Mr. Speaker, I rise to support this motion because it gets to the heart of how good public policy is made and how the public is informed of new information that can help them to live healthier lives and to have safer lives.
Muzzling scientists does not allow that information to get out to the public. However, I can understand why the government wishes to do muzzle them. I can understand why the government does not want scientists to speak out, does not want an informed public, does not want an informed Parliament. It is because it allows Conservatives to freely pursue ideological public policy-making as opposed to evidence-based public policy-making.
It also allows the government to not be held accountable for what it does, because no knows if evidence is coming forward and no one knows what the scientists have said, so no one can actually hold Conservatives accountable for what they may be doing right or wrong. They cannot be judged in terms of the public policy. Only after the fact, when the harm has been done, can one draw attention to bad public policy, but the evidence in other countries is that new public policy is emerging all the time based on good science and good evidence.
However, it is not only about the muzzling of the scientists. When scientists cannot talk to the media or even peer groups about their findings, that information is not disseminated broadly. As a result, other scientists who are working on different projects and are looking for that piece of science to help them to fit into the jigsaw puzzle that may click for them cannot move forward in what they are doing.
Science is shared globally today. Canada has moved forward and become a really important country because of our sharing of information through centres of excellence. They were this country's initiative, and now other countries in the world are following the centres of excellence, where people share their information openly, so it is about the muzzling, but it is also about the lack of the ability for science to move forward in this country.
When 800 scientists from over 32 countries wrote a letter to the Prime Minister asking him to stop muzzling science and to use science and evidence-based information to make good public policy, it was significant, because scientists by and large are not people who seek the limelight. They like to talk to their peer groups. They like to get information out to the public in a very non-self-centred manner. For them to stand up and speak out loudly speaks worlds about how much damage is being done by the government's position on science.
When we have the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada saying that half of federal scientists report being aware of actual cases in which the health and safety of Canadians or environmental sustainability has been compromised because of political interference with their scientific work and when we have nearly half being aware of actual cases in which their department or agency suppressed information, leading to incomplete, inaccurate, or misleading impressions by the public, by industry, by the media, and/or by government officials, we are talking about a very dangerous precedent.
The government seems to distrust or mistrust scientists. It seems to want to ignore evidence. We know that many of the public policies that come out of the government come out of ideological decision-making. Conservatives decide what they want to do, and then they shut everybody down so that no one can say what they are going to do is wrong or does not have any kind of evidence base.
In regard to health and public safety, the government is treading on very dangerous ground, and I will give some examples in a few minutes.
Let us talk about basic data and the shutting down of data—not just scientists, but basic data in this country.
Under other governments prior to the current one, Statistics Canada was world renowned for having the best data. People followed Statistics Canada data to get the information they needed. After the government shut down the long form census, the chief statistician, Munir Sheikh, said that the quality of the data now being collected by the national household survey is destined to deteriorate to the point that it becomes “a piece of garbage”.
Response rates went from 94% in the 2006 long form mandatory census to 68% in the 2011 national household survey. Now we are not able to get data about how people are faring, about the quality of their lives, about jobs, about anything. Businesses and everyone needed data, but the government shut it down.
Let me give some examples about health and safety in which ideology is being used instead of evidence. That concerns me a great deal. I am going to talk about Insite Vancouver.
Insite Vancouver was a project by the University of British Columbia. It was a well-regulated, well-thought-out project. It had 24 peer reviews internationally, and those 24 peer-reviewed studies supported all of the evidence. They looked at the process and how it was done and said this was an excellent piece of work.
The fatal overdose rate in the Downtown Eastside decreased by 35%. I am talking about evidence now, not just the data gathered. Overdose deaths decreased by 35 % after the opening of Insite. Clients began to connect with addiction treatment. These were high-risk people who did not want to talk to health care providers or did not want to seek help. Suddenly a 25-bed unit had to be built above it to take in the people who wanted to detox. It showed that the likelihood of stopping injection drug use was very high.
The facility opened, and it was associated with a 30% increase in detoxification. It also reduced public disorder by 50%. Then the Supreme Court had to step in. The provincial government, scientists, and all of the health care facilities in British Columbia had to take the federal government to court, because when it shut down Insite, lives were put at risk. People who were going to go into detox were no longer able to do so. There was also an increase in the rate of hepatitis C and AIDS in epidemic proportions in that particular part of Vancouver, the Downtown Eastside.
The Supreme Court stepped in and ruled that, in fact, the right to life, liberty, and security of the person would be infringed if Insite was shut down.
What was even more disconcerting was when the hearings of HESA, the all-party parliamentary committee on health, came about and the minister was asked why he would do this, he said there was no evidence or scientific proof, even though I just laid out all of the data and scientific peer reviews that said Insite was worthwhile.
What also happened was that when the Chief Public Health Officer was asked what he thought of that particular project and the 24 peer reviews, he actually said that they were sound. He said that the methodology was sound, that the results were sound, that it was a scientifically sound result, but he could not answer questions because he was muzzled.
I heard one of my colleagues in the Conservative Party say earlier on that there was a rally and only a fistful of people turned up. I think that people are afraid of losing their jobs. They are scared of the government. This is a terrible situation we are in.
We also heard some misinformation coming from the secretary of state. He said that Canada had spent no money on research and development. In 1993, Canada was seventh in the G7 in terms of public research and development. By the year 2000, because of money spent by the Liberal government purely on public research and development, we were number one in the G7. Today we are not just back to being number seven in the G7; we are 16th in OECD countries. This is how fast this country has fallen into disrepute.
I could on about advisers and scientists within Health Canada advising cutting salt levels in half by mandating that. They have talked about how they have looked at levels of sugar and levels of trans fats, but the government refuses to listen to their own scientists, their own scientific advisers. We hear from inspectors and scientists who look at the amount of E. coli in beef currently and say that the public is in danger, yet the government will not listen. Instead it denigrates the science and information and personally attacks people, and scientists are afraid.
I am glad to see that they are standing up. I support unmuzzling scientists. I support the idea that Canada should get back to spending the right amount of money on research and development and stop ideological decision-making, because people's health and safety are being compromised by the government and its attitude.