Mr. Speaker, I would like to mention that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard.
Today's debate is vital. The current ecological and economic crisis is a reminder that Canada needs to invest in public science and basic research and freely distribute scientific data. Climate change is real, and we are already suffering from its effects. We are at a crossroads, and we need science now more than ever.
Need I remind hon. members that, just 40 years ago, our industries were polluting the St. Lawrence River, we were burning toxic waste and miners were dying of cancer because they did not have the information and protection they needed?
We have come a long way since then. We set up research institutes, cleaned up our lakes and rivers and decontaminated thousands of sites across the country, but there is still a lot of work to be done. Today, we are paying for the mistakes of the past.
Right now, the situation in Canada is of grave concern. This Conservative government is undoing all the progress that we have made over the past decades. By making cuts to scientific research, censoring scientists, abolishing our environmental laws and destroying world-renowned research institutes, such as the NRTEE, the government is setting us back 50 years.
The experimental lakes program is a very good example. For 40 years now, the research conducted on 58 lakes has allowed us to make extraordinary advances in the field of biology that are recognized throughout the world. For example, this research has helped us to better understand the blue-green algae phenomenon and the role of phosphates in the development of cyanobacteria. This research has helped to improve water quality in many of our lakes. And that is not all. The research on these lakes in their natural state has helped to advance scientific studies at the international level. This is the only laboratory of its kind in the world.
Yet the Conservatives do not really seem to understand the importance of this institution. Their decision to do away with the experimental lakes program is a monumental mistake. The government is saying that it will save $2 million by closing this site, yet it costs only $6,000 to operate and replacing it or getting a private institution to run it would cost several million dollars.
What is more, the Conservatives are not considering the cost of depriving our country of data that are essential to preserving the quality of our water. The Conservatives seem to think that this is no big deal, that we will stick future generations with the bill and that they will deal with the problem.
In addition, this week we learned that Fisheries and Oceans Canada had locked up the Experimental Lakes Area cabins and was preventing scientists from accessing the site. Yet Ottawa had announced that it would continue managing the site until next September, but that it would not be paying for any research after March 31.
For months the government has been saying that it is looking for a private sector organization to take over the program, but nothing has happened yet. Britt Hall, a biochemist at the University of Regina and the director of the Coalition to Save ELA, is worried that 44 years' worth of data will be lost and that experiments will be cancelled.
Researchers at Trent University in Peterborough had to stop their work. They were working on the use of microscopic amounts of silver to prevent bacteria. It will be impossible for them to finish their research.
Cuts at the PEARL atmospheric research station in Nunavut also demonstrate this government's lack of a long-term vision. This winter, researchers were not able to gather data. It is important to continue funding research in areas as vital as climate change.
The list of this government's strategic errors is long: cuts to experimental farms and Mont-Joli's Maurice Lamontagne Institute, abolishing Statistics Canada's long form census, cuts to fishery research, cuts at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, at the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada's major resources support program, and so on.
Thanks to documents obtained under the Access to Information Act, we recently learned that there is concern amongst Environment Canada scientists who are responsible for monitoring air quality. Many of them work in offices in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver, ensuring that we are complying with laws limiting land and atmospheric pollution. Employees are saying that the government will eliminate positions and that monitoring will be compromised. There is cause for concern.
When the Minister of the Environment goes to Copenhagen, Rio or Durban and says that his government is protecting the environment, but we here in Canada see that cuts are being made to essential, basic scientific research, there is every reason to doubt the sincerity of his remarks.
Yet public research is essential for a developed economy such as ours. The three key players in scientific research—universities, the private sector and the government—all play a fundamental role. The government funds research through programs, institutions and tax credits. Therefore, why eliminate these incentives in science and continue to offer tax breaks to oil companies? That is a double standard.
Public research cannot always be replaced by the private sector. Take Statistics Canada's consumer price index, for instance. Only the government can measure it, and companies really need that information.
Yves Gingras, a professor who is the Canada Research Chair in history and sociology of science at UQAM, said:
People often say the Conservatives are opposed to science. I think instead that they are in favour of strategic ignorance, so they can justify their inaction in certain areas that could hurt industries. When fishers observe that there are fewer fish, the government will be able to tell them that it does not know why and that the government is not to blame if it could not predict the shortage.
It is troubling to see that these cuts to science are accompanied by drastic changes in environmental legislation. With Bill C-38, the Conservative government drastically modified the environmental assessment process for hydrocarbons. Consultations were reduced to a minimum, almost to nothing, in fact. With Bill C-45, it took away all protection for our lakes and rivers.
All of this is accompanied by a culture of secrecy and censorship that has been imposed by the Conservative government since 2006. The prestigious Royal Society of Canada, an institution that has been around for more than 100 years and whose members are scientists in all fields, wrote an open letter to condemn the Conservatives' attitude. The Royal Society of Canada made a very simple request, namely, that the government stop preventing scientists from announcing their discoveries to the Canadian public. It is a fairly basic request. In a democratic society, it is important to discuss what action to take based on fact rather than simply being guided by ideology.
For instance, the census is one of the tools that enabled Canada to become one of the most developed countries in the world. It is one way for the government to develop targeted, effective public policies. For instance, it tells us what the average age is in a given area, which helps public health authorities target their actions. It guides entrepreneurs who are looking for opportunities, by mapping out the average income in a given region. It also helps community organizations that want to reach out to a specific clientele.
Let us talk about the status of French, since today is the International Day of La Francophonie. The status of French in Canada is another example that proves how useful the census can be. The data collected made it possible to accurately follow major linguistic trends, thereby allowing governments to adapt their policies in order to ensure the vitality of the French language. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister could not care less. He has decided to put his own ideological interests ahead of the country's interests.
For a government that claims to care about important issues like economic development, public health, the environment and the status of French, its attitude—tossing aside all scientific data and muzzling scientists—is not very responsible.
In my opinion, good public policies should be based on proven, credible facts. We will continue to advocate for complete freedom for all Canadian researchers and an end to this censorship.
I hope the Conservatives will put their shoulders to the wheel and support this important motion, so that our scientists can restore their image, regain their zeal and continue to participate in the essential research that Canada so desperately needs. Above all, I hope that we can give new hope to young Canadians who are thinking about a future in innovation, research, science and technology.