Mr. Ted Hsu (Kingston and the Islands, Lib.)
|| 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.
He said: 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.
Ms. Kirsty Duncan (Etobicoke North, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, science has always been and must remain a driving force for smart public policy, for example, by providing evidence how to best treat autism spectrum disorder and dementia, to ensure the safety and efficacy of our prescription drugs, to mitigate and adapt to climate change, to monitor our freshwater lakes and ozone, to protect species at risk, and the list goes on.
Scientific evidence helps us understand how a rapidly changing world affects our environment and health. Science should always be impartial in its application, and it is vitally important for administrators to affirm that they believe in the scientific process, transparency and accountability.
Policies affect people. For example, when a family member has a prescription filled, he or she wants to be confident that if a federal scientist had any concern about the safety or efficacy of that drug, he or she was able to speak out, and that decisions were made based on the basis of research, not politics or profits. Only in such a policy-making environment can we feel that a drug is safe, that our air, food and water are safe. We need to know that outcomes, both research results and policy decisions, are grounded in science, not in special interests that ignore the scientific process. We need to know that science that is uncomfortable for the government is not muzzled.
Scientists must not only be allowed to speak up during the course of their research but also be allowed to speak freely to the media and the public, or as the motion states, “with limited and publicly stated exceptions”. Scientists will always remain the best spokespeople for their own work, and barring rare instances where information is highly sensitive it is essential that they be able to communicate their expertise to the media and to the public. Members of the media must have timely access to federal scientists. This process is routine among federal scientists working for our closest ally, the United States.
Since the Conservatives came to power in 2006, there has been a tightening of media protocols for federal scientists. Some scientists say an iron curtain has descended across the federal service. Researchers who once would have responded freely and promptly to journalists are required to direct inquiries to a media relations office, which demands written questions in advance and still might not permit scientists to speak. Federal scientists are under growing surveillance and control. Many studies have shown a pattern of suppression, manipulation and distortion of federal science. Canadian journalists have documented numerous cases in which prominent researchers have been prevented from discussing published, peer-reviewed articles or only discussing after a journalist's deadline has passed, on climate change, on an unprecedented loss of ozone over the Arctic, on viral infections in salmon. This is not just theory, these are discoveries, paid for by Canadians, that tell us that Canadian environments are changing. Why would the government want to work so hard to prevent Canadians from knowing this?
New policies that muzzle scientists and slow or prevent them from speaking to Canadians corrodes confidence in our democracy. In the past, journalists were generally able to contact scientists directly for interviews. Now scientists have to get pre-approval from their minister's office before speaking to the national or international media. Shockingly, in one case from 2014, a request from The Canadian Press to speak to federal government scientist Max Bothwell about his work on algae led to a 110-page email exchange to and from 16 different federal government communications officers. Perhaps the scrutiny was because of a possible link to climate change.
There have also been reports of restrictions on scientists being able to travel to conferences to share their results. Some international scientists have even voiced concerns that working with Canadian scientists will affect their own ability to speak freely about research results. This has broader implications for Canada's prospects as an international partner, and I hear about a “broader chill”.
There is the case of a minister not being to able to define a simple scientific term that is part of the core work of his or her department but knowing what scientist's funding has been pulled, federal scientists being pressured to shut down non-governmental organizations' advocacy work, and even young researchers who are not in the federal service being pressured to stop what is termed “activist activities”. All are afraid to come forward for fear of losing their job or their funding.
I can personally attest to scientists' increased fear around doing their jobs. I used to consult for Environment Canada, and I have numerous friends who are scientists across Canada and the United States. Because of the fear of retribution if they speak out, Canadian scientists often ask me to speak to American colleagues, who can freely comment on what is happening in Canada. I had one friend who was so concerned that he or she wrote to me from a spouse's email account to my old university email account and then explained that he or she would call on the spouse's cellphone from a busy mall so that the call could not be traced.
Surely, everyone in the House should be outraged by the climate in which our scientists are being forced to perform. Surely, everyone should be outraged by the quashing of dissenting opinions and by the war on science.
Nature magazine, one of the world's leading journals, has reported that the government's policy directives confirm its little understanding of the importance of the free flow of scientific knowledge. The journal reported that, “...rather than address the matter, the Canadian government seems inclined to stick with its restrictive course and ride out all objections.”
Following the symposium “Unmuzzling Government Scientists: How To Re-Open the Discourse”, the Conservatives' media policies were centre stage in the international spotlight. According to Nature, “The way forward is clear: it is time for the Canadian government to set its scientists free.”
We used to be praised internationally for our openness, and now we are seen as a pariah.
Today, members of the Conservative government will repeatedly deny claims of political interference in public science. They will try to deflect from the issues at hand. They will claim that scientists are able to share their research with Canadians, but the evidence and the facts say otherwise. A study by Evidence For Democracy and Simon Fraser University gives media policies governing science-based departments a C- on average for how well they facilitate open communication between scientists and the media. Moreover, a survey last year of 4,000 Canadian scientists found that 74% thought that the sharing of government science findings with the Canadian public had become too restrictive.
Scientists, the media and Canadians themselves have taken note of the Conservative government's chilling war on science. Hundreds of scientists even staged a mock funeral procession in Ottawa to protest Conservative government policies that they claim are causing “the death of evidence”. There have also been open letters written by science organizations, journalists and a group of international scientists calling for the unmuzzling of scientists. A letter signed by more than 800 scientists from 32 countries asked the Prime Minister to end “burdensome restrictions on scientific communication and collaboration faced by Canadian government scientists”.
Every Canadian has a vested interest in public science. We cannot accept policies that undermine government transparency and accountability and stifle communication. Canadians absolutely have the right to know about the research that is being funded by their own tax dollars and how this research might be used in other contexts.
I am proud to support today's Liberal motion to unmuzzle science. Our party believes in the importance and value of evidence-based policy-making and the expertise of our public servants, federal scientists and researchers. We must ensure that policy-makers have the right facts so that they can best serve Canadians.
Finally, the government must stand up for science and for scientists. It must immediately begin to unmuzzle researchers and to restore and preserve scientific integrity so that Canadians can receive the best possible policy outcomes. They deserve nothing less.
Hon. Ed Holder (Minister of State (Science and Technology), CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to respond to comments made earlier today by the hon. members for Kingston and the Islands and for Etobicoke North, and to present information regarding the communication of our federal science and technology policy.
I have never been more proud of the commitment that our government has in research and development, and also for our strong support of science in this country.
The government recognizes the importance of science and technology in creating a robust and prosperous society. We have never stopped honouring this commitment with concrete measures.
I begin by providing some context. Back in 2007, we set forward our vision for science and technology in a strategy that we updated in 2014 when the Prime Minister launched “Seizing Canada's Moment: Moving Forward in Science, Technology and Innovation 2014”.
This new strategy will provide a road map for how Canada can build on its world-leading strengths and move on to new beginnings of scientific achievement, discovery, and economic success.
Guided by our science and technology strategies, we have made record investments. Since 2006, the government has invested more than $13 billion in new funding in all facets of the innovation ecosystem, including advanced research, research infrastructure, talent development, and business innovation.
Furthermore, the government supports the strategic relationships among research institutions, researchers and businesses that are required to take advantage of the many opportunities arising from this ever-growing knowledge base.
We all know the role that science and technology plays in driving long-term economic growth. Prime Minister Harper said it best: “Science powers commerce.”
In our view, the role of the government is to establish policies that strengthen the science, technology, and innovation enterprise from discovery research all the way through to commercialization. As such, we have bolstered federal research that informs public policy decision-making. These investments help the government achieve key social goals, such as improving public health, ensuring safety of foods and products, building strong and vibrant economies all across the nation, and ensuring a clean and healthy environment for future generations.
In accordance with the government's new science and technology strategy , we announced in economic action plan 2015 additional steps to strengthen science, technology and innovation in Canada, in particular by providing more than $1.5 billion to advance the renewed science, technology and innovation strategy's objective.
I am proud to say that this government's investments have made Canada well known internationally for its research strengths, for its highly qualified personnel, and for advanced research infrastructure. In fact, Canada leads the G7 in spending on R and D in higher education.
Building on the government's historic infrastructure investments, including the new Building Canada plan, on November 24, 2014, Prime Minister Harper announced—
Hon. Ed Holder:
Mr. Speaker, I will be respectful and mindful. I apologize.
The Prime Minister announced $5.8 billion in investments that will continue to build and renew infrastructure and on-reserve schools across the country. This unprecedented and historic investment in public infrastructure will ensure Canada's future economic growth for years to come.
The ability to invest such a substantial amount of funding in infrastructure is a direct result of the government's responsible actions to return to fiscal balance.
In the Prime Minister's announcement in November, $380 million was set aside for building or renovating federal laboratories in Canada, so that employees have access to state-of-the-art facilities to help create jobs and stimulate economic growth, all while improving their productivity.
In addition, economic action plan 2015 proposes to provide resources totalling $243.5 million over 10 years to enable Canadian access to and participation in the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope. As announced by the Prime Minister on April 6, 2015, this funding is building on Canada's scientific leadership, securing a viewing share for Canadian researchers at the Thirty Meter Telescope in partnership with the United States, Japan, China, and India. This investment will help maintain Canadian scientific leadership in astronomy and will help Canadian companies create and maintain high-quality jobs in communities across Canada.
