech for scientists? I am not making this up. The international scientific community and science journalists have spoken up and called upon the government to stop muzzling scientists.

In the United States, government scientists have been encouraged to talk about their research and even give their personal opinions about government policy, as long as they make it clear that it is just their personal opinion.

In December 2011, the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued an administrative order on scientific integrity to encourage its scientists to speak freely to the public and the media about the results of their research.

Why is the Government of Canada opposed to free speech for scientists?

Liberals believe in free speech as do most Canadians. Why do the Conservatives get off the train? It is not a rhetorical question. The answer is that the Conservative government does not accept criticism. It is not politically convenient. It is just embarrassing. It is a roadblock to continued power.

Is it just a couple of journalists who are complaining, as the Minister of the Environment has said? If a couple of journalists do not matter to the public good, I would ask the House to recall how Richard Nixon felt about the pesky journalists from the Washington Post 40 years ago.

By contrast, Liberals believe that welcoming criticism will improve one's understanding, just as scientific ideas depend on criticism in order to improve and become stronger. Science is powerful because it welcomes criticism. Criticism from scientists will help governments and others make smarter decisions, thereby making Canada stronger.

Yes, the Conservatives will be embarrassed at some point. Every government makes mistakes, but a strong government for a strong country is one that recognizes and corrects mistakes.

To do this, governments must also be open about history. It is why the commission that investigated Canada's residential schools for aboriginals was called the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. That is why the commission that was set up in South Africa to study the effects of apartheid was called the truth and reconciliation commission. One must reveal the truth before a nation can reconcile and move forward.

The truth must be revealed before a nation can reconcile.

The Conservative government is making drastic cuts to Library and Archives Canada that will seriously harm our ability to preserve and access Canada's past. That includes a 20% cut to the workforce.

Related to what I just said about truth and reconciliation, the archival material in the LAC was instrumental in supporting the testimony from victims of the residential schools before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The minister will say that staffing cuts are justified because materials are being accessed online, but only 4% of the LAC's physical materials are available online and now 50% of the digitization and circulation staff is being cut. Conservatives have also eliminated the national archive development program, which provided funding to local communities, about 800 of them, to preserve local history in Canada.

Why spend money to save things in the National Archives and make them accessible? It is not the same thing and does not feel as good as celebrating a glorious event of the past that buttresses the ideology of the government of the day. It is about having information available, making it possible to study and understand the mistakes of the past so we can fix them and not repeat them in the future. A truly strong government would be open about its mistakes. A truly strong government would embrace its history and not simply retell it.

Liberals believe that science and a scientific approach are what the Government of Canada needs for an honest accounting of its successes and failures. I believe that providing an honest accounting in Ottawa is one of the greatest things we as MPs can do for our country.

One thing people have learned over the last few centuries is the value of observation and measurement. That is why we have made advances in science and technology. It is the idea of empiricism, of measuring and counting the number of teeth in a horse's mouth and counting the number of people, that gives us the ability to have smart government policies, to really understand what we are trying to govern.

There is an example that has already been brought up in the House today, and that is the Experimental Lakes Area. This is a great example of doing real experiments in real situations so we make smart decisions about environmental policy concerning clean water. The federal government has announced that it will cease funding for the internationally renowned Experimental Lakes Area, which is in northern Ontario and comprises about 58 lakes that have been set aside for pollution experiments.

Scientists pollute these lakes on purpose and then watch the whole ecosystem for decades to see what happens. Then they are obliged to return these experimental areas back to their original state. Research during the experiments and the renewal have helped us understand mercury pollution, the effect of phosphates and detergents, green algae blooms, acid rain and climate change. If people believe that pollution regulations are too strict, they need to know that these very experiments are the ones that help us understand how much pollution is tolerable.

Ending funding for the ELA goes against two of my core beliefs. People have to conduct experiments and measurements to really understand how the world works. This is what I believe in as a scientist. We must use facts and evidence to make good policy, and that is what I hope to bring to the House, along with my colleagues in the Liberal Party and other members in the House.

