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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 expertiseBUSINESS OF SUPPLYGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

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

The hon. member for Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher.

Opposition Motion—Scientific and social science expertiseBUSINESS OF SUPPLYGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Nantel NDP Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

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

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

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

Opposition Motion—Scientific and social science expertiseBUSINESS OF SUPPLYGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

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

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

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

Opposition Motion—Scientific and social science expertiseBUSINESS OF SUPPLYGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Nantel NDP Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

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

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

Opposition Motion—Scientific and social science expertiseBUSINESS OF SUPPLYGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Opposition Motion—Scientific and social science expertiseBUSINESS OF SUPPLYGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Ted Hsu Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

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

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

Opposition Motion—Scientific and social science expertiseBUSINESS OF SUPPLYGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

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

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

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

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

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

Opposition Motion—Scientific and social science expertiseBUSINESS OF SUPPLYGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Tyrone Benskin NDP Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

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

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

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

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

Opposition Motion—Scientific and social science expertiseBUSINESS OF SUPPLYGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

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

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

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

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

Opposition Motion—Scientific and social science expertiseBUSINESS OF SUPPLYGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

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

Opposition Motion—Scientific and social science expertiseBUSINESS OF SUPPLYGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls NDP Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Madam Speaker, I totally agree with my colleague.

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

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

Opposition Motion—Scientific and social science expertiseBUSINESS OF SUPPLYGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

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

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

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

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

Opposition Motion—Scientific and social science expertiseBUSINESS OF SUPPLYGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Opposition Motion—Scientific and social science expertiseBUSINESS OF SUPPLYGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

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

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

Opposition Motion—Scientific and social science expertiseBUSINESS OF SUPPLYGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

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

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

Opposition Motion—Scientific and social science expertiseBUSINESS OF SUPPLYGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Ted Hsu Liberal 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 expertiseBUSINESS OF SUPPLYGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal 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 expertiseBUSINESS OF SUPPLYGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Dany Morin NDP 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 expertiseBUSINESS OF SUPPLYGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal 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 expertiseBUSINESS OF SUPPLYGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal 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 expertiseBUSINESS OF SUPPLYGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP 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 expertiseBUSINESS OF SUPPLYGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal 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 expertiseBUSINESS OF SUPPLYGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Ted Hsu Liberal 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 expertiseBUSINESS OF SUPPLYGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal 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 expertiseBUSINESS OF SUPPLYGovernment Orders

June 5th, 2012 / 5 p.m.

NDP

Dany Morin NDP 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—