Investments in science and technology must include investing in people. We want Canada to be a place where curiosity is encouraged, a place where our youth are inspired by science, technology, and innovation, a place where the world's best and brightest minds come to push the frontiers of knowledge and make groundbreaking technology advancements to help Canada succeed in the global economy.
Our government is very aware that it is important not only to perform world class research but also to communicate the results. That is why we are committed to ensuring that federally funded scientific research is shared widely with Canadians. We regularly promote and encourage media and public access to our scientists. We remain committed to promoting the great work of our scientists and staff and to raising awareness of the importance of science and technology in the lives of Canadians.
Government of Canada experts regularly answer calls from journalists and participate in public activities in which they introduce themselves and talk about their jobs. Furthermore, departments proactively work with Canadian and international media to write articles on these experts.
What is more, our government encourages scientists to share their findings by publishing articles and by conducting interviews with the media. Their findings are also shared at scientific conferences at home and abroad and are made widely available to other scientists, to Canadians, and to scientific communities around the world.
According to figures from the Observatoire des sciences et des technologies, Canadian federal departments and agencies have averaged over 4,000 publications in the natural sciences and engineering fields annually. This number has been increasing, and in 2011 federal researchers published over 10% more publications in these fields than they did five years earlier. In 2014, for example, the National Research Council participated in approximately 370 media interviews, and its scientists published more than 729 scientific articles. In addition. Environment Canada gave over 4,100 interviews with subject matter experts and scientists last year alone.
Furthermore, last year, Fisheries and Oceans Canada received 713 interview requests related to scientific questions and participated in 647 media interviews. That means that more than 91% of interview requests were granted. Furthermore, Fisheries and Oceans Canada responded in writing to 1,406 media inquiries on the sciences.
I would also like to point to our busy colleagues over at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, who published more than 3,000 science articles, and to our friends at Natural Resources Canada, who gave 472 interviews to reporters to discuss research results and findings.
I share this with the House, through all of these numbers, to make it very clear that this is about fact-based responsibility and fact-based reporting to this House. Our departments are also active online and in social media, promoting our science and our scientists through science.gc.ca and through Twitter accounts such as @CANADAquakes and @SpaceWeatherCA.
I would note that all departments and agencies must ensure that all communications activities conform to the requirements of the communications policy of the Government of Canada. The policy states that institutions must facilitate information or interview requests from the media and ensure processes are in place in responding to media calls. It also directs departments and agencies to cultivate proactive relations with the media and to promptly address their inquiries.
Since the policy came into effect in 2002, ministers have been designated as the principal spokespersons of the Government of Canada. The communications policy of the Government of Canada also states that institutions must consult their minister's office when preparing a response to a media inquiry that could have implications for the minister, whereas media requests for technical information on specialized subjects are often directed to knowledgeable managers or staff designated to speak as representatives of their institution.
The government is extremely proud of the world-class work our scientists and researchers are doing. Their work plays an integral role in shaping the government's policies and decisions. These researchers' work is helping Canada achieve its primary social objectives, such as improving public health, ensuring food safety and product safety, creating a strong and vibrant economy, and protecting our environment for future generations.
Beyond supporting the dissemination of research findings through the media and scholarly channels, the government has launched initiatives to make federally funded scientific research and data more widely available to Canadians. A good example is the Open Data portal, which provides free access to thousands of government data sets and to various websites, such as science.gc.ca, that highlight the work of federal scientists.
What is more, we will advance open science policies and practices for publicly funded research by increasing public access to the results of government-funded research. This is part of a government-wide initiative to broaden the breadth and depth of information available through the action plan on open government. The reach of science across the federal public service and the opportunities to create new value through big data and other trends around the future of science demonstrate a strong need for a collective approach to define, develop, and integrate open science.
As a result of greater collaboration among the scientific community and private and public sectors, as well as increased engagement, we expect open science policies to make it easier for people to access publications and scientific and technical data.
In particular, our government has already implemented a tri-agency open access policy, formally launched in February of 2015, requiring that the results of federally funded research through the granting councils be made available within 12 months of publication.
Furthermore, we are committed to making available an online consolidated list of recently published research authored by federal scientists and will develop and implement policies to promote open access to federal science. As well, we have invested $3 million over three years in the Canadian Digital Media Network to create the open data institute. The institute will play a pivotal role in aggregating large data sets, informing the development of interoperability standards, and stimulating the commercialization of new data-driven apps.
In September 2014, science-based departments and agencies and the granting agencies agreed to a common federal open science commitment to be part of the Treasury Board's open government action plan 2.0 announced in November 2014. Led by my colleague, the hon. President of the Treasury Board, the action plan on open government will further open access to federal research and support openness and transparency. The initiative will provide Canadians with greater opportunity to learn about and participate in government, drive innovation and economic opportunities for all Canadians, and at the same time create a more cost-effective, efficient, and responsive government.
The government is committed to taking measures based on open data initiatives focused on stimulating our digital economy and the free flow of useful and usable data.
Seizing open science opportunities and addressing challenges require a consistent, coordinated, long-term culture change with a whole-of-government approach. In addition, in order to mobilize knowledge from the lab to the marketplace, to address business challenges, and to seize new societal opportunities, we have built bridges between businesses of all sizes—universities, colleges, polytechnics, federal researchers—and we will encourage closer connections between the public and private sectors. This will empower firms to leverage their investments in R and D by seeking solutions with universities, colleges, polytechnics, and government laboratories.
I can assure all hon. members that the government will continue to work with its partners to implement these measures in a timely manner so that research institutions and businesses can take advantage of the opportunities and to maximize the benefits for Canadians.
By fostering innovation, our government is building greater partnerships among business and the research community to help companies compete and win in the global marketplace.
Science, technology, and innovation comprise the foundation of Canada's high standard of living and create growth, jobs, and long-term prosperity. Federal scientists and researchers contribute to these endeavours every day, and our government truly values the role they play. We are committed to communicating the results of their ingenuity, dedication, and hard work to Canadians.
Canada enjoys an enviable reputation when it comes to our scientific and technological contributions and recent major investments to promote R and D. We can take pride in the fact that we have some of the brightest researchers in the world, particularly in our federal laboratories.
Canadian researchers are very active, producing more top-cited scientific articles than most industrialized countries. We clearly punch above our weight: with less than 0.5% of the world's population, Canada produces over 4% of the world's research papers and nearly 5% of the world's most frequently cited papers. Canada leads the G7 in research and development performed by a higher education sector as a share of gross domestic product and is the only G7 country that increased its share of the world's published papers in the last decade.
That is wonderful.
Over the past few years, reports show that Canadian science and technology is healthy, growing, and recognized around the world for its excellence, behind just the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany, and we are fast approaching them.
The government is committed to capitalizing on these successes and further strengthening the Canadian scientific community in an open and transparent manner.
We have made record investments and bolstered federal research that inform sound decisions on public policy, we have supported people and we have encouraged openness. The world-class research of federal scientists and researchers help us to achieve our key goals. We have taken action because we are committed to supporting science and technology, through the conduct of high-quality research and open sharing, to improve the quality of life for Canadians.
I have had the opportunity to cross the country in the last 14 months in my role as Minister of State for Science and Technology. I praise our scientists and researchers for the great quality of work they do, for the things that matter in the country. They make Canada so proud. I wish the opposition would come join us to just talk about how proud we are of the great things these scientists and researchers have accomplished.
In my hometown of London, Ontario, which is the 10th largest city in Canada, is the home of Sir Frederick Banting. One night, in the middle of the night, he woke up and declared 25 words that would change the world. Those words were the formula for insulin. How appropriate that today is Diabetes Day on the Hill. Grant Maltman from the Banting House Museum will have the opportunity not only to showcase Sir Frederick Banting, but the great work Canadian researchers and scientists do. What Dr. Banting did with Dr. Best was so incredible and it has saved millions of lives. This is what we do in Canada.
I have had the honour to visit facilities like TRIUMF, Communitech and SNOLAB. If members visit these facilities, they will see science at its very best. These people are not shy to share their views. In fact, more important, is that they are proud to talk about what they do on behalf of the Government of Canada. What the federal researchers do is unprecedented in the calibre of their work. I have shared some of the statistics about how we punch so much above our weight in the number of publications that are cited, and that can only make one very proud.
I am pleased that members opposite brought this topic forward, not because of the description of the topic but because it gives us the chance to highlight not only the great work our scientists do, but also the work of the Prime Minister and this government in supporting, in unprecedented fashion through policy and financial support, the great work they do across the country. I could not be more proud as Minister of State for Science and Technology to thank our great scientists for their work. I know the House will join me when I say, “God bless you. Thank you for the great work you do. You change lives”.
Mr. Kennedy Stewart (Burnaby—Douglas, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles.
It is my pleasure to rise today and speak on this Liberal motion on science brought forward by the distinguished member for Kingston and the Islands. Of course, we will be supporting the motion.
Before I continue, I would like to say how sorry I am that the member will not be standing in the upcoming election. His is an experienced and welcome voice for science, which is especially welcome in this Parliament where science seems to be constantly under attack.
Turning to the motion itself, it has two parts. The first part is about principles, and the second part is about propositions.
In terms of principles, the motion calls for the House to recognize that the Conservative government is wrongly muzzling government scientists and researchers and keeping valuable information from the public. We agree with the Liberals that this is the case and that it is happening here. It is also the case that this is the wrong thing to do.