I next want to turn to Statistics Canada, which is having its budget cut by about $34 million on an ongoing basis, about 7% of its budget. The head of Statistics Canada resigned a couple of years ago to protest the elimination of the mandatory long form census. This is another example of how the government wants to avoid data.

Data is important for telling us about the country and its people, where they live and how they live, so we construct smart policy. Even if all we want to do is cut taxes, we want to know what effect those cuts will have, who will receive those tax cuts and what will happen in the country. We need statistics and good data to understand the effect of tax cuts on the Canadian population, not to mention good social policy that is meant to help people who live on the margins and who need our help. That help really defines for what Canada stands.

The First Nations Statistical Institute was brought in by a previous Liberal government of Paul Martin back in 2005 and the board was only appointed in 2009. Now the government wants to cut the institute. There was a realization that not enough census data was being collected from our first nations. This was hindering the creation of good policy and smart policy. It was decided that we would have a special institute to collect data. Now the government wants to get rid of this institute.

If government wants to do more with less money, if it wants to be more efficient and make every taxpayer dollar go as far as possible to serve the people of Canada, it needs information. It needs information to make smarter decisions and it needs an attitude that respects collecting proper information, thinking carefully and working hard to use that information to make every dollar go as far as possible.

I want to conclude with a few things that I and my party believe.

The Liberals believe that science is more effective than slogans. The Liberals believe that science is effective because it welcomes criticism. The Liberals believe that Canada needs science's honest accounting in order to be able to make informed decisions and to be competitive in the world.

Madam Speaker, from your chair, every morning a daily prayer is read. Let me read an extract from that:

Grant us wisdom, knowledge, and understanding to preserve the blessings of this country for the benefit of all and to make good laws and wise decisions.

We have been blessed in our country with the people, the resources and the institutions to pursue systematic knowledge, to observe, measure and understand what we see in the world and what we see in our country and to do all of this in the service of the people of Canada.

We ask God:

Guide us in our deliberations as Members of Parliament, and strengthen us in our awareness of our duties and responsibilities as Members.

Let us appreciate the value of scientific knowledge, which can effectively guide our country toward the future.

Opposition Motion—Scientific and Social Science Expertise
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Kennedy Stewart Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Madam Speaker, I listened very closely to my colleague's speech, and I hope he can help me work through a dilemma that I face.

I hear contradictory statements from Minister of State for Science and Technology. The first is that the government is putting more money than ever into science. It is tripping over itself to open up the coffers and help scientists investigate problems. In the next breath, the government says that it has found efficiencies and is making cuts. With one breath it is saying that it is keeping everything the way it is and in the next breath it is saying that it is fundamentally shifting so that science can serve industry.

I find this a problem. The government cannot keep things the way they are and fundamentally change them. Could my colleague perhaps shed some light on these rather contradictory statements made by the government?

Opposition Motion—Scientific and Social Science Expertise
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Ted Hsu Kingston and the Islands, ON

Madam Speaker, it is not a problem that the government is encouraging industry-academic collaboration in trying to make our Canadian businesses as competitive as possible. That is good for Canada, but it is clear that the government is doing it at the expense of basic research, notwithstanding what the minister has said. We heard it from all the scientists who have written in to comment and strongly disagree with what the Minister of State for Science and Technology is saying.

It clear from the budget, for example, of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, that the funding for basic research through discovery grants has been going down every year. It is a shift in priorities towards funding research to work on immediate problems of industry and decreasing funding for work on basic research, which is the kind of research that would produce discoveries that we need to have in a pipeline of discoveries, to help Canada prosper in the decades to come and not just in the next few years.

Opposition Motion—Scientific and Social Science Expertise
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:35 a.m.

Cambridge
Ontario

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Minister of State (Science and Technology) (Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario)

Madam Speaker, I have a very good relationship with my hon. friend, but one of the points he made is that he likes to look back on historical facts. I would ask the hon. member to comment on some historical facts.

