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.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Etobicoke North.
Today the Liberal Party affirms its commitment to making policy that is based on evidence. The Liberal Party is using its opposition day to move a motion calling on the Prime Minister and the Conservative Party to end their muzzling of scientists.
We also pledge to create the position of chief science officer, whose responsibilities will include not only providing advice to the Prime Minister and cabinet, but also ensuring that government science is publicly available and that scientists may speak freely about their research.
We have heard from scientists and people across Canada who have experienced the Conservative government's suppression of science and muzzling of scientists. They are deeply troubled by it.
We heard just last week about Steven Campana, former DFO scientist, a researcher of the population dynamics of sharks and other fishes. He was disciplined for, amongst other things, giving an interview for a fluff piece about a great white shark that was sighted off the coast of New England. This was after previously receiving a media spokesperson of the year award.
In 2010, NRCan scientist Scott Dallimore was not allowed to talk about a large flood in northern Canada which occurred 13,000 years ago without getting pre-approval from political staff.
In 2011, DFO scientist Kristina Miller could not speak to journalists about her research on salmon genetics which had implications for viral infections and salmon mortality.
A journalist, Tom Spears, looking into joint research between our NRC and NASA in the United States on snowfall patterns, sparked 50 emails between 11 government employees. Meanwhile, a phone call to NASA got the information in 15 minutes.
Another journalist seeking an interview with DFO scientist Max Bothwell about didymo, an algae known as rock snot, generated 110 pages of internal emails between 16 government communications staff, and there was no interview in the end.
Environment Canada scientists were shadowed by communications staff at the 2012 polar conference, which we hosted in Montreal.
Environment Canada scientists were given a script by communications officials, instead of being trusted to comment on a study led by Erin Kelly and David Schindler on contamination of water by oil sands operations, when they presented their results at a scientific conference in Boston.
Our federal scientists are experts in their fields. We should trust their ability to share valuable research findings in a professional and objective manner without commenting on government policy. We believe that they should share their research with the public and be free from political interference.
Conservative suppression of science goes beyond preventing government scientists from speaking freely about their research. It includes cuts to scientific research for the common good, cuts which jeopardize our safety, environment, competitiveness, and place on the world stage.
Government scientists want to do work that helps us govern ourselves wisely. It is no wonder that The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, PIPSC, is pushing for an unprecedented scientific integrity package in its collective bargaining agreement.
What benefits do government scientists provide? Government scientists work in fields such as public health, environmental protection, resource stewardship, Canadian cultural and historical studies, or basic science which industry has little incentive to fund.
Government scientists can have the expertise to inform regulatory and legislative work in a more objective way than scientists employed by industry or interest groups. The perception of neutrality is also important when policy debates reach the public square. Scientists in government work closely with policy-makers, which helps to align their research priorities with public needs.
Why is freedom of speech important for government scientists? Restrictions on communication alter scientific work. Science relies on free and vigorous debate between scientists who have reached opposing conclusions. Scientists should not be pressured directly, or even indirectly, to self-censor or to weaken their conclusions so as to avoid upsetting the government of the day.
Mike Rennie described the work environment at the Experimental Lakes Area when it was under the control of the federal government as “toxic”, in part because of the communications policy.
The more controversial a public issue is, the more we need independent, objective, professional, well-reasoned facts to anchor government decision-making and the public's democratic participation in that decision-making.
When it comes to decisions that affect health and safety, fairness, the environment, or the economy, we need the best information when we decide on policy or how policy is to be implemented.
Restricting communication will make it hard to recruit good scientists. In an unprecedented move, PIPSC, The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, the union which represents government scientific staff, is asking for a scientific integrity package in its collective bargaining. They are not asking for salary increases, but in effect the freedom to do their work and allow it to contribute as much as possible to the public good, to make their work meaningful.
By contrast, Dr. Campana, the former DFO scientist, said last week: “the vast majority of our senior scientists are in the process of leaving now disgusted...”.
Finally, regarding communications, it is important for scientists to talk about their research, about nature, while following simple precautions. That is really free speech: something of value in and of itself in our society.
What are the precautions? What are the reasonable restrictions on what scientists can freely talk about? First of all, the public should never think that scientists are speaking for the government of the day, for the elected officials to whom the people have given the responsibility to make decisions. Scientists should talk about their research and not about government policy.
Government communications people can review a scientist's communications with the public in order to prepare a response because scientific findings do affect people's thinking. However, they should not restrict that communication.
Government scientists may collect personal data that should be kept confidential or proprietary information that is protected by an intellectual property agreement. That should be kept from the public.
Government scientists may have knowledge where public release would have negative consequences for public safety. That would be a limitation.
Government scientists will be known by their affiliation with federal institutions, whose reputations would be affected if there are significant errors in their research that is communicated publicly. Of course, there is a requirement for some sort of scientific peer review for quality control before public communication is permitted. That is appropriate. This is review by people whose expertise is science, not communications.
These are all examples of the limited restrictions that are mentioned in the motion, and these restrictions will be made public.
Making the changes that we are calling for will, of course, require monitoring, since different parts of government have different communications needs. That is why we call for the establishment of the position of chief science officer, to ensure that these changes are implemented and maintained for the benefit of Canada.
Canadians expect their government to embrace policy that is based on evidence. That process must be transparent. Government science which informs policy-making and is paid for by taxpayers must be open and accessible to the public. The public must be confident that information comes directly from scientists and is free from partisan political influence.
One of the things the Conservatives will say is that scientists can publish their results in journals. Even scientists do not just read journals to understand what another scientist has done. One can only do that if they work in the same specialized field as the other scientist. Scientists will sit down with another scientist, make a phone call, or sit in the hallway at a conference, and discuss the details of research in order to understand what the other scientists have done.
It is even more important for scientists to have two-way communication, usually through a science journalist, to communicate with the public, to make sure that the journalist understands what the scientist has done and to make sure that the communication is complete. It is not a rebuttal to say that scientists can publish in scientific journals.
To summarize, a Liberal government will unmuzzle science for the public good and work to re-establish a respectful relationship with government scientists. We will create the position of chief science officer, whose responsibilities will include not only providing advice to the Prime Minister, but also ensuring that government science is publicly available and that scientists may speak freely about their research. The Liberal Party of Canada is committed to including these measures in its election platform.
A Liberal government will unmuzzle science for the public good and work to re-establish a respectful relationship with government scientists. The Liberal Party of Canada is committed to including these measures in its election platform.