The Conservative government has essentially waged a war on the scientific community and holds great distain for data and evidence that do not support its ideologically driven policies. The Conservatives deny this, as we have heard here from the minister of state, but the public knows this to be true, and scientists know this to be true, which explains their protest on Parliament Hill and constant protests across the country.
In addition to muzzling, the Conservative government has slashed more than $1.1 billion from federal science budgets since 2011, and as I mentioned earlier, fired 4,000 federal researchers over this same time period. If this is not a war on science, I cannot imagine what one would look like.
In 2011, the government employed 39,189 researchers across all departments and agencies. This is not in universities or the private sector, but in government departments and agencies. This number has been slashed to 35,189, which is a drop of 4,000 researchers. Therefore, in an age where science is king, the government in its wisdom has chopped 10% of our total government research capacity. I submit that this is madness.
While we support the motion and its principles, I have to note that the NDP itself has had opposition day motions on this same topic, twice. I suspect, unfortunately, that we will get the same result today with the Conservatives voting against any kind of motion that would bolster science in Canada.
Turning to the propositions, the meat of this motion is that the government should immediately create a chief science officer. In my reading of the motion, and as the comments earlier today suggested, this position would be very similar to that of the national science advisor to the prime minister, which was put in place by the Martin government in 2004 and then abolished by the Conservative government in 2008. This position was held only by Dr. Arthur Carty, who served well in this position. However, the position only provided private information to the cabinet on scientific issues. It was not really a champion for science in Canada. It was a stream of additional advice for decision-making within the executive.
In my mind, such a position is much preferable to what we have now, but it does not really take us where we need to go. I have made my thoughts on this matter clear in two proposals currently in front of the House.
The first proposal is Motion No. 453 on scientific integrity, which is based on the need to develop new government communication policies that encourage scientists to speak freely to the media; allow scientists to present viewpoints beyond their scientific research and incorporate their expert opinions, as long as they indicate they are not speaking on behalf of or representing a department or agency; ensure communications officers do not restrict, limit, or prevent scientists from responding to media requests; prohibit public affairs or communications officers from directing federal scientists to suppress or alter their findings, and we have heard examples today of this happening under the Conservative government; and affirm the right of federal scientists to approve the final version of any proposed publication that represents their scientific opinion.
This motion on scientific integrity comes directly from the Office of Science and Technology Policy that President Obama has in place. One of his first actions as president was to help science grow in the United States.
The second proposal, the bill I have in front of Parliament, Bill C-558, is the parliamentary science officer act, which is a much stronger version of what is proposed here today. It is modelled on our Parliamentary Budget Officer, the U.K.'s Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, and the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy.
This bill would establish an independent agent of Parliament with a mandate to assess scientific evidence relevant to any proposal or bill before Parliament; answer requests from committees and individual members for unbiased scientific information; conduct independent analysis of federal science and technology; raise awareness of scientific issues across government; and encourage coordination between departments and agencies conducting scientific research.
I would say it is almost an auditor general for science that we, the official opposition, are proposing, whereas the Liberals are again returning to a position we once had that was easily abolished in 2008. We do not think it is strong enough and secure enough, so we need to move to a more 21st century solution to the problems we are facing.
I think my friend will agree—his motion speaks to this—that as science goes in this country so does our economy. The Conservatives' only plan for economic growth is to really triple the production of export of raw bitumen by ramming pipelines through communities at whatever the cost. This plan is now falling to bits due to low oil prices and the realization that many communities will not be bullied into accepting pipelines.
At the same time, our national investment in research and development is plummeting. Whereas natural resources are an important part of our economy, of course our future growth will be in the knowledge economy, rewarding and helping it grow. However, things are going in the opposite direction under the current government. Where investment in research and development was never stellar under the Liberals, overall R and D investment has fallen to just 1.62% of our overall GDP. Compare that to competitor countries like South Korea, where 5¢ out of every dollar in that economy is plugged back into research. In Europe and the U.S., it is 3¢ on every dollar. In Canada we are spending less than a third of what they spend in South Korea, and compared to most of our other competitor countries, we are spending less than half.
We are falling behind under the current government because it is destroying our culture of discovery. That is what is happening here. Muzzling scientists is part of it, but chopping all of these researchers and money is really killing our culture of discovery in Canada. It is cutting and firing its way to the bottom of the international tables, which is a real shame. Future generations will really pay for this.
In a 2004 position paper, the Royal Society of Canada stated:
||...we are in danger of slipping behind our competitors in our support of research and thereby losing our competitive edge....
|| We recommend that research funding in Canada should increase at least to the average level in the OECD and G8 countries.
|| We advise the government to develop a ten-year plan for research, innovation and skill development....
I would like to bring to the attention of the House a unanimous motion that was passed at our 2013 national NDP convention, to show why the NDP is leading on this issue.
The motion that was unanimously passed by 2,000 delegates states:
|| BE IT RESOLVED THAT the NDP consult widely...developing a Made in Canada National Science Strategy;
|| BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the NDP move to match the percentage of GDP invested by the public and private sectors in research and development (GERD) as found in other global leading countries such as the United States.
While I agree with the principles that my colleague has put forward, I think the solutions need to be more robust. With what I have outlined in my speech, the scientific integrity motion, the parliamentary science officer bill, and the motion we passed on the national science strategy at our national convention, we have met these challenges and we will put them in place while we are in government.
Let us be ambitious. Let us think big. Let us be a world leader and not a world laggard.
Ms. Laurin Liu (Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to comment on the Liberal Party's opposition motion on science in Canada.
The motion calls on the government to 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.
I am delighted to support this motion because it covers most of the scientific community's key demands of the government.
Let us remember that the NDP already presented two opposition motions: the first, on June 5, 2012, condemned cuts to science and the muzzling of scientists; the second, on March 20, 2013, urged the government to support the NDP plan for scientific integrity.
This subject is particularly timely today considering that the ACFAS conference will be held this week in Rimouski. This is the Francophonie's most important scientific event. Those in attendance all agree that the scientific community is stunned at the federal government's attitude toward research.
The president of ACFAS, Louise Dandurand, condemned the budget cuts and job losses in the sciences, and had very harsh words for the fact that federal government scientists cannot communicate with their peers.
|| Science is built on the exchanges among researchers. The fact that government scientists cannot communicate with their peers, either in Canada or abroad, impoverishes the very essence of science.
She also said:
|| The federal government's unenlightened approach is unfortunate and dangerous, and the consequences for the advancement of science will be felt in the long term in Canada.
Another message coming out of the ACFAS conference is the importance of advancing science done in French. In an interview with the Devoir this week, that was the message of the honorary chair of the 83rd ACFAS conference, who is none other than Rémy Quirion, the chief scientist for Quebec.
However, the Conservative government is refusing to listen. It closed a dozen scientific libraries, including the only French library at Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The government has also imposed restrictions and even prohibitions on communications about scientific work, even after the research has been published.
Last week, the testimony of Steve Campana, a former scientist at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, confirmed what we have known for years: the government forces scientists to go through a complicated process to be able to talk to the media, and requests for interviews are often denied.
The Conservatives have also prevented federal scientists from taking part in scientific conferences to share the results of their research, thereby obstructing our international collaboration.
In 2013, the NDP moved a motion to end the muzzling of scientists once and for all. Motion M-453 would allow scientists to speak publicly about their work and would prohibit ministerial staff from unduly limiting media access or suppressing scientific results.
I also want to talk about the research imbalance the Conservative government has created. Since 2012, the government has overhauled its innovation assistance programs, which translates into eliminating support for basic research in order to focus only on business-led research.
Research currently being done in Quebec is essentially non-directed research. It represents 86% of all scientific research done in Quebec. It is especially important to support this type of research because in science, we never know where the next discovery will come from.
The Conservatives' approach will not only eliminate the first component of the mission of the National Research Council, established in 1916 to support research and the development of commercial innovation, but it will also have a disastrous impact on our scientific heritage and on science that is done for the public good.
That is why the NDP has been proposing that the government create the position of chief science officer since 2013. Prominent members of the scientific community support the NDP's proposal to create an independent scientific watchdog organization in order to ensure that federal scientists are no longer muzzled and to give Parliament impartial scientific information. Let us remember that, in 2012, the Government of Quebec decided to appoint a chief science officer. Some countries, such as England, have had this type of watchdog for about 50 years. About a dozen countries have chief science officers, but Canada does not have such a watchdog at the federal level.
What is more, this week, the Institut de la statistique du Québec, or ISQ, is expected to table a damning report on the damage caused by the elimination of the mandatory long form census. If research suffers, so does the quality of government decisions. Here are a few questions that we need reliable statistics to answer. Where should we build new day care centres? Has the state of rental apartments improved? Are the economic aid programs for the regions working? These questions will remain unanswered without proper statistics.
The ISQ's study also shows that the national household survey, which replaced the census in 2011, is unreliable and more expensive to use. At the time, the government justified this change by saying that it was protecting people's privacy. That is rather ironic given that this same Conservative government introduced Bill C-51. Five years later, former chief statistician Munir Sheikh, who resigned in protest against the government's decision, is saying that it is impossible to rely on the new survey.
A joke that is going around the scientific community sums up the situation best. “Guess what? Canada managed to eliminate poverty. How did it do that? By simply eliminating the mandatory census.”
Alain Bélanger an expert in population studies, language and immigration at the INRS said:
|| For the past five years, I have been wondering whether I should continue to conduct social science research or I should stop. The data for all of the subjects that interest me are skewed.
We cannot allow science in Canada to continue its free fall.
