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
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was trying to combine some of the Investment Canada Act and the statistical changes that took place. The real cue here is the fact that our value-added economy is being left behind.

When we have a small population, a wide geography and climate differential, the science is even more important for us to be effective in this world.

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

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Sadia Groguhé Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech.

Not only is the government muzzling scientists, but it is also mortgaging our future and the future of research. Could my colleague elaborate a bit more on the brain drain and its impact?

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

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, we have seen that with RADARSAT and a few other projects. It is very important. If we do not have a directive, we lose people from our field.

For example, right now we do not have an automotive strategy of any sort while the United States is very aggressive on that. So I have concerns. A number of plants across Ontario will be retooling and decisions need to be made soon. The United States and state governments have had an actual auto policy. Now Europe is creating an auto policy. We are not providing the opportunities for the scientists and the researchers.

My concern is that we have been very much on the forefront on automotive research, development and the movement into a greener sector and I am very worried that industries like that will be left behind.

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

12:55 p.m.

Independent

Bruce Hyer Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, Dr. Assaf Sukenik, a senior scientist at Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research, said:

By shutting down the ELA facility, the Government of Canada is stamping out the ability of the world scientific community to conduct the research required to formulate sound environmental policies.

Could the well-spoken member for Windsor West comment, please?

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

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

It is critical, Mr. Speaker. In the last budget, only $8 million were provided for the Great Lakes. Per capita, the fake lake in Muskoka actually received more money than the Great Lakes per capita.

With the U.S. pumping a lot of money into science and research, we are losing out on the opportunity to be a part of that.

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

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Ryan Cleary St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, 15 years ago, in 1997, three respected Canadian university scientists wrote a paper with a fascinating title, “Is scientific inquiry incompatible with government information control?”. In other words, if that were not put simply enough, can science coexist with government manipulation? That is a very good question.

A line from that 1997 controversial report reads:

Scientists were also explicitly ordered then, as they are today, not to discuss “politically sensitive” matters...with the public, irrespective of the scientific basis, and publication status, of the scientist's concerns.

Does that sound like scientists have been muzzled? It does to me.

I will read from the summary of that 1997 report because that 1997 report is as relevant today as it was then. It reads:

There is a clear and immediate need for Canadians to examine very seriously the role of bureaucrats and politicians in the management of Canada's natural resources. The present framework of government departments such as the DFO is based on the belief that the conservation of natural resources is best ensured by science integrated within a political body. Recent history would suggest otherwise.

The recent history that would suggest otherwise was the fall of the fisheries. Scientists were just a bit off when they missed the collapse of what was once the world's biggest fish resource on planet earth, northern cod off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland.

The trouble with science in Canada, fish science for example, is that it is tainted by politics. Science is manipulated and massaged by politicians and bureaucrats to meet their own objectives. That is the way it works.

The short answer is, no, scientific inquiry is not compatible with government information control, the key word being “control”. I have seen too many examples over my time as a journalist and an editor and my short time as a member of Parliament.

As for the motion that we are debating here today calling on the government to end its muzzling of scientists, the Conservative government will say that scientists are not being muzzled, that science is not being manipulated. That is not the case.

Back in December, on the floor of the House of Commons during question period, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans was questioned about how scientists were reportedly afraid to go public with concerns about cuts to Fisheries and Oceans. In response, the minister asked a question. He asked, “Do I look like a bully?”. I was next to speak and I answered the minister's question. I said that the minister did indeed look like a bully, although I later apologized and it was a sincere apology, but I answered his question. The minister does not look like a bully. He looks like a stereotypical Canadian grandfather. That is not how government scientists are bullied, not directly by ministers. It does not work that way. It is not in-your-face bullying. It is not blatant muzzling. It is a lot more subtle than that.

On that particular day in December, when the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans asked whether he looked like a bully, he was responding to questions about how employees fared. They could face sanctions or suspensions for remarks on federal job losses within the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

According to their union, scientists were worried about cuts to Fisheries and Oceans but would not speak for fear of being blacklisted. As with all cuts, the Conservative government said that there would be no negative impact on research, but what else is it going to say? The scientists say otherwise, or they would if they were not going to be blacklisted “for the rest of their lives”.

The media policy in place at Fisheries and Oceans Canada is similar to what has been implemented at Environment Canada. Scientists there cannot speak to reporters even about their own research until it is cleared through a network of public relations and even the Prime Minister's Office. Scientist Kristi Miller was recently told not to give interviews about her research on the causes of the sockeye salmon decline on B.C.'s Fraser River even though her research had been published in Nature.

Scott Dallimore, a Natural Resources geoscientist who had an article published in Nature about a flood 13,000 years ago in northern Canada, was denied the right to speak to the media until after the media's deadline had elapsed. This is frequently how muzzling occurs.

