Scientists, many of them wearing white lab coats, and concerned citizens rallied at noon today in downtown Victoria by the federal government building at Yates and Government Streets against the Harper Conservatives’ assault on scientific research, environmental monitoring, information dissemination, and informed decision-making in Canada. Speakers included University of Victoria climate scientist Dr. Andrew Weaver, Green Party of Canada leader and MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands Elizabeth May, NDP MLA for South Saanich Lana Popham, Center for Child honouring singer and song-writer Raffi, and Majority for A Sustainable Society (MASS) executive director KenWu.
“Democracy depends on informed opinion. Informed opinion relies on understanding all the evidence, not just that which supports a political objective or ideology. Science provides much of the best evidence, without regard to political agendas or ideology,” stated Dr. Andrew Weaver. “The only scientific evidence the Harper Conservatives want the public to know about is that which supports their political objectives and ideology. That’s not science, that’s propaganda.”
“An advanced, modern democratic society needs decisions to be based on the best information available. Harper’s agenda seems to be focused on eliminating any institutions that bring forward information that might contradict or constrain his agenda for unfettered fossil fuel and resource extraction in Canada,” stated MP Elizabeth May. “Instead of making decisions based on the best available information, their goal is to eliminate the best available information so they can implement pre-made decisions based on their ideology.”
The Harper Conservatives have embarked on a systematic program to impede and divert the flow of scientific information to Canadians through two major strategies.
The first strategy involves the gutting of scientific research institutions and programs that uncover scientific evidence. Examples of this include:
- The end of funding to the Canadian Foundation of Climate and Atmospheric Science
- The elimination of the Adaptation research group within Environment Canada
- Cuts to ozone monitoring
- Closure of the Polar Environment Arctic Research Laboratory (PEARL) in Eureka
- End of federal funding for the world renowned Experimental Lakes Area near Kenora, Ontario
- The elimination of the marine contaminants program within the DFO
- The loss of scientists in Natural Resources Canada to study ice cores data (and the hope to find a university with a large fridge willing to take the 80,000 year ice core record Canada’s government no longer wants)
- The end of monitoring smoke stack emissions
- Cut backs in the Canada Oil and Gas research group in Halifax
- Other major funding cuts research programs at Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Library and Archives Canada, the National Research Council Canada, Statistics Canada, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.
- Decisions to close major natural and social science research institutions such as the world-renowned Experimental Lakes Area, the National Council of Welfare and the First Nations Statistical Institute.
- Cutting the mandatory long-form national census.
Harper’s second strategy is to impede the bringing forward of scientific evidence into the public debate. Examples:
- Shutting down the National Round Table on Environment and Economy (NRTEE), an arm’s length advisory body providing independent advice on environmental protection and economic development, because the government didn’t like its advice.
- Not renewing the National Science Advisor in 2008.
- Dozens of instances of censoring of, impeded access to, and coercion of government scientists, a practice which Minister of Environment Peter Kent has justified as merely in keeping with “established practice”.
Rally organizer Ken Wu expects that the political momentum against the Harper’s cuts to scientific programs and institutions will continue to grow in the future.