At a conference in Halifax in 2014, Peter Nicholson, the deputy chief of staff for policy in the Office of the Prime Minister of Canada from 2003 to 2006 and the former special advisor to the Secretary-General of the OECD, said:
|| This is a portrait of unmanaged decline that began with the previous Liberal administration. It really does signal a vacuum of leadership and it's a very serious problem because we definitely need a healthy and well-motivated scientific capacity to support the mandates of government departments and agencies.
I would remind members that the 1995 budget announced some significant cuts to science and technology spending, even though Paul Martin, the finance minister at the time, had promised to spare the councils and agencies that provide grants for university research in science, engineering, medicine and social sciences.
Under the Liberals, the industry portfolio was very hard hit, losing 42% of its program spending over two years. The abolition of the highly acclaimed defence industry productivity program had a huge impact on the aerospace industry. University scientific research suffered a 25% drop in funding in constant dollars. The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, which subsidizes university research, had its budget cut by 14%. The Canadian Space Agency lost 15% of its budget.
We need a government that will invest in science and technology in Canada. This is not just about discovery and the pursuit of excellence. This is also about social justice, democracy, our heritage and our scientific future. Instead of mortgaging that future, the NDP will stand up for science and scientific integrity.
I would just like to add a comment on the Conservative government's budget for this year. The government had an opportunity to repair the damage it did to science in Canada.
Unfortunately, it did not change its approach, and it is continuing to invest solely in business-led research. The government's approach is not working when it comes to protecting Canadians' health and environment, and it is not working for Canada's economy or for industry either. We are in dire need of a change, and that is why I support this motion.
Hon. Carolyn Bennett (St. Paul's, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, the need to base public policy on reliable evidence and for the public to have access to that evidence and to understand it is an issue that I have advocated for passionately during my entire political career. I am proud to speak today in support of the Liberal motion before the House.
The thrust of the motion is simple: scientists should be able to discuss their research findings publicly, in a timely manner, and without political interference. Unfortunately, that is not the current reality for scientists working for, or sometimes even with, the federal public service in Canada.
As the motion states, the government has constrained the ability of federal scientists to share their research and to collaborate with their peers, and federal scientists have been muzzled and prevented from speaking to the media about their work.
François Giroux, head of the information and communication program at Université de Moncton, eloquently explained the danger of this approach when he spoke to the media today:
|| The danger of this practice is that by controlling the message, you kill it. The health of our democratic society requires transparency on the part of our governments. The very existence of governments is funded by taxpayers.
||...Free access to government information requires a transparent government, freedom of the press, as well as freedom of speech in the case of a subsidized organization, a scientist or an elected representative.
According to the shocking findings of a 2013 Professional Institute of Public Service of Canada survey, hundreds of federal scientists have been asked to alter or exclude technical information from documents, and hundreds more have been prevented from responding to inquiries from media and/or the public.
The Conservative government has demonstrated a clear pattern of cutting off the flow of information when it does not support its rigidly ideological agenda. In fact, within months of coming to power, the Conservative government introduced new, strict procedures to constrain how government scientists are allowed to speak about their research to the media.
Unmuzzling science does not mean that federal scientists should be free to speak without any restrictions. They know very well that their work often deals with sensitive security issues or is protected by property rights.
However, scientists are now micromanaged by their minister's offices regarding how, or even if, they can discuss their work with the public. The tragic consequence of the government's disturbing pattern of constraining federal scientists' ability to share their research and to collaborate with their peers is that Canada's global leadership role in basic research and in environmental, health, and other public science is being put in jeopardy.
This is not just the opinion of the Liberal Party. It is also the opinion of hundreds of scientists and engineers from around the world, who signed an open letter last fall urging the Prime Minister to end “...burdensome restrictions and barriers to scientific communication and collaboration faced by Canadian government scientists.”
The Liberal Party understands that researchers are central to how policy is made, and that is why Liberals are standing firmly behind scientists and their research.
Decision-makers and Canadians generally count on the crucial expertise and research of federal scientists to protect the safety of their food, water, air and environment.
Freedom to communicate their findings will benefit the integrity of scientific research, will help the Canadian public and policy-makers to make informed decisions, and will help repair our nation's international reputation.
I remember being very angered and embarrassed in 2010 at Women Deliver, a large public health conference held in Washington, at what the government had done to our international reputation. At the conference, Susan Cohen, then director of government affairs at the Guttmacher Institute, a U.S. non-profit organization that promotes reproductive health, referred to Canada as an “evidence-free zone”.
In the wake of the SARS crisis, the Naylor report made it clear that Canada needed a public health agency headed by a chief public health officer who could speak directly to Canadians. Buried in last year's omnibus bill is the demotion and muzzling of the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada. He has been stripped of his abilities to set priorities, to determine appropriate resources, and to speak directly to Canadians without political interference. He has been reduced to being an adviser to the minister on the things that the minister chooses to be advised upon, instead of actually speaking up for the public health of all Canadians whenever he sees fit.
The Conservative government's obsession with political control and suppression of science is damaging our reputation around the world and is truly appalling. This decision, and those like it, must be reversed in the interest of all Canadians.
One need look no further than the government's misguided decision to replace the long form census with the national household survey for proof of its ongoing war on evidence. The government spent $22 million more on the 2011 national household survey than it would have on the long form census to collect data that was seriously compromised. As a result, it has essentially ended our ability to compare the data with earlier census statistics. We can no longer see trends over time.
This means we are flying blind when it comes to a whole host of policy decisions. Chief statistician Munir Sheikh resigned from his post over this misguided decision and explained that a critical issue was the fact that StatsCan was subject to significant interference from the Conservative government. He has gone on to say “...in my mind the most serious consequence of canceling the census is the loss of trust in Statistics Canada to be independent of government interference.”
The government's misguided approach to the long form census is unfortunately not the exception but the rule in terms of the government's ongoing approach to science and scientists. Ongoing cuts by the Conservatives to scientific research programs and continual muzzling of federal scientists represent clear attacks on evidence-based policy-making in an attempt to silence opposition to their ideologically based policies. I remember that very early on in this regime, the government side continued to refer to Liberal-funded social science research as though it was a swear word. We know that good social science research never proves what this government is intending to do, so it has to be silenced and de-funded.
The Conservative government understands that if problems are not measured, they are not noticed, and therefore the government does not have to act to fix them. The government is cynically and systematically undermining the public and not-for-profit sectors' ability to research areas it fears will prompt action on issues counter to its very narrow agenda.
Unfortunately, my allotted time does not permit me to provide an exhaustive review of all of the government's actions in support of this disturbing pattern, but here are a few highlights.
The world-renowned Experimental Lakes Area was de-funded by the federal government in budget 2012.
Since 2013, DFO scientists must now get departmental approval to submit research to scientific journals.
In 2013 the government shut down the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, formerly an arm's-length organization, and even prevented it from posting a final report.
In 2014, the government de-funded the Canadian Health Council. Also in 2014, the government closed seven out of nine Department of Fisheries and Oceans libraries. The library closures are nothing less than an erosion of Canada's collective memory.
As my Liberal colleague, the member for Kingston and the Islands, himself a scientist, so eloquently said of the library closures:
|| The Harper government may not like science...but it does not have the right to literally trash the products of decades worth of research just because it doesn’t suit the ideology of the Harper Conservatives.
Hon. Carolyn Bennett:
Mr. Speaker, to continue, he stated:
|| Destroying data is not just an ideological problem, it's also blatant fiscal mismanagement.
Government decisions must be based on evidence and facts, and the health of our democracy depends on an informed public. Unfortunately, this is a government engaged in an ongoing and deliberate attack on science. The Conservatives cynically and systematically gut funding for programs that may produce results that are not in line with Conservative ideology.
However, this motion is more than a condemnation of the government's war on science and scientists. It sets out a road map for how to move us beyond an attitude toward science resembling the medieval Inquisition to a modern acceptance that scientific freedom is at the root of progress. As Nobel Prize-winning scientist Sydney Brenner said, science is the best tool available for man to solve human problems.
The motion calls on the government to immediately rescind all rules and regulations that muzzle government scientists, consolidate government-funded or government-created science so that it is easily available to the public at large, and allow scientists to be able to speak freely on their work with limited and publicly stated exceptions.
The motion also calls on the government to 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.
This motion offers me the opportunity to reflect on the way forward and on what a government committed to evidence-based policy and the importance of research and science could achieve. We must return to the practice of transparent and public advice to ministers. We have an ideal model for the way it could and should work in Canada in the form of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. COSEWIC was created in 1977 as a result of a decision made at the conference of federal-provincial-territorial wildlife directors held in 1976.
In 2003, the Species at Risk Act established COSEWIC as an advisory body to ensure that wildlife species would be assessed using the best available scientific and aboriginal traditional knowledge. Under SARA, the Species at Risk Act, the Government of Canada is mandated to take COSEWIC's designations into consideration when establishing the legal list of wildlife species at risk. More important, COSEWIC's evaluation process is independent and transparent, and the results are reported to CESCC and the public.
The final decision rests in the hands of the minister, but the scientific recommendations are available to the public, and it is therefore up to the minister to explain to the public the reasons behind any decision not to follow the recommendations of those scientists exactly. There is no question that government decisions must be based on the full picture of science, economics, and common sense, but all of the information and context that go into that decision should be available to the public in a transparent way.
