Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles.
It is my pleasure to rise today and speak on this Liberal motion on science brought forward by the distinguished member for Kingston and the Islands. Of course, we will be supporting the motion.
Before I continue, I would like to say how sorry I am that the member will not be standing in the upcoming election. His is an experienced and welcome voice for science, which is especially welcome in this Parliament where science seems to be constantly under attack.
Turning to the motion itself, it has two parts. The first part is about principles, and the second part is about propositions.
In terms of principles, the motion calls for the House to recognize that the Conservative government is wrongly muzzling government scientists and researchers and keeping valuable information from the public. We agree with the Liberals that this is the case and that it is happening here. It is also the case that this is the wrong thing to do.
The Conservative government has essentially waged a war on the scientific community and holds great distain for data and evidence that do not support its ideologically driven policies. The Conservatives deny this, as we have heard here from the minister of state, but the public knows this to be true, and scientists know this to be true, which explains their protest on Parliament Hill and constant protests across the country.
In addition to muzzling, the Conservative government has slashed more than $1.1 billion from federal science budgets since 2011, and as I mentioned earlier, fired 4,000 federal researchers over this same time period. If this is not a war on science, I cannot imagine what one would look like.
In 2011, the government employed 39,189 researchers across all departments and agencies. This is not in universities or the private sector, but in government departments and agencies. This number has been slashed to 35,189, which is a drop of 4,000 researchers. Therefore, in an age where science is king, the government in its wisdom has chopped 10% of our total government research capacity. I submit that this is madness.
While we support the motion and its principles, I have to note that the NDP itself has had opposition day motions on this same topic, twice. I suspect, unfortunately, that we will get the same result today with the Conservatives voting against any kind of motion that would bolster science in Canada.
Turning to the propositions, the meat of this motion is that the government should immediately create a chief science officer. In my reading of the motion, and as the comments earlier today suggested, this position would be very similar to that of the national science advisor to the prime minister, which was put in place by the Martin government in 2004 and then abolished by the Conservative government in 2008. This position was held only by Dr. Arthur Carty, who served well in this position. However, the position only provided private information to the cabinet on scientific issues. It was not really a champion for science in Canada. It was a stream of additional advice for decision-making within the executive.
In my mind, such a position is much preferable to what we have now, but it does not really take us where we need to go. I have made my thoughts on this matter clear in two proposals currently in front of the House.
The first proposal is Motion No. 453 on scientific integrity, which is based on the need to develop new government communication policies that encourage scientists to speak freely to the media; allow scientists to present viewpoints beyond their scientific research and incorporate their expert opinions, as long as they indicate they are not speaking on behalf of or representing a department or agency; ensure communications officers do not restrict, limit, or prevent scientists from responding to media requests; prohibit public affairs or communications officers from directing federal scientists to suppress or alter their findings, and we have heard examples today of this happening under the Conservative government; and affirm the right of federal scientists to approve the final version of any proposed publication that represents their scientific opinion.
This motion on scientific integrity comes directly from the Office of Science and Technology Policy that President Obama has in place. One of his first actions as president was to help science grow in the United States.
The second proposal, the bill I have in front of Parliament, Bill C-558, is the parliamentary science officer act, which is a much stronger version of what is proposed here today. It is modelled on our Parliamentary Budget Officer, the U.K.'s Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, and the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy.
This bill would establish an independent agent of Parliament with a mandate to assess scientific evidence relevant to any proposal or bill before Parliament; answer requests from committees and individual members for unbiased scientific information; conduct independent analysis of federal science and technology; raise awareness of scientific issues across government; and encourage coordination between departments and agencies conducting scientific research.
I would say it is almost an auditor general for science that we, the official opposition, are proposing, whereas the Liberals are again returning to a position we once had that was easily abolished in 2008. We do not think it is strong enough and secure enough, so we need to move to a more 21st century solution to the problems we are facing.
I think my friend will agree—his motion speaks to this—that as science goes in this country so does our economy. The Conservatives' only plan for economic growth is to really triple the production of export of raw bitumen by ramming pipelines through communities at whatever the cost. This plan is now falling to bits due to low oil prices and the realization that many communities will not be bullied into accepting pipelines.
At the same time, our national investment in research and development is plummeting. Whereas natural resources are an important part of our economy, of course our future growth will be in the knowledge economy, rewarding and helping it grow. However, things are going in the opposite direction under the current government. Where investment in research and development was never stellar under the Liberals, overall R and D investment has fallen to just 1.62% of our overall GDP. Compare that to competitor countries like South Korea, where 5¢ out of every dollar in that economy is plugged back into research. In Europe and the U.S., it is 3¢ on every dollar. In Canada we are spending less than a third of what they spend in South Korea, and compared to most of our other competitor countries, we are spending less than half.
We are falling behind under the current government because it is destroying our culture of discovery. That is what is happening here. Muzzling scientists is part of it, but chopping all of these researchers and money is really killing our culture of discovery in Canada. It is cutting and firing its way to the bottom of the international tables, which is a real shame. Future generations will really pay for this.
In a 2004 position paper, the Royal Society of Canada stated:
...we are in danger of slipping behind our competitors in our support of research and thereby losing our competitive edge....
We recommend that research funding in Canada should increase at least to the average level in the OECD and G8 countries.
We advise the government to develop a ten-year plan for research, innovation and skill development....
I would like to bring to the attention of the House a unanimous motion that was passed at our 2013 national NDP convention, to show why the NDP is leading on this issue.
The motion that was unanimously passed by 2,000 delegates states:
BE IT RESOLVED THAT the NDP consult widely...developing a Made in Canada National Science Strategy;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the NDP move to match the percentage of GDP invested by the public and private sectors in research and development (GERD) as found in other global leading countries such as the United States.
While I agree with the principles that my colleague has put forward, I think the solutions need to be more robust. With what I have outlined in my speech, the scientific integrity motion, the parliamentary science officer bill, and the motion we passed on the national science strategy at our national convention, we have met these challenges and we will put them in place while we are in government.
Let us be ambitious. Let us think big. Let us be a world leader and not a world laggard.