Mr. Kennedy Stewart:
Mr. Speaker, although it is always a privilege to speak in the House, today it is with a heavy heart that I rise to debate our NDP opposition day motion on science and scientific freedom.
Before moving to the motion, I would like to clarify that we use the term “science” in the broadest possible sense, encompassing the natural sciences, technology, engineering and math, the so-called STEM disciplines, as well as the social sciences and humanities. By science, we mean all forms of intellectual endeavour whereby truth is sought.
Our motion has three main points. The first is for all MPs to support the basic principle that federal scientists must be enabled to openly discuss their findings with the public. Second is also a fundamental principle that public science, basic research and the free and open exchange of scientific information are essential to evidence-based policy-making. The third point is a specific request that the federal government maintain support for basic scientific capacity across Canada, including immediately extending funding to the world-renowned Experimental Lakes Area research facility.
To begin I will talk about our first principle, which we are asking the House to vote in support of tonight. This concerns allowing scientists to discuss their findings, a practice that sits at the very heart of what for centuries has been called the scientific method.
Science is not test tubes or data sets or microscopes or space stations, but a method by which we explore and attempt to explain our world. Central to the scientific method is the public disclosure of data and test results. This is crucial as it allows others to replicate research and retest and re-examine how and why scientists reached their conclusions. Without a strict adherence to the scientific method, we do not generate science but mere propaganda.
Our motion asks that the House recognize that we in this place support a critical component of the scientific method, namely that researchers employed by the Canadian government not be restricted in their ability to share their work.
I was shocked to recently discover that during an interview on #FAQMP, the Minister of State (Science and Technology) actually bragged about getting daily briefings to ascertain whether “some scientist leaked information to another country”. Is this what we have come to? Does the government live in such fear of our top researchers that it requires daily briefings as to whether our scientists are traitors? We ask government members to vote “yes” to our motion to prove otherwise.
The second point concerns public science for Canadians. Our second principle concerns ensuring government policy is based on the best available research, and that this research is made available to the public.
Canadians support science through their tax dollars. However, by suppressing the results of public research, Conservatives either seem to think that Canadian taxpayers are incapable of understanding the science being done on their behalf or think it is too dangerous to allow them to be informed and make decisions for themselves.
I would also like to mention at this point that I will be splitting my time.
Despite their disdain for science, hopefully the members on the government side of the House can see how important it is that our policies, including those connected to the economy and the environment, be based on solid evidence and not ideology. It is hard for scientists to take comfort in platitudes from members opposite. They hear the same talking points about how the Conservative government values scientific research.
Canadian scientists know full well that the voices of their colleagues are being silenced. Canadian scientists know that our international partners are now choosing not to collaborate with us because they question the integrity of Canadian science and fear government interference with their work. Canadian scientists also know that promising young students are being turned away because funding for scholarships and research labs is being drastically cut. Canadian scientists know that labs across Canada must now scramble to secure emergency funding and finding none, wait for an eleventh hour pardon for the crime of believing that furthering knowledge is worthy of their life's effort.
Finally, our NDP opposition day motion calls on the Conservatives to concretely demonstrate their commitment to discovery by ensuring long-term stable funding for basic research, starting with the extension of funds to the Experimental Lakes Area. In the grand scheme of things, the few hundred thousand dollars it takes to keep the ELA open is a pittance, both in real numbers, when compared to many other government schemes and policies, and in relative terms, recognizing how much Canadians and indeed the whole world has benefited from the work being done there.
To quote our outgoing environment commissioner, Scott Vaughan:
||—this is something that doesn't exist elsewhere and also it's been under way now for a couple of decades. When you turn that switch off...it is incredibly difficult to turn the switch back on.... When these scientists are gone, to try to then rebuild those programs is really difficult.