The science advisory board at Health Canada should be re-established, mandated not only to advise the minister on emerging issues of the day but also to strike the appropriate advisory panels. These panels must be free of bias and conflict and their advice seen as truly independent. They must be able to provide the best possible evidence-based policies, policies that Canadians will be able to trust.
There is a very important virtuous cycle of research, policy, and practice. It is imperative that governments understand that moving from research to policy requires informed knowledge translation that includes the public. To move from policy to practice means that governments have to have the political will to move the good evidence-based policy into practice in a timely fashion. Then it is very important that an evidence-based government would take that practice and move it back into better research questions by funding applied research in communities, in practice, to would allow us to ask better research questions, moving again to better policy and to better practice.
This virtuous cycle only moves properly when citizens are involved in the research and evidence that exist. It is only then that citizens can hold their government to account. It is only then that citizens can ask why this research is not in public policy, why this policy is not actually in practice, and whether that practice is being properly evaluated to ensure that governments are funding what works and are able to stop funding what does not work in this virtuous cycle.
With a truly informed public, that virtuous cycle moves rapidly, and that is what we are calling for today. We want the government to understand that by muzzling scientists, by not allowing researchers to speak to the public directly and their colleagues outside of government and around the world, it is depriving Canadians of the ability to truly hold their government to account. It is depriving parliamentarians of the ability to hold Parliament to account and to insist on policy that is evidence-based, not rooted and anchored in ideology.
Canadians deserve complete and open access to the information that is produced by scientists who are paid by them, the public. I urge all members to support this motion, and I thank my colleagues for having put this forward.
Hon. Peter Kent (Thornhill, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to participate in this important discussion. I will be splitting my time with the member for Oshawa.
This motion seems to claim that there is a grand conspiracy to constrain scientific researchers within the government from ever speaking publicly or to the media. It gives an impression that the important work of our government scientists is not shared in the public domain. You, Mr. Speaker, certainly members on this side of the House, and I believe on the other side as well, know that this is completely untrue. There are countless examples of publicly disclosed scientific publications and media interviews given by federal scientists every week, every month, every year.
First let me review the context of the Government of Canada's communications policy. The communications policy of the Government of Canada is readily available from the Treasury Board Secretariat. All scientists working for the Government of Canada are public servants who are subject to that policy. All federal public servants are expected to work within the parameters of the communications policy of the Government of Canada.
The policy section on accountability begins by stating that “ministers are accountable to the Prime Minister and to Parliament for presenting and explaining government policies, priorities and decisions.... Ministers, both individually and collectively as members of Cabinet, are the principal spokespersons for the Government of Canada and its institutions”.
The policy elaborates on spokespersons. Ministers are the principal spokespersons; ministers present and explain government policies, priorities and decisions. Therefore, when it comes to policy and policy-making, ministers are the leads. They are the decision-makers for their departments and also the primary communicators of those decisions.
I would like to cite a paragraph from a very thoughtful contribution published in The Globe and Mail just last Friday, May 22. It was written by Michael Rennie, Canada Research Chair in Freshwater Ecology and Fisheries, who is also an assistant biology professor at Lakehead University, and a research fellow with the International Institute of Sustainable Development-Experimental Lakes Area. The co-author was Andrew Leach, associate professor at the Alberta School of Business at the University of Alberta. Both of these gentlemen have worked within the Government of Canada as well as in their various academic dimensions. They wrote:
|| Most, if not all, policy decisions of governments require weighing costs and benefits. Research from various sources, often including government scientists, is used to inform policy-makers of the likely consequences of proposed actions, but at the end of the day, research can’t tell you what decision should be taken. Making these decisions is reserved for our elected representatives.
Public servant scientists, then, are to focus on their job of research to inform decisions that are then made at the political level by elected representatives. In turn, communication of that work must also occur in ways that are not advocating policy positions but informing the public about what considerations may be going into them. Therefore, employees of the public service are to focus their communications activities on issues and matters pertaining to the policies, programs, services, and initiatives that they administer on behalf of elected ministers.
Mr. Speaker, you also know full well that media is essential in helping to promote public awareness, an understanding of government policies, programs, and initiatives. Media inquiries, whether by phone or email, must be addressed promptly to accommodate public deadlines. Departments work hard to meet those demands. While doing so, departments also inform the primary spokesmen of the department, the minister and his or her office, when preparing these responses, as they may have broader policy implications.
The motion we are debating refers to elements of the public interest, like protection of the environment and the health of Canadians, so let us focus for a moment on Environment Canada.
It is a science-based organization with one of the largest science programs in government. Every day, staff at Environment Canada conduct a wide range of environmental monitoring, research and other scientific activities in fields like atmospheric sciences, meteorology, physics, biology, chemistry, hydrology, ecology, engineering and informatics. In fact, over half of the employees at Environment Canada work in science and technology occupations.
Science accounts for the majority of Environment Canada's budget and it provides critical information that contributes to the departmental mandate of ensuring a clean, safe and sustainable environment for Canada. Science, I think it is fair to say, is the foundation for Environment Canada's policies and actions. There are a great many examples of how this science benefits Canadians. Their reports and hundreds of others on a wide range of subjects are available on the publications web pages of Environment Canada's website and the publication pages of other federal departments as well.
As an example, the chemicals management plan, a joint initiative run by Environment Canada and Health Canada, uses the Canadian Environmental Protection Act of 1999, launched in 2006, the year of the election of our government. It is aimed at reducing the risks posed by chemicals to Canadians and their environment. There is a focus on a great number of substances, some 4,300 substances to be studied between now and 2020. Budget 2015, members will recall, set aside almost half a billion dollars to continue to assess and manage the risk to human health and the environment in the third five-year phase of that plan.
Another good example of information sharing is the joint Canada-Alberta implementation plan for oil sands monitoring. It is scientifically rigorous. It is a comprehensive, integrated and transparent environmental monitoring of the oil sands region. The program is world class. It has been recognized as a world-class system internationally, and designed to be one of the most comprehensive water monitoring systems in the world. The governments of Alberta and Canada committed to ensuring that the data from the monitoring activities and the scientific methods used are transparent, supported by necessary quality assurance and made publicly available.
I would recommend that any in this House, on both the government and the opposition side, as well as any viewers of today's debate, drop in to visit the website, the portal established by Environment Canada, www.jointoilsandsmonitoring.ca and see some of the science that is being shared quite openly and transparently therein.
Now let us examine Environment Canada's media interaction. Last year, Environment Canada received 5,800 requests for information for media. For those 5,800 or so media requests, Environment Canada provided about 4,200 interviews with subject matter experts and/or scientists. In these interviews they discussed weather requests and offered experts, including scientists, climatologists and ice forecasters. This, I think, very clearly demonstrates that Environmental Canada is responsive to media requests, including for interviews in the modern 24/7 media cycle environment, which is required from every government department.
In concluding, I think that these facts show that all of this is a far cry from the pessimistic scenario described in the motion we are debating. Let us instead continue to recognize, champion and celebrate the world-class work performed by so many Government of Canada scientists every day, and let us celebrate as more and more of that work is adapted to or transferred on to our open data portal.
I will be voting against the motion that is before the House today, and I would urge all of my fellow members to do the same.
Mr. Colin Carrie (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am extremely proud of the world-class science produced by Environment Canada. Research produced by Environment Canada scientists informs our policy decisions, supports the delivery of environmental services, and helps enforce the laws and regulations that protect Canada's environment.
Environment Canada employs leading experts across a range of environmental science fields, such as water, wildlife and climate science. We deliver science that is of high impact, collaborative and, of course, transparent.
In support of keeping Canada clean, safe and sustainable, Canadians currently have access to a wide range of Environment Canada monitoring data through the open data portal established by this government. This includes scientific data, such as air quality indicators, greenhouse gas inventories, weather and climate data, as well as the national pollutant release inventory and the data gathered through the Canadian environment sustainability indicators program.
Environment Canada scientists are also actively encouraged to publish the results of their research in peer-reviewed scientific journals. The department produces around 700 peer-reviewed publications per year, making it one of the most productive environmental research institutions in the entire world. The scientific impact of Environment Canada publications is well above world average. Its papers are cited 50% more than the world average. They are also published in journals that are more impactful than the world average.
Furthermore, I am proud that the work of three Environment Canada scientists was recognized by the Thomson Reuters 2014 report on The World's Most Influential Scientific Minds as being among the most highly cited scientific works in the world over the past decade. Environment Canada's science is highly visible, recognized and influential in the scientific community.
Environment Canada science is making a difference. Scientists play a key role in understanding our environment and the actions needed for it to remain clean, safe and sustainable for all Canadians. Publicly funded science is being put to use to serve Canadians, and I will highlight a few excellent examples. We continue to take action to keep Canadians and their environment safe from the risks of chemical substances. Canada is a world leader in this area. This government is taking a science-based approach and, as we announced in budget 2015, is investing $491.8 million over five years, starting in 2016-17, to renew the chemicals management plan.
We work hard to protect Canadians from severe weather 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Science is central to providing accurate and timely severe weather forecasts and warnings. Environment Canada scientists and meteorologists develop and run complex weather models on one of Canada's fastest supercomputers. This helps protect Canadians across the country, allowing weather-sensitive businesses and operations, as well as Canadian families and communities, to prepare for and respond to emergencies. We are investing $34 million over five years, starting in 2015-16, to renew meteorological and navigational warning services in the Arctic.