I was a journalist for 20 years. I was a reporter and I was a persistent one. I was like a dog with a bone. Early in my career, I would be allowed to sit down with a scientist one on one. There was no problem. That was the way it worked. By the end of my career, I was not allowed to sit down with a scientist, even with a public relations official at the scientist's side. I had to submit questions in advance, in writing, and get an official formal response. Are scientists being muzzled? Take it to the bank.

The prestigious British journal Nature has written two editorials in the last two years calling on the Canadian government “to set its scientists free”. The truth will set us free—not as the Conservatives see it, but as it is: pure, untainted truth.

The Conservatives are taking the art of muzzling to another level. The ultimate muzzling is to eliminate the person being muzzled altogether, to eliminate the position, to eliminate search and data-gathering programs. If under the Liberals we had the decade of darkness, under the Conservatives we have entered another period of dark ages, the darkest of ages, the con age. “Conage” is a new term, according to the Urban Dictionary. It means “completely and utterly owned”. The Conservative government is attempting to eliminate all opposition and all opposing opinion by eliminating the information at the source. Welcome to the con age.

The Conservative government's Trojan Horse budget makes sweeping cuts to departments, agencies and organizations that engage in research and data collection, meaning that scientific research is being increasingly corralled into demand-driven funding models to serve profit-driven demands from big industry, and big industry is what the Conservative government caters to.

Budget 2012 eliminates the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy. By the year's end, funding would be cut to a team of seven smokestack air pollution specialists who crack down on toxic pollution that kills more than 21,000 Canadians a year. Environment Canada will lose 20% of the budget for a key program that checks to see whether the mining industry meets emission standards. The unit of Environment Canada that responds to oil spill emergencies would be dramatically scaled back, and most regional offices would be closed. The list goes on and on. The Conservatives will say that they do not see a trend, but that is because their heads are stuck in the con age.

The last thing I want to touch on is the proposed elimination of the National Council on Welfare, created in 1962 to provide research on poverty in Canada. The National Council on Welfare has been described by a former director as a friend to the opposition and a royal pain in the butt to a party once it takes government. No wonder it has been eliminated.

I have been wearing a wristband since before the federal election. I have not taken it off. The wristband says, “Make poverty history”. Before making each and every decision as a politician, I ask how the decision will impact the Canadian poor, and the Conservative government should ask itself the same question with respect to the elimination of the National Council on Welfare. This decision will not help Canadians; rather, it will make their plight that much harder.

This past weekend, I held a town hall in my riding to discuss the Conservative Trojan Horse budget. One of the speakers was Chris Hogan, executive director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Environmental Network. Chris said something about the Conservative government's gutting of environmental legislation and cuts in general that has stuck with me. He said, “Less science equals less knowledge. It's basically like driving with the lights off”.

The Conservative government is at the wheel of this country, and it is driving full speed with the lights off. Not only that: the Conservative government is eliminating the police, so there is no chance it will be pulled over.

The Conservative government is an accident waiting to happen. Let us make no mistake: there will be a public roadblock in 2015, the Conservative government will be forced off the road and the con age will come to a dead stop.

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

1:05 p.m.

Calgary Centre-North
Alberta

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, on May 15 I was on a panel on Power Play, and the host asked the NDP environment critic for something she felt the National Round Table on the Environment advocated—not a carbon tax, but something that was useful and that perhaps the government should have paid attention to.

The host was asking the environment critic to name a report that she used. She responded, “Pulling it off the top of my head like that, I am not sure.”

I would like to ask my colleague opposite which report he would point to.

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

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Ryan Cleary St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am not going to speak for the New Democratic critic for the environment. She can speak for herself.

However, I will say this: if there is one quick thing that I could say to the member opposite and to the government opposite, it would be that there has to be balance. There has to be balance in life, there has to be balance in politics and there has to be balance in this country between industrial development and the environment.

The Conservative government has lost that balance.

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

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, I note that the hon. member talked about science and about some of the cuts that were made. He also mentioned 10 years of darkness under the Liberal government.

I would like to inform the member that Technology Partnerships Canada and all of the research that moved us from number seven in the G8 to number one in the G8 came in under the 10 years of Liberal government, and $10 billion was spent just on the Foundation for Innovation alone.

I want to ask the hon. member a pertinent question. We notice cuts in the water and air quality analysis are going on. I am speaking as a physician, and my concern is that when all these scientists who are monitoring water and air quality are cut, what is going to happen to the safety of the water we drink? How is this going to impact on the health of Canadians across this country and the diseases they will get from drinking non-potable water?

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

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Ryan Cleary St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, if cuts are made to basic science research in any area, be it research for air, water, fish, mining or oil and gas development—and the point was made here earlier that science is another word for research—then the environment will suffer, and we as Canadians will suffer in the end. Our knowledge base will not be there, and mistakes will happen.

