Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the the Minister of State for Federal Economic Development for Southern Ontario, who is very excited to speak to this topic as well.
I do not have much time, so for my colleagues opposite, as context of my speech I would like to remind them of the roles of the various organizations involved in the debate today.
First is the executive branch of the Government of Canada. The executive is comprised of the Crown, represented by the Governor General, the Prime Minister, and the cabinet. The executive is part of the government, which makes and implements decisions required to maintain the rule of law and well-being of Canadians. Ministers are assigned specific portfolios by the Prime Minister and oversee the operations of the government departments corresponding to that portfolio. Of course, ministers are accountable to the electorate. All of us right now are members of Parliament, so there is an accountability to the people.
The purpose of the Public Service of Canada is to serve the constitutional democratic state. By referring to the Public Service of Canada as part of the executive branch, it is suggested that its fundamental purpose is to carry out or execute state decisions. The state takes its decisions through legislatures, federal and provincial.
Civil society is the aggregate of non-governmental organizations and institutions that manifest the interests and will of the citizens. In an article entitled “Parliament and Civil Society”, published in Ottawa on November 21, 2001, Jean Augustine said:
Parliamentarians are the link between civil society and government. Our responsibilities demand that we be in contact with the pulse of our constituencies, understand their needs and encourage citizen participation.
With the context and understanding of the role of the executive, the public service, and civil society, which comprises NGOs and our academic community, we look at the motion today. As ministers are primary spokespersons for their departments who prefer the government's communications protocol put in place by previous governments, we are still accountable to the Prime Minister and Parliament for presenting and explaining government policies. Of course, we are still accountable to others, but the point is that we have an accountability in the policies that we put forward. Therefore, it is an important delineation to make between the executive and the public service, in which context we are debating research scientists today, as well as civil society.
I should also outline that a condition of employment for civil servants in the federal public sector is part of the values and ethics code for the public sector, as well as compliance with the communication policy of the government, which again the previous Liberal government had a hand in putting in place.
The interesting thing is that my colleague opposite who just spoke talked about masses of scientists protesting being the key difference between then and now, when they put in place that particular communication protocol. Since the scientific method is defined as “A method of procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses”, I would like to test his hypothesis.
For anyone following at home, if they look on my Twitter feed, @MichelleRempel, they will see the picture from our Public Works webcam that shows the masses of scientists who protested that day. They will notice that there was a gathering of about 10 people. I took that picture because I knew this was going to come up in debate.
Therefore, let us use the scientific method to dissect the assertions in the motion today. It states:
That, in the opinion of the House: (a) the government has constrained the ability of federal scientists to share their research and to collaborate with their peers; (b) federal scientists have been muzzled and prevented from speaking to the media about their work;
I spent over 10 years in academic research management. I know a little on the subject. I would argue that some of the metrics to determine whether or not this assertion would be correct would be the number of media interviews given and publications made. I would like to focus on those two. However, there are other metrics as well, including research contracts that are gained, patents that are filed, and graduate students who are trained. I could go on, but let us focus on the first two, due to time.
There are over 1,200 Government of Canada social media accounts to disseminate information. We coordinate communications through the Government of Canada media policy in order to prevent duplication and redundancy in communications and to ensure we are not missing opportunities to communicate with the public.
In terms of specific metrics, in fiscal years 2013-14, 2014-15, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans conducted over 647 media interviews and responded to over 1,406 media inquiries in writing. In the calendar year, 2013-14, they put forward 900 peer-reviewed articles.
Environment Canada, in the same time period I believe, put forward 700 peer-reviewed articles. Last year, they conducted over 4,200 media interviews. NRC, in 2014, conducted 340 media interviews and put forward 724 scientific articles. NRCan put forward 472 media interviews. In total, federal departments have put forward over 4,000 science publications a year.
I would like to put forward that Canada, even though we account for less than 0.5% of the world's population, produces over 4% of the world's research papers. We are the only country to have increased its share of research papers in the last decade.
In terms of hypotheses saying that we are muzzling scientists, based on empirical evidence and the fact that my colleagues opposite have only put forward four examples, which I would love to fact check, I think we have the numbers here.
Next, the motion says:
(c) research is paid for by taxpayers and must be done in the public interest in order to protect the environment and the health and safety of Canadians; and, therefore, (d) the government should immediately rescind all rules and regulations that muzzle government scientists....
It also says that it should be available to the public through “a central portal”. For those listening at home, they can go to open.canada.ca, science.gc.ca, publications.gc.ca. If they want to go into specific departments which are listed on those portals, because my colleagues opposite have not figured out how to navigate Google, I would point out that the National Research Council also has a publication portal, which I learned today that one of my Twitter followers put together.
I am happy to give my colleagues screen shots of this or show them how to navigate to those portals, if they are unfamiliar with Internet technology.
I would also like to highlight some of the other things we have done in terms of promoting access to information, such as my colleague, the Minister of State for Science and Technology announcing something that he can be so very proud of, which is our open access policy for research. It will allow Canadians to have free online access to research funded by our tri-council agencies. Congratulations and a big shout-out to all my colleagues at the tri-council, and to CFI. They are hard-working public servants.
If anyone wants more information on that particular policy, again refuting my colleagues' assertions, that was published on February 27, 2015. They probably should have Googled that as well before they put this motion forward.
The other thing I would like to put forward is that there are many factors involved in looking at whether a media request can be completed in time: Is the researcher available that day? Are there any intellectual property review policies that it is subject to? For example, is the research going to be put through a provisional patent process? Has the research been validated?
All of these sorts of things are the reasons we have communications specialists to support this. I would like to point out that I think there are close to two dozen communications experts at the University of Toronto, which of course is part of civil society and academic freedom. There are still communications experts there.
With regard to the final part of the motion about the chief science officer, I would like to remind my colleagues that in 2007 our government put in place the Science, Technology and Innovation Council. Its mandate is to have oversight of science and provide advice to the executive branch of government.
Also, if my colleagues have any scientists whom they feel are not being served well or have employment issues, the Treasury Board of Canada does have an employment dispute involvement mechanism.
I think we have covered all the bases. That is what the scientific method does.