We rely upon the valuable and world-class science produced by federal scientists and their collaborators to protect Canada's diverse wildlife. Caribou are an iconic symbol of Canada's boreal forests. The Government of Canada issued a recovery strategy for the woodland caribou boreal population in 2012. The recovery strategy is based on science and of course traditional aboriginal knowledge. This government and our partners in provincial governments, aboriginal communities, industry stakeholders, academics and environmental non-governmental organizations all play a vital role in protecting this important species.
These are only a few examples that demonstrate the department's commitment to a clean, safe and sustainable Canada. Indeed, the department has invested record amounts of money, over $5.3 billion for example, in science and technology since 2006.
Environment Canada scientists do not work alone on these issues. We join forces with key partners to address common environmental issues to make the most of the significant investment. Collaboration is a cornerstone of Environment Canada's science and is key to the high regard our science receives, both in Canada and abroad.
In 2013, for example, nearly 90% of Environment Canada's publications involved at least one author from outside the department.
Nationally, Environment Canada scientists collaborate with colleagues from academia and other federal departments and levels of government.
Internationally, we publish with scientists from more than 70 countries, including leading global institutions, such as the World Meteorological Organization and the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
This high rate of collaboration significantly increases Environment Canada's internal science capacity and keeps the department at the leading edge of scientific inquiry.
Environment Canada demonstrates the principles of collaboration and transparency through its action on the open government initiatives
In 2013, our Prime Minister and the other G8 leaders adopted the G8 Open Data Charter, which established open data principles for all member countries and called for specific commitments to release core public sector data.
Our government has since released Canada's action plan on open government 2014-2016, including a new open science commitment. This particular commitment aims to enhance open access to publications and related data resulting from federally funded research, in order to accelerate research, drive innovation, and most important, benefit our economy.
Transparency and accountability are core values that this government has brought to bear on all of its activities, including publicly funded science.
Through the new open data portal, Environment Canada shares its scientific data and research with Canadians. For example, we recently posted a full list of the department's peer-reviewed scientific and technical publications produced in 2012. We monitor and share data on national greenhouse gas emissions, water quality, wildlife population health, and more.
Environment Canada scientists play an important role in informing and assisting ministers in their responsibilities to promote a clean, safe, and sustainable environment for all Canadians.
In keeping with public service values, Environment Canada scientists do not comment publicly on government policy as this is the responsibility of ministers and their designated spokespersons.
Science has always been, and continues to be, the foundation of Environment Canada's work. Scientific and technical professionals represent over half the department's workforce. This workforce possesses the expertise necessary to continually produce cutting-edge science that underlies the department's policies, programs, and services.
I am proud that Environment Canada employs some of the best and brightest minds in the field of environmental science, who are actively producing and communicating research in support of Canada's environmental priorities.
Let us examine, now, Environment Canada's media interactions.
Last year, Environment Canada received close to 5,800 requests for information, from the media. For those 5,800 or so media requests, overall, Environment Canada gave about 4,200 interviews, with subject matter experts and scientists. The bulk of these were operational weather requests.
However, 369 Environment Canada interviews were given to the media in 2014 by other subject matter experts, including scientists, climatologists, and ice forecasters.
This demonstrates that Environment Canada is very responsive to media requests, including for interviews, in the modern 24-7 media cycle environment, which is required from every government department. This is a far cry from the pessimistic scenario described in the motion we are debating here today.
Let us, instead, continue to recognize, champion, and of course celebrate the world-class work performed by so many Government of Canada scientists each and every single day.
Of course, I will be voting against the motion, and I urge my fellow members to do the same.
Hon. Mauril Bélanger (Ottawa—Vanier, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I want to start by reading the motion we are debating today. I want to give anyone who may not have been following this debate from the beginning an idea of the resolution members will be voting on this evening.
|| 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.
I have no difficulty believing that scientists who work for the Government of Canada should be free to talk about their research. They do not necessarily need to discuss the policies that the Government of Canada and Parliament must set, because that is up to Parliament and the government. However, the role of scientists is to share the information they glean from their research, because those are facts. The fact that the government has prohibited scientists from talking to journalists is very perplexing. It shows that the government does not trust them and does not want Canadians to know science, the truth and the facts. Is it because the government does not trust them? I think that might be one of the key factors in the Conservative government's decision to prevent scientists from talking to journalists.
I have another example. The government no longer allows public servants to talk to MPs. That is inconceivable to me, but that is how things stand.
I do not think it is right to prevent scientists from sharing the research they are paid to do with journalists and Canadians. That is a key part of the resolution before us, and it is certainly one of the reasons why I will support the motion.
I think this is the result of government decisions that are based more on ideology than on facts.
Let me give another example. We all remember one of the first decisions this government made when the Conservatives won a majority: it abolished the long form census. Nearly all Canadians opposed that decision. All universities and most of the provinces—eight out of 10 provinces—opposed that decision. The private sector opposed it. The municipalities were virtually unanimous in their opposition to it. Everyone opposed the notion of not having a mandatory long form census because it was a key source of information. It was replaced by a voluntary questionnaire.
Now we are in the very situation that everyone predicted: the statistics provided by Statistics Canada are no longer as useful as they once were. Who says so? It is the private sector, which has found that the information currently being provided by Statistics Canada is not as good.
There are decisions that the private sector, universities and municipalities need to make that are no longer based on solid information. That is a serious problem. In fact, we have promised that if we form the next government, we will bring back the mandatory long form census as soon as possible, as soon as we take office. We need to return to decision-making policies based on scientific fact, not on ideology.
There is another point I want to make.
I mentioned a while ago that it was not only scientists who were muzzled in not being allowed to speak with journalists, but all public servants had been, in a way, as well. I will give an example. They cannot speak to members of Parliament now.
A few years ago, I had a call from one of the local associations in the riding I represent, the Vanier Business Improvement Area, the Vanier BIA. It wanted some basic information on the grants in lieu of taxes program. As we all know, the Crown is not obliged to pay property taxes, but there are grants made in lieu of taxes. We created that program back in the 1990s.
I called the director general in Public Works and Government Services responsible for the program and left a message. I received a call back a few minutes later from the minister's office telling me that if I wanted to get information, I had to go through the minister. I said that was fine and asked to set up a briefing, which we did. I think it took three weeks. The gentleman I had called came with two of his associates, there were three people from the Vanier BIA, myself and two ministerial assistants from the minister's office. We had a half-hour exchange of information, all of it perfectly legitimate, nothing confidential, no information that could not be divulged.
At the end of the meeting, the gentleman I had called and left a message with, and who did not call me back because he was not allowed to, gave his business card to the people from the Vanier BIA and told them that if they needed more information, to please call him or send him an email. At that point, I asked if he was telling me that the person who was elected to represent them and help them could not call him and talk to him, and he confirmed that I could not. He had been instructed, as had all public servants, by the minister and the government to not to talk to MPs. I find that unconscionable.
This means the government does not trust professional public servants to only divulge information they are allowed to by law. This has happened to me a number of times since, which I find unconscionable and absolutely unnecessary. We do have very professional public servants who do respect the law, who do not divulge information they are not allowed to. Yet they now have been told they cannot talk to MPs, just as scientists have been told they cannot talk to journalists. That is not the way to govern and we need to do away with such directions.
Another thing that concerns me greatly is the direction the government is taking with regard to research. It is focusing primarily on applied research and not on basic research. I am extremely concerned about that. We noticed in the past two budgets that the new guidelines for research groups specify that they are to associate with the private sector only. I think we are going in the wrong direction.
I have no problem with applied science applying, as it were, knowledge in the private sector in order to create wealth and employment. There is no real problem there. However, there has to be a balance. That is the problem. We are losing that balance. The National Research Council of Canada headquarters, located in the riding I have the privilege of representing, is leaning far too much, in my opinion, toward applied research instead of basic research. There is no doubt that applied research leads to gains. However, abandoning basic research is going to cost us dearly in the long term when it comes to quality of life, the economy, and so forth.
Here is an example.
A couple of years ago, I organized a debate with Dr. Arthur Carty. Before I get into that, let me explain who this gentleman is. He currently manages the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology at the University of Waterloo, but for 10 years he was the head of the National Research Council, from 1994 to 2004. He did a wonderful job there. He then was hired to be the first science adviser to the prime minister, and he did a great job there, too. When the Conservatives took over, they transferred him away from the position of prime minister's adviser and over to industry, and a year or so later, they cancelled that job. They did not do in a very elegant manner, unfortunately.
When I organized this debate a couple of years ago, Dr, Carty gave me some rather interesting statistics that should be of some preoccupation. For instance, what he calls the GERD/GDP ratio, or the gross expenditure on R and D over the GDP ratio, had dropped from the 16th position in the OECD in 2006 to the 23rd position in 2011. Let us compare the percentage of gross expenditure on R and D over the GDP in 2011. In Israel, it was 4.4%. In Finland, it was 3.8%. In South Korea, it was 3.7%. In Sweden, it was 3.4%. In Japan, it was 3.3%. In Denmark, it was 3.1%. In Canada, it was 1.7%. If we do not do better than that, we are headed for some serious trouble.
When we formed a government in the mid-1990s, Canada was experiencing a brain drain. We had some serious problems. After the elimination of the $39 billion deficit that we inherited from the Mulroney government, one of the first things we headed toward was improving our facilities in research. We created the Canada Foundation for Innovation, which members may recall. I think that we put in upwards of about $10 million. We redid all of the labs in all of the hospitals and universities in our country. We gradually did other initiatives through the AUCC, the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, creating scholarships, improving the NCERT, and changing and improving the medical research capacity in humanities research.