The facts are that at every single opportunity the government has had, every single budget we have ever tabled in this House, we have increased the investments for science and technology.

The second fact is that at every single opportunity on those budgets, the NDP members have voted against those investments for science and technology.

The third and final fact is this. My hon. friend was not here, but in the last recession that Canada faced, nothing like this one, the Liberal government of the time gutted science and technology. It not only transferred health care costs to the provinces and gutted them federally, and gutted education costs, it also cut science and technology.

By the way the member is speaking, and I believe he is sincere, will he now cross the floor and become a true Conservative?

Opposition Motion—Scientific and Social Science Expertise
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Ted Hsu Kingston and the Islands, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank the Minister of State for Science and Technology for his question. It allows me to have a little fun here and relax after a speech. Sometimes I am tempted to speak my own mind, but I will address the question the minister brought up about the cuts that were made two recessions ago.

The reason why all sorts of cuts were made was because the Liberal government of the day inherited a giant budget deficit from the previous Conservative government. On the other hand, the current Conservative government inherited a surplus and turned it into a deficit. Members can see that when a giant budget deficit is inherited from a Conservative government, and we know that the next government is going to inherit another giant budget deficit from the current Conservative government, we have to make some cuts.

The government that created the deficit should be responsible for those cuts. I will not be joining that party.

Opposition Motion—Scientific and Social Science Expertise
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, I wonder if my colleague can comment on the importance of research on the environment.

Tens of thousands of Manitobans are very much aware that there are some serious issues regarding Lake Winnipeg and its future. They are concerned with what the government is doing. Could the member comment on the importance of research, of having scientists involved in making sure that government policy will benefit places like Lake Winnipeg?

Opposition Motion—Scientific and Social Science Expertise
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Ted Hsu Kingston and the Islands, ON

Madam Speaker, any ecosystem is complicated. Sometimes we do not know the unintended consequences of a proposed remedy to a problem. Therefore, we need scientists who understand the ecosystem. We need a multidisciplinary approach with biologists, limnologists and people who really understand how a complicated ecosystem of a lake might respond if we try to apply some policy solution to deal with a problem.

That is why the Experimental Lakes Area is so important. We can isolate a lake and do a real experiment with all the complications in the real world to test a policy solution, to test a remedy, to make sure that we do not have unintended consequences in these very complicated ecosystems.

Opposition Motion—Scientific and Social Science Expertise
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Hélène LeBlanc LaSalle—Émard, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my Liberal colleague for his comprehensive speech, which provided many concrete examples of the long-term repercussions on scientific research.

I would like him to talk a bit more about the steps that Canada should take to truly be an active participant in the knowledge economy.

Opposition Motion—Scientific and Social Science Expertise
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Ted Hsu Kingston and the Islands, ON

Madam Speaker, this gives me a chance to talk about something in the speech given by minister of state.

It is true that the government funded CANARIE, the ultra-high-speed Internet backbone that is used by researchers, hospitals and universities. However, it was only funded for two years instead of five years and it was only funded at a fraction of the previous level of funding.

We are talking about working in a knowledge economy. More and more, we are sending larger amounts of data across the country and around the world. That is why it is so important, if we want our researchers in the public sector to be competitive in the world, to give them that ultra-high-speed Internet backbone to participate in the knowledge economy.

I am surprised that the government did not renew its previous level of funding, which was for five years and was, I believe, 20% or 30% higher than the funding level that is in the current budget. This is a basic tool that our researchers in Canada need in order to be competitive. Having seen that, I do not know, really, what the government's strategy is and why it did that.

Opposition Motion—Scientific and Social Science Expertise
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

Madam Speaker, the member talked about the archives and the changes that are happening there. He talked about a 20% cut.

We had that presentation recently and DRAP, the actual cuts in the budget, are about 4% of that 20%. The chief of that organization was making structural changes as to how it was operating, regardless.

Is it not important as a scientist, as he says he is, to tell the truth? He indicated there was a 20% cut when actually there was not. Or is it just his Liberal approach to put out whatever the number might be even though it might not be the truth?