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

June 5th, 2012 / 1:10 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his excellent speech. I thought his analogy of the Conservative government's wilful dismissal of scientists and scientific information and data is appropriately like driving a car full speed ahead in the dark with our eyes closed.

It also seems that the government does not even want to look in the rear-view mirror. There are massive cuts to libraries and archives. More than 20% of the workforce will be eliminated. The government said it is just getting rid of duplication and modernizing, but apparently only 2% of our archives are digitized, which means that Canadians will lose their history.

Can the member comment about the loss of this important Canadian information?

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

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Ryan Cleary St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, I like how the member took my analogy one step further.

The Conservatives are like a government driving a car without the lights on and not looking in the rear-view mirror. The member is absolutely right.

In the case of libraries, for example, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans had 11 libraries across the country. That number is being cut to seven. Are most of those libraries digitized? The answer is no, they are not.

What is going to happen with the information in those libraries? It will be lost. What will that mean? That will mean we will not learn by past mistakes. How big are the past mistakes made by consecutive Liberal and Conservative governments? Huge. There were huge environmental mistakes. I am a member from Newfoundland, and the Grand Banks off Newfoundland were utterly destroyed. There were huge mistakes made.

Now the government is going to destroy the libraries. That makes no sense.

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

1:10 p.m.

Calgary Centre-North
Alberta

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to speak to this opposition motion today, partially because I spent the better part of my career working in research administration and working at the University of Calgary with some of what I would like say are the greatest scientists in the country. I witnessed first-hand, at ground level, the support that our government has given to research and development across the spectrum of research disciplines. I have also seen first-hand the results of funding that research, which is some of the world-class research that has been published in this country over the last several years.

Today I would like to speak specifically to research at Environment Canada.

As we have said all along, our government recognizes the importance of scientific research. At Environment Canada, science is central to the department's work, promoting a clean, safe and sustainable environment for all Canadians.

As a measure of its commitment, this government has made significant investments in science to support environmental protection.

Mr. Speaker, I should also say that I will be sharing my time with the member for Kitchener—Waterloo.

Last year, Environment Canada spent about $600 million on science and technology and plans to spend a similar amount this year. These funds support a wide range of research and monitoring activities focused on air, water and wildlife.

Science is the foundation of Environment Canada's work and is central to its performance as a world-class regulator. The department's scientific expertise spans a wide range of fields, including water, air, climate, weather, wildlife, pollution prevention and environmental toxicology. Research and monitoring at Environment Canada generates invaluable data, information, and tools that are central for developing and implementing the policies, regulations and services that help Canadians make decisions about the environment and that protect the environment for present and future generations.

In spite of what the opposition might say, scientific research remains strong at Environment Canada. One way to measure that strength is to look at the scientific publications we have produced. The department's scientists have published, on average, more than 600 peer-reviewed scientific publications per year in recent years. This makes environment Canada a global leader in environmental research. It is also one of the most productive institutions in the world in this field.

Of course, Environment Canada does not do its work in isolation. In fact, the department maintains strong relations with experts in academia and in other international organizations. These collaborations help Environment Canada build synergies, leverage resources and access expertise in other organizations, resulting in the world-class science we need as a country to ensure our environment is clean, safe and sustainable.

In December 2011 the Commissioner of the Environment tabled an audit of environmental science at Environment Canada. The findings of the audit were positive, recognizing that Environment Canada has good systems and practices in place to manage and ensure the quality of its science and that the science performed by the department is being communicated to decision-makers and delivered to meet user needs.

It is true that Environment Canada, like all of government, is reducing its spending in order to contribute to Canada's return to a balanced budget, something that we heard very clearly from Canadians in the last election.

However, the department is doing so in a way that will not compromise environmental protection. Rather, Environment Canada will focus on improving the efficiency and effectiveness of all of our science activities through improved coordination and streamlined management.

The department has developed an integrated and risk-based approach to environmental monitoring. This would see more resources devoted to issues and areas that pose the greatest risks to our environment. This approach is consistent with the recommendations made by recent reports of the Commissioner of the Environment, and Environment Canada is moving forward by being flexible and adaptable. The department is maintaining the capacity and expertise needed to carry out its mandate.

Let me give members some details.

This year Environment Canada plans to spend nearly $50 million on water science and technology. This includes activities such as monitoring freshwater quality and studying climate change impacts on aquatic ecosystem health. For example, Environment Canada will spend $1.5 million this year to track harmful chemicals through the Great Lakes, investigating where they come from and where they end up.

The department also plans to spend nearly another $50 million on its atmospheric science and technology research this year. This includes key research on emissions from industry and transportation, monitoring greenhouse gas and aerosol emissions and research to support weather prediction. For example, the department will spend more than $600,000 this year to study the impact of air pollutants in the Arctic. This would help to ensure northern development happens responsibly.