We eventually reversed the brain drain and we tremendously improved our standing in science and research. However, now we are heading the other way. That is a scary matter. To compound that, we are now telling our scientists that they cannot talk to journalists and share their information. I do not understand that.
Since coming to power, the Conservatives have closed 20 or so libraries in most departments, which is rather worrisome. It was disastrous at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, where they closed seven out of nine, if I am not mistaken. We were told that all the documents would be digitized or sent to Library and Archives Canada, but LAC did not take in a single one.
Evidence has been therefore destroyed and lost, reinforcing the fact that the government prefers to base its work on ideology rather than evidence.
This one is rather troubling. The Human Resources and Skills Development library included the largest collection of books in Canada on the social sciences. The libraries physical collections were entirely phased out in early 2013. The fate of these libraries is not unique, however. As I have mentioned, a number of them have been closed.
It is the same problems we have had in Health Canada. The Citizenship and Immigration library was closed in March 2012. We have seen the same thing throughout a number of departments. The National Capital Commission, the Transportation Safety Board, Transportation, Infrastructure and Communities, all have had their libraries closed, without necessarily saving the documentation that was in those libraries. Therefore, we are getting away from evidence-based decision making, again.
All that to say that the motion before us today is, in my opinion, very pertinent. I do not expect the Conservatives to adopt it. NDP members have moved other motions that the Conservative government has also rejected. The same thing will probably happen tonight.
However, what people need to realize is that when there is a change in government, these conditions will be eliminated. Muzzling scientists and preventing them from speaking to journalists is unacceptable. They should have the right to share information, but not necessarily to discuss public policies. I agree that that is not their role. Taxpayers pay them to do research. The research belongs to the Canadian public. We have to reinforce that.
When I campaigned in 2008, I was floored after knocking on one door. A scientist answered the door, but I will not name him because he would get into trouble. He worked for the Government of Canada. He told me that he had just been told that he could not go to a conference and give the speech he was supposed to give because the government did not agree with the facts he was going to present. I am not talking about opinions, but about facts. When I met this person and he told me what the Conservative government had done to him, I became convinced that this had to change.
Unfortunately, this has not yet changed. I hope that it will one day because the scientific base in our society is very important. It is unacceptable that scientists who work for Canadians—and there are now thousands fewer than before—cannot share the information they have. This type of demagoguery is not healthy in a democracy.
We must therefore ensure that this type of behaviour does not occur and that these measures, which were imposed by the Conservatives, are abolished. I do not think they will be wise enough to do it themselves, so let us hope that, during the next election, Canadians make sure that they do not put the Conservatives back in charge and that Canadians are better served by their government, public servants and scientists.
I have never seen this sort of problem in all of my 20 years as an MP. We have always wanted a Parliament and a government that made decisions based on scientific facts, not on ideology. I think we need to change the direction we are now moving in. I hope that we will be able to do that, if not tonight, then in a few months.
Mr. Dan Albas (Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to split my time with the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice.
I am very pleased to address this motion today, but before I get into that, I would just like to address some of the comments by the member for Ottawa—Vanier.
I want to make it clear that the President of the Treasury Board is working very hard in good faith with unions to find a way to address many of the concerns around sick leave, in particular in establishing a system that serves all of our public servants, particularly those who are new to public service. If the member opposite would like to see more information, other than just the talking points supplied to him by the Liberal Party, it might be helpful to him to understand what the government is attempting to do, which is in the public interest.
In everything we do, our government is committed to ensuring that our activities stand up to the highest level of public scrutiny. This includes our communication efforts to inform citizens about the excellent work we all do to build a stronger Canada.
The government is committed to ensuring that these communications are well coordinated, managed effectively and tailored to the public's various information needs. I reject any allegation otherwise.
Our government clearly understands the importance of providing the public with timely, accurate, clear, objective and complete information about its policies, programs, services and initiatives.
We also understand the need to use a variety of ways and means to communicate and provide information in multiple formats to accommodate diverse needs. In fact, all means of communication, from traditional methods to new technologies must be used to reach and communicate with Canadians wherever they may reside.
Any modern government requires the capacity to respond effectively over multiple channels in a 24-hour global communications environment. I am proud to say that we have been building this capacity in a number of areas. There are now over 1,200 Government of Canada social media accounts, such as Twitter and YouTube, and this number is growing weekly. Clearly, these tools have become indispensable in today's modern workplace.
Our government also recognizes the importance of providing quick, courteous and responsive service that considers the public's needs, addresses the public's concerns and respects the rights of individuals.
In addition, our government understands that it must ensure all institutions of the Government of Canada work collaboratively to achieve coherence and effective communications with the public.
It is useful to recognize the government includes dozens of organizations and thousands of employees spread across our great country and of course the world. That is why it is imperative we ensure coordination within, between and among federal institutions. Indeed, collaboration is, and must be, a top priority in this or any complex environment, otherwise we risk failing in one of our main duties of delivering information services in the best interests of Canadians and their government.
For the same reason, we also recognize the need to have well-developed processes and procedures for communicating with the public. It is worth underlining that in our system of government ministers are the principle spokespersons of the Government of Canada. This is because, under the Canadian parliamentary system that we all cherish, they are accountable to Parliament for presenting and explaining government policies, priorities and decisions to the public.
Let me repeat this last point one more time, because it is central to the issue we are debating today. It is the duty of every minister of the Crown to present and explain government policies, priorities and decisions to the public, and they are supported in this role by senior management teams of government institutions, including deputy heads, heads of communications and other officials.
These individuals work closely together to ensure that the government speaks with a unified voice that is coherent and consistent across the government. I would add that all public servants understand that elected officials are accountable to Parliament and ultimately to the Canadian people and that a non-partisan public sector is essential to our democratic system. In fact, this understanding is a condition of employment for all public servants in the federal public sector and part of the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector.
Anyone who wants to find out more can consult the communications policy of the government. It includes all of the principles I have discussed today and many others, including requirements to reflect Canada's diversity, to communicate in plain language, and of course to communicate in Canada's official languages.
The policy states that:
|| In the Canadian system of parliamentary democracy and responsible government, the government has a duty to explain its policies and decisions, and to inform the public of its priorities for the country.
The policy also indicates that the public has a right to this information.
I can assure all hon. members in this place that our government takes this duty very seriously. We understand the importance of communicating to Canadians openly and transparently. We recognize that information is necessary for Canadians—individually or through representative groups or members of Parliament—to participate actively and meaningfully in the democratic process.
Before I close, I would like to provide a personal comment based on my own experience in this area. We are fortunate in my riding of Okanagan—Coquihalla to have two federally funded research facilities: PARC, the Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre in Summerland, British Columbia; and DRAO, the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory near Okanagan Falls. Let me tell the House that these facilities do important work and they have made many strategic innovation-related partnerships that are important to our region and, I would also say, important to science in this country, and that research that is important for our world. I have attended both of these facilities, and I have to say that I have met many outstanding scientists in their respective fields.
In my experience, the scientists I have met greatly enjoy the work they do and are always happy to host elected officials so they can learn more about the work the scientists do. It has never been suggested to me by any scientists I have met that they are in any way, shape, or form muzzled or feel that somehow the government is at war with them. In reality, it is actually the complete opposite, and that is why I will be opposing this motion. It is filled with the usual anti-government narrative popular among those who oppose our government. However, it does not reflect the reality of what I have experienced from the scientists I have met in my riding of Okanagan—Coquihalla. In fact, one DRAO scientist even writes a popular column in a local newspaper. They are hardly muzzled.
Every organization has communication structures and related processes. If the Liberals truly believe science is better served by abandoning an orderly process in favour of a free-for-all approach, so be it. On this side of the House, we respectfully disagree.
Mr. Robert Goguen (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity to address the motion put forward by the hon. member opposite about government science and government scientists speaking publicly about their work. Allow me to offer a few points that are relevant to the issue.
One of the concerns suggested in the motion is that government scientists are not allowed to speak publicly about their work for the federal government.
Let me be clear. We understand and support the desire for government scientists to share their work and speak publicly about the work they do for the Government of Canada. Government scientists can do this. However, they must do so within the framework of policies and procedures that govern communications within the Government of Canada.
The Government of Canada, as we know, is large and complex as an organization. There are almost 260,000 employees in the core federal public service spread across many different departments, and like many large organizations, the federal government needs to ensure its messages are consistent and coordinated. In fact, there are best practices in large organizations, both private and in the public sector, to ensure this happens, and the Government of Canada is certainly no different.
The framework of rules in the federal government includes a number of guidelines.
For example, the Government of Canada is guided by the communications policy of the Government of Canada. This is a Treasury Board policy that applies to many government departments. In a nutshell, it sets out the protocol that departments have in place to ensure it communicates effectively.
In their roles as principal spokespersons for their departments, the ministers are supported by their aides. These, of course, can be executive assistants, communications directors, and press secretaries in the ministers' offices. Ministers can also be supported in their roles by the senior management teams of government institutions. These include deputy heads, heads of communications, and other officials. Within the institution itself, officials can also be designated to speak on behalf of ministers, and those include technical and, of course, subject matter experts. There is a protocol in place to ensure that the information being shared or communicated to the public by those designated to speak on behalf of the government is consistent and coordinated.
The communications policy of the Government of Canada provides other safeguards as well. Departmental spokespersons, at all times, must respect privacy rights, security needs, matters before the courts, government policy, cabinet confidences and ministerial responsibility.
