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

by Craig Cantin | November 29, 2011 3:37 pm

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:

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Source URL: http://elizabethmaymp.ca/vision-green/p3.6