3.6 Environmental science support: Reverse the “brain drain” in federal science capacity

On Tuesday, November 29th, 2011 in Vision Green

Over the last nine years, the Harper administration has waged a war on science. Many programs have been eliminated, while others have been so severely slashed that effective work can no longer be done. This is despite the fact that in these same years, the size of the federal bureaucracy has grown. Government is bigger overall. In fact, the number of people working in the federal civil service has never been larger. Those people are no longer doing basic research or working in key areas of environmental research and monitoring. Those scientists who remain have been muzzled and gagged. Key institutions to provide scientific perspectives, such as the Science Advisor to the Prime Minister, have been eliminated.

The slaughter of the last nine years comes on top of two decades that much more subtly eroded the scientific capacity of the federal civil service. Restoring robust capacity in federal science will take more than reversing Harper era cuts.

The deep cuts in budgets through the ‘program review’ phase of the former Liberal Government happened to coincide with a widespread (or at least within the OECD) fad for ‘smaller government’ and the injection of a managerial fetish in the civil service. Many experienced scientists took early retirement on very favourable terms. Managers from other departments, without any policy strength or scientific background, moved into key positions in departments such as Environment Canada and Fisheries and Oceans.

Many decried the shift to a managerial culture, in which policy expertise is degraded in preference to some generic management experience. The professional union representing civil servants has also noted that the careerist ambitions of the new civil service culture do not serve the public interest. The previous esprit de corps and expertise within scientifically-grounded departments better served the public interest.

While Greens do not favour big government for its own sake, it is penny-wise and pound-foolish to allow government policy to be starved of solid scientific in-house expertise. The Green Party notes another economic reality of operating with a ‘leaner’ civil service. Much work ends up being ‘out-sourced’ at a higher cost than if the government had its own scientific strength.

The Greens believe that the federal government must signal to the civil service that it values and supports a strong scientific capacity for the Government of Canada. That includes regularly seeking scientific advice regarding all levels of environmentally-related decision making.

We decry the slashing of core scientific capacity. Without federal scientific expertise and the consistent and reliable monitoring of key ecological indicators and levels of pollution, we are literally flying blind.

Green Party MPs will:

  • Make it a priority to rebuild scientific capacity in the Government of Canada with particular attention to those departments that have incurred the most devastating losses – Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans, Parks Canada, and Health Canada. Note that these efforts will be made in tandem with repealing Omnibus Bills C-38 and C-45 (both passed in 2012) in all areas impacting federal scientific capacity;

  • Re-establish the position of Science Advisor to the Prime Minister;

  • Create a new position for Parliamentary Science Advisor as an Officer of Parliament, independent from political control;

  • Direct the Clerk of the Privy Council to reform the civil service to elevate core competence over a managerial culture;

  • Include $150 million annually to the federal budget to be used for adding knowledgeable scientific staff to Environment Canada, Health Canada, and Fisheries and Oceans ($50 million each) thereby increasing their competency;

  • Ensure that scientists in the federal government are free to publish their research, speak to the media about their findings and are encouraged to increase scientific literacy for Canadians;

  • Re-establish the post of Ambassador for the Environment and Sustainable Development, a position that was eliminated by the Conservatives in 2006;

  • Re-instate federal funding to the Experimental Lakes Area to assist the Ontario government and the International Institute for sustainable development with management of the 58 inland lakes and their unique research;

  • Re-establish the adaptation research group within Environment Canada and restore funding to climate science through the Canadian Climate Forum;

  • Re-establish the Marine Mammals Contaminants Monitoring Program within the Department of Fisheries and Oceans;

  • Restore funding and personnel to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans habitat protection efforts (following the repeal of the amendments to the Fisheries Act from the 2012 spring omnibus budget bill, C-38);

  • Ensure the independence of the Commissioner for the Environment and Sustainable Development, through a stand-alone piece of legislation allowing the Commissioner to report directly to the House of Commons and serve as an Officer of Parliament;

  • Establish a task force with expertise from science librarians, the Royal Society of Canada, and others with library and archives experience to review the closing of federal science libraries in the Harper era. A full review needs to be undertaken to verify if the federal law protecting our documentary heritage was violated, to assess damage and make recommendations for restoring scientific library capacity within the federal government. This review should be nimble and fast-tracked to report within 12 months.

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