Other important science and technology investments include nearly $20 million to support the chemical management plan and more than $7 million on research to maintain and sustain healthy wildlife populations and ecosystem habitat.

Another example is environmental monitoring in the oil sands region. The government recognizes that action is needed to ensure that the oil sands are developed responsibly and in a way that respects the environment. That is why the government has listened to eminent Canadian scientists and experts and is turning that advice into action on this important issue.

This past February, the hon. Minister of the Environment and his Alberta colleague, the minister of environment and water, announced the joint Canada-Alberta implementation plan for oil sands monitoring. This plan commits Canada and Alberta to an integrated environmental monitoring program for the region that is scientifically robust and transparent.

The implementation plan outlines the path forward to enhance the monitoring of water, air, land and biodiversity in the oil sands by sampling more sites for more substances more frequently. It is designed to improve our understanding of the long-term cumulative effects of oil sands development and activities under the plan have already begun.

Data from the new monitoring program and the methods on which it is based will be transparent, supported by necessary quality assurance and will be made publicly available to allow independent scientific assessments and evaluations. In short, the program is founded on external scientific peer review that will encourage informed discussions and analysis on the impact of oil sands development based on factual, high quality scientific information.

Canadians gave us a strong mandate to deliver on our priorities. Scientific research remains central to the work Environment Canada and many other departments within government do. This government is confident that Environment Canada's ongoing science and technology efforts and activities will remain well funded, scientifically robust and focused on those areas which matter most to Canadians.

I would also like to point to the hundreds of millions of dollars that budget 2012 committed to research and development, including basic research. We heard today that perhaps my colleagues opposite had not read that part of the budget. The Association of Universities and Colleges said that it was very supportive of the levels of funding that were included in budget 2012 and our government's focus on research and innovation as a key driver of the economy.

I would also like to speak to some of the other things with regard to scientific research that Environment Canada has been doing over the last six years, including $1 billion to support clean energy research development demonstration projects, including carbon capture and storage. I saw some of these projects first hand at the University of Calgary. These are projects that look at new technologies to capture carbon in all sorts of different industrial settings and research to look at the viability of sequestration. We are also funding research across the country that looks at clean energy policy. It is not just about the research on the engineering side; it is also about funding research in social sciences and humanities.

Our government values the support of innovation. It is evident. We are attracting some of the key research professionals from across the world. The Canada excellence research chair program is now in its second iteration. It has recruited dozens of some of the brightest minds from around the world to Canada, supported not only through research infrastructure funding, but ongoing operating funding that allows them to bring their research teams to the country.

We are also seeing the economic effects of investment into research and development. I encourage my colleagues opposite to look at that component of the budget, wherein we say that by investing in research and development, we know that we can diversify the economy. We have seen that in the transfer of early stage technology through the life cycle of technological development into the marketplace. There are technologies that come through biomedical research, for example, that affect Canadians when they enter the health care system. There is research into how best to deliver primary care.

Our government fundamentally understands that investment in research and development on good policy and scientific outcomes in the environment equals economic growth. We took the findings of the Jenkins panel to heart and that is why we funded the granting councils at record levels. I certainly hope my colleagues opposite will support this rather than just sticking to their talking points.

I asked my colleague opposite a question about the national round table. I certainly hope he and his party will look into these funding principles to find out where they can better apply these funds and better support innovation. That is what our government has been about in budget 2012.

This is probably one of the first budgets in a long time that has seen such a pronounced focus on research and development in innovation. As someone who has spent the better part of my career in the administration of research and who has worked with folks on the ground who conduct our nation's research, I am certainly proud to speak to the budget and the levels of funding that we have established.

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

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Alain Giguère Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, the member spoke about a strong mandate.

When the government got barely 40% of the vote, and that 40% was obtained through the use of robocalls, I would not consider that a very strong mandate. The government could do with a little modesty and reserve.

We have heard everything she said before. Exactly same thing was said in Ontario before the Walkerton crisis, and that is the problem. When scientists tell us that we are headed towards a wall and a dangerous situation, they are muzzled. The government does not want to hear about the massive environmental deterioration in the far north; it does not want to hear about isolated water problems, and that is the problem.

Why muzzle public servants and scientists who are informing us of an imminent danger that goes against what she is saying?

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

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Calgary Centre-North, AB

Mr. Speaker, by my colleague's math, then over 70% of the population of Canada did not vote for his party. I would ask him to check his figures on that as well.

He said that what I had said was well known. Absolutely, it is well known. Across the world, our government is becoming known as a place for the brightest minds in the world to come and work. That is a great message to come across. I certainly hope he supports the budget for that reason.

With regard to our scientists, they provide tens of thousands of peer reviewed publications to internationally renowned research journals. How is that muzzling scientists? By supporting research and development in our country, we unleash the potential of scientists across the country. I am proud to support this budget.