I have spoken with the very people who laid the groundwork for Canada's greatest living laboratory and it deeply saddens me when I think of how this government has squandered our advantages and has surrendered this critical international research facility to loggers' chainsaws. That is right. Instead of being used to solve questions such as the effect of silver nanoparticles on the environment, the forests around the lakes are likely to be logged bare.
Let us not forget that what is happening to the ELA is happening in research facilities right across Canada. The ELA is just one cruel symbol among many of the Conservative science policy.
While I am sure the Minister of State (Science and Technology) will stand and say that his government has invested more than any other, in fact, that is not true. The most recent Statistics Canada report shows that last year the Conservatives cut 6% from science and technology funding and laid off 1,500 personnel engaged in science and technology activities. Canada committed 1.8% of our gross domestic product to research and development in 2010, down from our 2.1% commitment in 2001. Our southern neighbours under President Obama now spend 3% of GDP on research and development, and other developed countries spend up to 4.5%.
The Conservatives' cuts to science have hit hard primary funding agencies such as SSHRC, NSERC and CIHR. They have forced many labs and research institutes to close and forced promising early-career researchers to move abroad for research opportunities.
A letter of concern signed by University of Ottawa professor David Bryce and 46 other top scientists on the moratorium on NSERC's major resources support program said:
|| There are now no funding streams dedicated to the purchase of scientific equipment or to operate nationally and internationally unique resources. The loss of the MRS program in particular means that resources built up over many years could be lost or made inaccessible due to loss of personnel needed to sustain the resource.
The principal investigator for the advanced laser light source, the first and only large-scale laser user facility in Canada, described the sudden cut of his funding as a bullet to the head.
Pieces form the whole. One cannot expect that Canada will be in the position to lead the global push for innovation in the 21st century on one hand, but then on the other, ruthlessly slash the scientific research capacity from which innovation stems. One cannot expect that the voices of Canadian scientists will be the ones that inspire the world, but still choose to muzzle many and cast over all the fear of retribution.
The innate human drive of curiosity is a powerful and beautiful thing, but that which leads us to world-changing discoveries is first contingent upon our freedom and capacity to innovate. That freedom, that capacity, is being taken away by the Conservative government.
Canadian scientists need the freedom to speak freely and have their work judged not by political loyalty tests but by their peers in the field. Ensuring scientific capacity is strong means stable, sustainable funding for basic research and ensuring the next generation of Canadian scientists receive the support they need.
The NDP believes in scientific research and though it may take decades to reverse the effects of these short-sighted Conservative cuts, Canada will climb out from these new Dark Ages. We will look back at the Conservative legacy littered with logged lakes and mothball spectrometers and ask: How could we have let this happen?
Science and knowledge will prevail. Today is the first day of spring. Let us end the long Conservative winter for science and use this opposition day motion to turn things around.
Ms. Laurin Liu (Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I have the great pleasure of speaking today on this NDP motion, which is aimed at protecting public science and the freedom of speech of scientists. This is a crucial issue because public science has direct implications for the air we breath, the water we drink and the environment around us.
Again this week, the Minister of State for Science and Technology boasted that the Canadian government had never invested so much in science. However, he forgot to mention that his government blindly made cuts to the industrial research tax credit program. By reducing the tax credit provided by the scientific research and experimental development tax incentive program, the Conservatives are trying to save $500 million at the expense of entrepreneurs and people working in innovative companies.
The Minister of State for Science and Technology also forgot to mention that it is his government that made cuts to basic research and a dozen or so research programs at Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Library and Archives Canada, National Research Council Canada, Statistics Canada, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the National Council of Welfare and the First Nations Statistical Institute.
We should also remember that it was this government that eliminated the research tools and instruments grants program, put a moratorium on the major resources support program of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, cut funding for the PEARL research station in the high Arctic, cut the centres of excellence budget by 17% and made the irresponsible decision to abolish funding for the experimental lakes program, a world-renowned research program.