In addition, they must also confine their remarks to matters of fact concerning the policies, programs, services or initiatives of their institution. So while the communications policy of the Government of Canada allows for designated spokespersons to speak to the media, it requires they follow the rules in doing so.
In fact, there is a whole raft of good reasons why those speaking to the media or sharing information or commenting on the affairs of government are required to follow our best practices. Canada is one of the world's leading democracies, and the ability of government scientists to talk to others and to the public about their work is one of the hallmarks of our democracy.
It is a feature of our democracy that protects both the interests and the rights of the employer, as well as the Canadian public it represents. It is just common sense to have a balanced approach like this. When individuals are employees of an organization, they are usually bound not to share details of their employer's business without permission, whether they work for Apple, Google, or the Government of Canada.
And as we all know, confidentiality is also the basis of professional integrity in fields such as law, medicine, accounting and journalism. The point is that being an employee brings with it a responsibility to those who employ you to follow the protocols that govern communications to protect the interests of all.
Another government guideline that speaks to this issue is the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector.
This code outlines the values and expected behaviours that guide public servants in all activities related to their professional duties and is a condition of employment for all public servants in the federal public sector. There is also a policy on conflict of interest and post-employment, which is also a condition of employment in the public service. It guides public servants to contribute to good government, democracy, and Canadian society through the loyal, impartial, and non-partisan support they provide to the elected government.
As dedicated professionals, they serve the public interest and uphold the public trust. Public servants must recognize that elected officials are accountable to Parliament and, ultimately, to the Canadian people and that a non-partisan public sector is essential to our democratic system. Therefore, communications by public service employees must take place within certain prescribed limits to ensure their impartiality. There is also the public interest to be protected, and our framework of policies has been created over the years to do exactly that.
All of us who are employees of the public institutions in this country have a responsibility to safeguard the interests of the Government of Canada. That is our job. It is our duty to do so. That includes, of course, ensuring information about programs and services is communicated to the public and is communicated responsibly.
Our policies on government communications are also in line with the government’s move to open government in general. Open government is, among other things, about improving transparency and accountability in public institutions. It is a way to strengthen our democratic institutions, our economy and society in the digital world.
Canada, among the world's nations, is a leader in bringing open government principles to fruition in this country. It is something we believe in very strongly and wholeheartedly, whether we are sharing government data, disclosing information on government expenses or sharing information with the public. Open government and open communications go hand in hand. We will protect, we will promote and we will practise these principles in an intelligent and balanced way. That, of course, applies to government scientists sharing their information and communications with the public as well.
I would ask our hon. friends to join us in promoting responsible open communications within the Government of Canada.
Mr. Marc Garneau (Westmount—Ville-Marie, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my hon. colleague from Scarborough—Guildwood.
Let me start by summarizing very simply what our motion is today: one, we must stop muzzling our federal scientists; two, with few exceptions, we must make publicly funded government research readily available to the public, after all, they pay for it; and, three, we must create the position of chief science officer to ensure that the results of publicly funded research are made available to Canadians through some kind of central portal.
I have to say today that there is an element of the absurd in the very fact that we should have to present this motion to the Parliament of Canada. Who would have thought that in a country like Canada, muzzling scientists would be an issue?
Today, we are talking about science. For those who like definitions, the Canadian Oxford defines science as:
|| 1. The intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment. 2. Systematic and formulated knowledge, esp. of a specified type or on a specified subject.
I dare say that I know enough about science to know what it is. I conducted research during my career. As president of the Canadian Space Agency, I was in charge of federal scientists and their research.
First and foremost, science is neutral. It is simply looking for answers. The results of good scientific research are just that: results. It is up to us to characterize those results as good or bad. Science naturally leads to discovery. That discovery informs us and sometimes allows us to find solutions to our problems. For instance, it can help us find a life-saving drug.
However, science plays another role and that is to inform us. Sometimes science gives us good news and sometimes it gives us bad news. If the news is bad, then we have to do something about it.
For example, we may learn that certain fish stocks are at risk of being completely depleted and that we must impose a moratorium on fishing certain species, or that smoking causes cancer and that we need to educate the public on the hazards of smoking, or that global warming is occurring due to the increase in the human production of greenhouse gases.
All of this comes out of scientific research. The examples I have given you are examples of bad news. However, I believe we would all agree that it is just as important to hear the bad news as it is the good news. That is why scientific research is so important. That is why scientific results must absolutely guide our deliberations as lawmakers, and why we must legislate based on the best possible scientific evidence available to us. We owe that to Canadians. That is not what is happening with the current government.
This government denied global warming for a long time and some Conservatives still deny it, although they do not dare to say so publicly. Some have called it a “social conspiracy”. Those very words escaped the lips of the Prime Minister. Apparently, this conspiracy is driven by a Canadian anti-oil cabal.
We certainly know that federal scientists at Environment Canada cannot discuss or publish their research without the minister's consent. It is also quite clear to us that the government did not react to the scientific results that clearly indicate that we must take action to deal with greenhouse gases.
If my colleagues do not believe that Canadian scientists are being muzzled, then they should consult the most prestigious scientific journal in the world, Nature. They will find two editorials that openly criticize the Canadian government for muzzling our federal scientists.
As we all know, this government got rid of the mandatory long form census. We are all well aware of the results. I was at the committee hearings when the government decided to eliminate this form. Hundreds of groups told us the same thing: it made no sense to get rid of the most important database used to formulate our social policies in Canada.
As members know, the response rate, which used to be 93%, has fallen to 68%. The 32% who do not fill out the form are the people we should be following because they are the ones most in need of social measures.
This is the government that stopped funding the Experimental Lakes Area. This was an internationally recognized scientific laboratory that allowed Canada initially to study the effects of acid rain and later on to look at such things as the effect of phosphates flowing into our water systems, these kinds of things. Everybody agreed that this was very important for Canada. However, the government did not share that feeling and decided it would stop financing it. Fortunately the Government of Ontario was able to use its funding, demonstrated the necessary understanding of the importance of the Experimental Lakes Area and we still have it today.
This is the government that got rid of the national science advisor. The previous Prime Minister of this country, Mr. Martin had put in place a scientific advisor to advise Canadians and in particular to have the Prime Minister's ear about the importance of science in this country. Obviously the current Prime Minister did not share that opinion, and first of all demoted him to report to the Minister of Industry. Then the Minister of Industry got rid of him.
This is the government that initially decided to stop funding Arctic research on ozone depletion, something that very much affects Canadians living in the far north of this country.
This is the government that refuses to recognize that scientific research related to crime and detention is important. This is a government that prefers to just lock up everyone and throw away the key.
This is a government that does not recognize the importance of social sciences and the value that they bring to us in terms of formulating policy in the government.
This is a government that devalues the importance of basic or fundamental research. This government focuses on applied research whenever it sees a commercial return, but it does not feel that basic or fundamental research is important.
This is a short-sighted view of the importance of science. This is playing God with the decisions about what science is important. It has proven time and again to be wrong.
In conclusion, science is an extremely important tool that guides us in our decision-making as legislators. We must share research results, whether they are good or bad. We must take action especially when the results are bad. We must definitely allow our scientists to speak freely about their research and publish it. They should not have to ask for permission to do so, except in some very exceptional cases. Finally, federal research should be shared with as many Canadians as possible. After all, they are the ones paying for it. To that end, we propose to create the position of chief science officer to ensure that government science is available to all Canadians through a central portal.
I hope that the government listened carefully to us today and that it will accept this motion, which is very important not just to the future of the country and our scientists, but also to policy-making.
Hon. John McKay (Scarborough—Guildwood, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I doubt that if you sought it you would have unanimous consent to make me go for the 10 minutes.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Hon. John McKay: I have some consent here, but there does not seem to be much consent elsewhere.
There are some resplendent ironies in discussing this motion on a day where The Globe and Mail carried the obituary of Dr. David Sackett. He is known as the father of evidence-based medicine at McMaster University. He was Canada's guru on evidence-based medicine.
If one does not function on evidence-based medicine, one sometimes does exactly the opposite of what one needs to do. The classic example in the medical field is the death of George Washington. The death of George Washington, a relatively healthy man, happened in the course of about 16 to 24 hours. In the course of those hours, he was attended upon by the best physicians that country had to offer, all of whom made their decisions based on practice, what they had done in the past. They were not based on evidence but on what they had done in the past.
One of the practices was bloodletting. Over the course of 16 hours, they drained five pints of blood from the first president of the United States. If he was not sick before, he certainly would have been sick afterwards. He died. This was a practice that was not based on evidence. If we continue to make practices and decisions based upon something other than evidence, for example, ideology, we will actually kill the patient, as in the case of medicine.
That is my view of what is happening here. We have instances where environmental scientists are told to toe the line. Therefore, just as we have one department, one website, we should have one department and one voice. That was the edict that was published by the Department of the Environment in 2007, so that all inquiries of scientists would be funnelled through the political department of the minister at that time.
Environment Canada scientists, many of them world leaders in their fields, have long been encouraged to discuss their work with the media and the public, on everything from migratory birds to melting Arctic ice. Several of them were co-authors of the United Nations report on climate change that won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.
Until now, Environment Canada has been one of the most open and accessible departments. As a consequence, because decisions are not shared widely, because there is not an opportunity for the scientists to discuss them, the decisions made at Environment Canada, and elsewhere in the government, are not optimum. After question period, I would like to give some classic examples of these decisions.