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 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.
Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the diligent and very hard-working official opposition industry critic from LaSalle—Émard.
I rise today to introduce our official opposition day motion. We in the NDP believe the scientific approach to knowledge is something we should cherish and rigorously defend. This opposition day motion stresses action to counteract the ways in which this approach is being actively undermined by the Conservatives.
While my colleagues will speak to the specifics and give real world examples throughout the day, in my short time I will speak to why we should value and defend the scientific approach to learning and acquiring knowledge.
Whether it is in the hard sciences, such as chemistry, physics or biology, or the social sciences, such as political science or economics, scholars around the world apply a universal approach to understanding humanity and its problems. This involves first asking important questions. These questions are sometimes driven by the needs of society but they are sometimes driven by dreaming. However, they are always driven by the researchers' own curiosity. Wanting to know what is within and what is beyond is what drives researchers.
Therefore, whether it is the force for change in society or the force of colliding atoms, scientists begin by first identifying the important “why” question, why something is occurring, identifying problems and asking why it is happening.
After asking the “why” question, researchers form theories and then gather data to test these theories. However, most important, they truthfully report test results and the methodology by which these results were obtained.
All those who believe in science and the scientific approach are driven to seek and report the truth and, if these truths are unpopular, it is imperative upon the researcher to speak truth to power. Where we get into real trouble is when those with power do not want to hear the truth and try to undermine or suppress these truths. Of course, the most famous example of this clash between truth and power occurred during the birth of modern science when Galileo was imprisoned for life for daring to suggest that the earth revolves around the sun.
Three and a half centuries later, we find ourselves facing the same underlying problem where those who believe in science are threatened by those following ideological doctrine. With their cuts and muzzling of scientists, the Conservatives attack our hard-won culture of scientific inquiry. Worse still, they are creating an atmosphere of fear among Canadian scientists. They give Canadian scientists a reason to fear. These scientists shake their heads in disbelief and think to themselves, “I never thought it would happen in this day and age and certainly not in this country”.
I have had the great pleasure of working in academic institutions for the greater part of the last two decades and I have recently been in touch with many of these scientists. I can tell members that there is an atmosphere of fear that is pervading Canada and it is spreading among Canadian academic institutions. I have been hearing from tenured professors who, for example, fear what is coming next. They have told me stories of colleagues who have been warned against speaking out and that their programs would be cut as retribution if they make their fears known, or if they move from science to become politically active and speak out against the massive change in culture that the Conservatives are bringing with their recent legislation.
However, many scientists are taking the risk and making public their concerns. For example, yesterday I received a letter from 12 prominent members of the scientific community, and I mean prominent. Deans, chairs, program directors and many senior scientists were of these 12 who stated that they were “...deeply concerned by the erosion of funding for fundamental scientific research in Canada”.
In this letter, the scientists list three major programs for which they are particularly concerned. The first is the cancellation of the major resources support program, the MRS program; the second is the research tools and instruments program, the RTI program; and the third, very troubling, is that these 12 prominent members of the scientific community state that there is a 50% reduction in the number of NSERC graduate and post-doctoral scholarships. This cuts at the heart of our approach to learning and discovery in this country, and they are deeply concerned.
These scientists see these cuts as undermining Canada's long-standing commitment to basic science and fundamental scientific learning. These eminent scientists argue that the Conservatives are creating “a 'perfect storm' that will jeopardize Canada's international reputation and competitive edge...”.
The letter concludes that the scientists “welcome the opportunity to work with NSERC to find alternative measures”. However, as is the case with so many other measures taken by the government, there is little or no opportunity for the public to provide input in the decision-making process and, of course, there is no difference here.
I also have a similar letter from 47 other top-grade scientists describing their pride in what they and their colleagues have accomplished and hope to accomplish in the coming years. I have made an effort to personally speak with these 47 scientists, and in these private conversations they have described to me how they and their lives are filled with an intense sense of purpose, how they wade through the setbacks and failures of experiments with resilience and spend long hours in Arctic labs or even in howling winds day after day because their desire for truth and knowledge keeps them there.
They also expressed to me their sheer joy of passing their knowledge to younger generations. Training the next wave of great scientists will employ this scientific approach to knowledge, and key to this training is bringing students into Canadian labs and research centres in order to provide hands-on training and first-hand experience.
However, instead of being secure in the knowledge that robust and reliable funding programs are in place to support the freedom to innovate and advance knowledge in its variety of forms, they now have to wonder whether they are being unfairly targeted because their life work no longer constitutes what the government deems is worth supporting. Across the country, they are asking why and beginning to mobilize. As someone who has spent almost 20 years undertaking academic study and working in universities, I have never before encountered this kind of mobilization of scientists. To see letters signed by so many prominent biologists, physicists and chemists makes me think there is something very wrong in the government's approach to funding and learning in this country.
This opposition day motion is meant to express the NDP's intent to stand with scientists and social scientists and show that we on this side of the House are their allies. We pledge to listen to the fears and fight for academic freedom, because when scientists succeed, they show Canadians and the world what is possible.
Here in the House we hear the attacks every day. Members of the government on the front bench sneer when I say the word “academic”. They refuse to acknowledge the value of Statistics Canada research. They openly chastise the environment commissioner's citing of scientific evidence and refuse to let government scientists speak at conferences, but scientists should not have to subject the product of their work to political tests of faith from the regime of the day. The evaluation and examination of the true value of their work must remain with the review of their peers.
I am a strong adherent of the Haldane principle, which simply states that research funding decisions should be made by researchers, not politicians. Conservatives have tried to bury their attacks within this Trojan Horse budget. They have sought to suppress some of the brightest voices in this country here at home and on the world stage. In fact, I can say that they have declared a war on knowledge, and Canadians are caught in the crossfire.
I call on my colleagues opposite to join New Democrats and support the scientists, researchers and others who will be adversely affected by these cuts in their own constituencies, and to support our motion.