But the most telling statistic is gross domestic expenditures on research and development—an important indicator of research and development performed in Canada—which has fallen to its lowest level in 15 years under this government. In 2011, gross spending on research and development represented 1.74% of GDP, a significant reduction from 2.09% in 2001.
The reduction in research spending undermines our ability to innovate. Again this year, Canada fell two positions in the innovation rankings by the World Economic Forum.
This all goes to show that the Conservatives are not credible when they say they are the champions of research and innovation. By cutting government programs and support for industrial research, they are setting a bad example for businesses, which are delaying their investments, and causing an exodus of researchers.
According to Dr. Matthew Stanbrook, a respirologist and editor of the Canadian Medical Association Journal:
|| The erosion of research funding in federal budgets raises concerns over a brain drain.
And he says that we are already seeing this brain drain. People are going to countries like the United States and Great Britain.
Dr. John Hepburn, vice-president, research and international, at the University of British Columbia, noted that we are now starting to lose talented mid-career researchers to the European Union. The EU framework program, France and Germany are all increasing their basic research envelope. He added that Germany is increasing funding for basic research by 5% and that European countries can do targeted recruitment and they are making spectacular offers. That is his main concern.
And on the business side, BlackBerry is threatening to move its research activities out of Canada. In 2011, this company invested $1.5 billion in research and development.
According to a Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters survey of Canadian businesses, 18% of businesses indicated that they will move their research activities and 69% said that they will reduce their research budget if the Conservatives go ahead with this bad policy.
In addition to having to work with increasingly tight budgets and having less access to cutting-edge research tools, Canadian scientists are having to deal with an increasingly poisoned atmosphere while the government tries to enforce a kind of law of silence.
Since coming to power, the Conservatives have tightened the leash on scientists.
On the one hand, the focus of research is controlled more and more by the government. Basic research that satisfies scientific curiosity is no longer valued. However, what the Conservatives do not understand is that basic research often leads to our greatest discoveries.
On the other hand, the government has tried to restrict scientists' freedom of speech in a number of ways: they cannot attend scientific conferences; they are not allowed to speak directly to specialized journalists; and certain studies that could contradict the policies and ideology of the Conservative government are not published.
I have come up with some particularly absurd examples of government censorship. Scientist Scott Dallimore was told that the minister's office had to approve his message before he spoke to the media. His research was about flooding that occurred in northern Canada 13,000 years ago.
I have another example of this government's paranoia. An Ottawa Citizen journalist called the National Research Council to obtain information about a Canada-U.S. study on the geometry of snowflakes. It only took him 15 minutes to contact a NASA scientist, but the NRC response was late and provided only after 11 officials exchanged 50 emails.
The Conservative government's attitude towards its scientists is problematic in many ways. Taxpayers have paid for these studies and therefore it seems only right that they be published and promoted.
Censorship affects democracy. Public policies must be based on science, not ideological prejudices. With its reign of terror, the Conservative government is trying to silence scientists who could contradict it. That is unacceptable.
Furthermore, Canada's ability to innovate relies on the rapid and open dissemination of the results of scientific and technical research. Knowledge is acquired from the experiments conducted. It can be compared to the construction of a house: it is built brick by brick, fact by fact. If the government holds back information, science does not advance as quickly.
In closing, I would like to say a few words about one of these programs—the Experimental Lakes Area program—which is mentioned in the third part of today's motion.
In the previous budget, the Conservative government announced that it would stop funding the Experimental Lakes Area program at the end of the month. The cancellation of this program by the Conservatives marks the end of 44 years of continuous research to improve fisheries and water quality.
New buyers have expressed an interest in the site, but the Conservatives are already dismantling the Experimental Lakes Area research facility, which will make transferring the site to a new operator much more difficult.
Our hopes that the open-air laboratory would remain under federal management were dashed, but will the Conservative government at the very least not sabotage the program so that the site can retain its scientific value in the long term?
I hope that the Conservative government will use the 2013 budget it is introducing tomorrow to fix its mistakes.
