Mr. Speaker, I want to start by reading the motion we are debating today. I want to give anyone who may not have been following this debate from the beginning an idea of the resolution members will be voting on this evening.
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; (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, consolidate government-funded or -created science so that it is easily available to the public at large through a central portal, create a Chief Science Officer whose mandate would include ensuring that government science is freely available to those who are paying for it, namely, the public, and allow scientists to be able to speak freely on their work with limited and publicly stated exceptions.
I have no difficulty believing that scientists who work for the Government of Canada should be free to talk about their research. They do not necessarily need to discuss the policies that the Government of Canada and Parliament must set, because that is up to Parliament and the government. However, the role of scientists is to share the information they glean from their research, because those are facts. The fact that the government has prohibited scientists from talking to journalists is very perplexing. It shows that the government does not trust them and does not want Canadians to know science, the truth and the facts. Is it because the government does not trust them? I think that might be one of the key factors in the Conservative government's decision to prevent scientists from talking to journalists.
I have another example. The government no longer allows public servants to talk to MPs. That is inconceivable to me, but that is how things stand.
I do not think it is right to prevent scientists from sharing the research they are paid to do with journalists and Canadians. That is a key part of the resolution before us, and it is certainly one of the reasons why I will support the motion.
I think this is the result of government decisions that are based more on ideology than on facts.
Let me give another example. We all remember one of the first decisions this government made when the Conservatives won a majority: it abolished the long form census. Nearly all Canadians opposed that decision. All universities and most of the provinces—eight out of 10 provinces—opposed that decision. The private sector opposed it. The municipalities were virtually unanimous in their opposition to it. Everyone opposed the notion of not having a mandatory long form census because it was a key source of information. It was replaced by a voluntary questionnaire.
Now we are in the very situation that everyone predicted: the statistics provided by Statistics Canada are no longer as useful as they once were. Who says so? It is the private sector, which has found that the information currently being provided by Statistics Canada is not as good.
There are decisions that the private sector, universities and municipalities need to make that are no longer based on solid information. That is a serious problem. In fact, we have promised that if we form the next government, we will bring back the mandatory long form census as soon as possible, as soon as we take office. We need to return to decision-making policies based on scientific fact, not on ideology.
There is another point I want to make.
I mentioned a while ago that it was not only scientists who were muzzled in not being allowed to speak with journalists, but all public servants had been, in a way, as well. I will give an example. They cannot speak to members of Parliament now.
A few years ago, I had a call from one of the local associations in the riding I represent, the Vanier Business Improvement Area, the Vanier BIA. It wanted some basic information on the grants in lieu of taxes program. As we all know, the Crown is not obliged to pay property taxes, but there are grants made in lieu of taxes. We created that program back in the 1990s.
I called the director general in Public Works and Government Services responsible for the program and left a message. I received a call back a few minutes later from the minister's office telling me that if I wanted to get information, I had to go through the minister. I said that was fine and asked to set up a briefing, which we did. I think it took three weeks. The gentleman I had called came with two of his associates, there were three people from the Vanier BIA, myself and two ministerial assistants from the minister's office. We had a half-hour exchange of information, all of it perfectly legitimate, nothing confidential, no information that could not be divulged.
At the end of the meeting, the gentleman I had called and left a message with, and who did not call me back because he was not allowed to, gave his business card to the people from the Vanier BIA and told them that if they needed more information, to please call him or send him an email. At that point, I asked if he was telling me that the person who was elected to represent them and help them could not call him and talk to him, and he confirmed that I could not. He had been instructed, as had all public servants, by the minister and the government to not to talk to MPs. I find that unconscionable.
This means the government does not trust professional public servants to only divulge information they are allowed to by law. This has happened to me a number of times since, which I find unconscionable and absolutely unnecessary. We do have very professional public servants who do respect the law, who do not divulge information they are not allowed to. Yet they now have been told they cannot talk to MPs, just as scientists have been told they cannot talk to journalists. That is not the way to govern and we need to do away with such directions.
Another thing that concerns me greatly is the direction the government is taking with regard to research. It is focusing primarily on applied research and not on basic research. I am extremely concerned about that. We noticed in the past two budgets that the new guidelines for research groups specify that they are to associate with the private sector only. I think we are going in the wrong direction.
I have no problem with applied science applying, as it were, knowledge in the private sector in order to create wealth and employment. There is no real problem there. However, there has to be a balance. That is the problem. We are losing that balance. The National Research Council of Canada headquarters, located in the riding I have the privilege of representing, is leaning far too much, in my opinion, toward applied research instead of basic research. There is no doubt that applied research leads to gains. However, abandoning basic research is going to cost us dearly in the long term when it comes to quality of life, the economy, and so forth.
