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Conservatives besiege science for ideological gain


Julian Wolfe
January 20th, 2014


The Conservative government has shut down hundreds of federal and world renowned research facilities as part of their war on science. The bulk of facilities affected pertained to the climate science that has actively gotten in the way of the government’s coveted pipeline projects. The Conservatives are silencing their critics as they cut scientific funding in the name of ideological gain.

CBC’s The Fifth Estate published a list of the effected scientific facilities compiled by the Canadian Association of University Teachers and the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada. The full, long list can be accessed at the end of this article. The impacts are detrimental to Canada’s ability to make policies based on evidence and the savage attacks on scientific institutions will be leaving a black mark for years to come.

The Conservatives have fought vigorously in favor of their pipeline project, going as far as to attack world renowned climatologist James Hansen when he joined the world’s scientific community raising flags on the project. As a result, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver was dealt the humiliating result of having his government be called a “neanderthal government.”

While the Conservatives pitch the project as a clean and safe energy alternative, American President Barack Obama has been clear he would reject the project if its carbon emissions wouldn’t be neutral. Despite John Baird’s aggressive attempt to twist America’s hand – to deaf ears, the Harper government’s own internal projections would see a 38% increase in emissions by 2030 if the pipeline projects were given a green light. By contrast, Europe intends to cut 40% of its emissions by 2030.

In a report to the UN, the government projects 815 million tonnes of CO2 will be emitted in 2030, up from 590Mt in 1990. Worse, a 2013 Climate Action Tracker analysis done by Germany’s Climate Analytics, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Dutch-based energy institute Ecofys suggests Canada’s report is low-balling the emissions amount as the natural gas sector, the third largest in the world, could have released 212Mt in 2011 alone.

However, given the cuts to Canada’s atmospheric scientists, not long after muzzling them for a few years (a trend that started in 2006 with the Harper government’s new media protocol), it would appear the lights are closed on facts and reason. Worse, with the radical changes occurring to our climate caused by this climate change, cutting research in the domain leaves us vulnerable to the unknown as weather patterns become more extreme and more difficult to predict.

To make matters worse, the Conservatives don’t deny climate change, they are aware of its impacts. Conservative MP Peter Braid admitted on CBC’s Power and Politics earlier this month that extreme weather patterns and climate change are linked.

“We are seeing the effects, the impacts of climate change,” Braid said. “With climate change comes extreme weather events. We saw that through the floods in southern Alberta, we’re now seeing that with the ice storms in Kitchener-Waterloo and Toronto, with the extreme cold across the country.”

The Conservatives are aware of the environmental impacts, however, a lucrative fossil fuel industry cannot thrive in an era of dwindling support and scientific skepticism. Choosing to turn a blind eye and dice their opponents is the only option viable to a government driven on failed ideology in a desperate attempt to revive Canada’s under-performing economy.

Years of talent and work were destroyed by these cuts, as a The Fifth Estate investigation has found. Scientists working on a range of research from historical life to water pollution were given their walking papers and had their years of research seized as their life’s work was shattered in mere minutes. Worse, with the company of security guards, these scientists were given 5 minutes to collect their personal belongings before being permanently locked out of their old jobs. Whether their research be deemed useless for the market or inconvenient to Conservative projects, scientists across the country have taken the hit by reckless Conservative ideology. Science, once an independent branch of public policy that has given birth to the modern society we live in today, has been besieged and the damage may well be irreversible.

A shift from science to a $28 million campaign to recreate the War of 1812 has seen Canada’s Museum of Civilization, one based on scientific research, be renamed to the Canada Museum of History, one focused on Canada’s British roots. In late November 2013, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers became the sponsor of the new Museum of History.

Environmental science isn’t alone in besiege. The Conservative attack on public healthcare is leaving scientists at Health Canada scrambling to squirrel away needed information from the besieged research library.

Health Canada Management, looking for cuts, is looking at the research library, which in a report written by a consultant hired by the department, said, “Staff requests have dropped 90 per cent over in-house service levels prior to the outsource. This statistic has been heralded as a cost savings by senior HC [Health Canada] management.”

“However, HC scientists have repeatedly said during the interview process that the decrease is because the information has become inaccessible — either it cannot arrive in due time, or it is unaffordable due to the fee structure in place.”

Dr. Rudi Mueller retired as a Pathologist in 2012 and agreed with the assessment.

“I look at it as an insidious plan to discourage people from using libraries,” Mueller said.

“If you want to justify closing a library, you make access difficult and then you say it is hardly used.”

The access problems became bad enough that student library access became a workaround. Another is the squirreling away of important literature.

“One group moved its 250 feet of published materials to an employee’s basement. When you need a book, you email ‘Fred,’ and ‘Fred’ brings the book in with him the next day,” the consultant wrote.

Meanwhile, librarians were being fired leaving scientists to do the work of finding information themselves.

James Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, fears that with the changes, “Scientifically, we are going to be a third-rate country.”

Health Canada rejected the consultant’s report and claims to be working with scientists on these many concerns. “[The report] was returned to its author for corrections which were never undertaken. As such, the recommendations are based on inaccurate information and have not been accepted,” Health Canada responded to CBC News.

The Conservative attack on science is notable and is purely for ideological gain. Scientists working in fields that forward Conservative ideology are likely to do well, but so many that don’t fit the political narrative have been extinguished, having a negative impact on the future of Canadians.

“By default, what we have done in Canada is turn off the radar,” former Marine Mammal Toxicologist Peter Ross told The Fifth Estate. “We are flying along an airplane and we’ve put curtains over the windshield of those pilots of that flight crew and we’ve turned off the instruments. We don’t know what is coming tomorrow, let alone next year.”

How do you feel about the Conservative war on science?

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