Here is an example.
A couple of years ago, I organized a debate with Dr. Arthur Carty. Before I get into that, let me explain who this gentleman is. He currently manages the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology at the University of Waterloo, but for 10 years he was the head of the National Research Council, from 1994 to 2004. He did a wonderful job there. He then was hired to be the first science adviser to the prime minister, and he did a great job there, too. When the Conservatives took over, they transferred him away from the position of prime minister's adviser and over to industry, and a year or so later, they cancelled that job. They did not do in a very elegant manner, unfortunately.
When I organized this debate a couple of years ago, Dr, Carty gave me some rather interesting statistics that should be of some preoccupation. For instance, what he calls the GERD/GDP ratio, or the gross expenditure on R and D over the GDP ratio, had dropped from the 16th position in the OECD in 2006 to the 23rd position in 2011. Let us compare the percentage of gross expenditure on R and D over the GDP in 2011. In Israel, it was 4.4%. In Finland, it was 3.8%. In South Korea, it was 3.7%. In Sweden, it was 3.4%. In Japan, it was 3.3%. In Denmark, it was 3.1%. In Canada, it was 1.7%. If we do not do better than that, we are headed for some serious trouble.
When we formed a government in the mid-1990s, Canada was experiencing a brain drain. We had some serious problems. After the elimination of the $39 billion deficit that we inherited from the Mulroney government, one of the first things we headed toward was improving our facilities in research. We created the Canada Foundation for Innovation, which members may recall. I think that we put in upwards of about $10 million. We redid all of the labs in all of the hospitals and universities in our country. We gradually did other initiatives through the AUCC, the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, creating scholarships, improving the NCERT, and changing and improving the medical research capacity in humanities research.
We eventually reversed the brain drain and we tremendously improved our standing in science and research. However, now we are heading the other way. That is a scary matter. To compound that, we are now telling our scientists that they cannot talk to journalists and share their information. I do not understand that.
Since coming to power, the Conservatives have closed 20 or so libraries in most departments, which is rather worrisome. It was disastrous at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, where they closed seven out of nine, if I am not mistaken. We were told that all the documents would be digitized or sent to Library and Archives Canada, but LAC did not take in a single one.
Evidence has been therefore destroyed and lost, reinforcing the fact that the government prefers to base its work on ideology rather than evidence.
This one is rather troubling. The Human Resources and Skills Development library included the largest collection of books in Canada on the social sciences. The libraries physical collections were entirely phased out in early 2013. The fate of these libraries is not unique, however. As I have mentioned, a number of them have been closed.
It is the same problems we have had in Health Canada. The Citizenship and Immigration library was closed in March 2012. We have seen the same thing throughout a number of departments. The National Capital Commission, the Transportation Safety Board, Transportation, Infrastructure and Communities, all have had their libraries closed, without necessarily saving the documentation that was in those libraries. Therefore, we are getting away from evidence-based decision making, again.
All that to say that the motion before us today is, in my opinion, very pertinent. I do not expect the Conservatives to adopt it. NDP members have moved other motions that the Conservative government has also rejected. The same thing will probably happen tonight.
However, what people need to realize is that when there is a change in government, these conditions will be eliminated. Muzzling scientists and preventing them from speaking to journalists is unacceptable. They should have the right to share information, but not necessarily to discuss public policies. I agree that that is not their role. Taxpayers pay them to do research. The research belongs to the Canadian public. We have to reinforce that.
When I campaigned in 2008, I was floored after knocking on one door. A scientist answered the door, but I will not name him because he would get into trouble. He worked for the Government of Canada. He told me that he had just been told that he could not go to a conference and give the speech he was supposed to give because the government did not agree with the facts he was going to present. I am not talking about opinions, but about facts. When I met this person and he told me what the Conservative government had done to him, I became convinced that this had to change.
Unfortunately, this has not yet changed. I hope that it will one day because the scientific base in our society is very important. It is unacceptable that scientists who work for Canadians—and there are now thousands fewer than before—cannot share the information they have. This type of demagoguery is not healthy in a democracy.
We must therefore ensure that this type of behaviour does not occur and that these measures, which were imposed by the Conservatives, are abolished. I do not think they will be wise enough to do it themselves, so let us hope that, during the next election, Canadians make sure that they do not put the Conservatives back in charge and that Canadians are better served by their government, public servants and scientists.
I have never seen this sort of problem in all of my 20 years as an MP. We have always wanted a Parliament and a government that made decisions based on scientific facts, not on ideology. I think we need to change the direction we are now moving in. I hope that we will be able to do that, if not tonight, then in a few months.