The government must invest more in Canada's research capacity. It must stop firing and harassing federal scientists, and it must provide better support for companies that want to invest in research and development in Canada. Thousands of good jobs depend on that investment.
In closing, I believe that we must leave future generations a legacy instead of the huge environmental debt that the Conservatives are running up.
I therefore ask all members of the House to support the NDP motion.
Hon. Gary Goodyear (Minister of State (Science and Technology) (Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario), CPC):
Mr. Speaker, we could spend the day sending barbs back and forth. I could remind the member that just a couple of weeks ago, Fraunhofer announced that it would partner with the University of Western Ontario. We could also tell the member opposite that this idea about using federal funding as awards to stimulate research in areas of critical importance is very common around the world and has worked extremely well at meeting the needs and the challenges that societies face around the world. This is not in lieu of anything else. It is an idea that we consider to boost our scientific outputs.
It does, however, give me great opportunity to highlight the approach of the Government of Canada to supporting science and technology, which has been a major priority of our government since coming to office.
In 2007 the Prime Minister launched the science and technology strategy, a multi-year strategy, and since then we have made great strides and significant investments to strengthen Canada's advantages.
We are quickly establishing Canada's leadership in many scientific fields. For example, last February, a Canadian team, led by the TRIUMF physics lab in Vancouver, announced the promising news that it had developed a method of making the next generation medical isotope in existing cyclotron. What this means is that we will no longer need to use nuclear reactors. In coming years, this advancement will help hospitals, save time and money and reduce patient wait times and improve treatment protocols.
A few months later, in April, a Canadian scientific team was part of the groundbreaking study that revealed ten distinct types of breast cancer. This discovery promises to make diagnoses more precise and ultimately allow for more effective treatments. We are very proud of saying yes and voting to fund these types of initiatives.
In June researchers at the University of Montreal published their development of a new approach to visualize how proteins actually assemble themselves in a chemical reaction. This could lead to not only a much better understanding of diseases such Alzheimer's or Parkinson's, but it could have wider implications on how the world looks at things such as biomedical basic science.
In September researchers at the University of Waterloo's Institute for Quantum Computing participated in a groundbreaking experiment that even I find hard to believe. They teleported a particle over a distance of 143 kilometres. This is actually the farthest distance of teleportation that ever happened on this planet. This institute is part of a global effort to develop quantum Internet, which again will be Canadians behind changing the way we do business on the Internet.
Promising advancements are also emerging from Canadian involvement in pure science at CERN, the European Nuclear Research Organisation. Canadian researchers, funded in part by this federal government, were partners in this year's great discoveries, like measuring the intrinsic properties of antimatter atoms and identifying the elusive Higgs boson, an elementary particle in the standard model of particle physics, sufficiently well known to have entered popular culture.
Another significant event that Canadian researchers were involved in that took place in Ottawa just last fall and again funded by the federal government's dollars, was the National Research Council's achievement, which I believe is a major milestone for aviation. In fact, a civil jet powered by 100% unblended biofuel was flown. This is a historic flight that symbolizes a significant step, not only for the aerospace industry but also for the advancement of sustainable sources of renewable energy. That is exactly why, on my side of the House, we vote yes to funding science and technology at every chance we are given.
Our celebrated astronaut, a personal friend of mine, Chris Hadfield, is currently serving as the first Canadian Commander of the International Space Station. We have been delighted for months with his engaging tweets, his humour, his incredible photographs of earth from the International Space Station. In fact, his communications have become almost more popular than the President of the Treasury Board's, if I can send a little humour out there.
These are just a few examples of only the research that made it to the headlines last year. We can take pride in these achievements and we definitely do that, not only as Canadians and members of Parliament, but as members of the global scientific community. That is because science knows no borders. It benefits everyone.
We know that science has to keep up with the frontiers and the challenges that face the globe and our nations. That is why we are focusing on such priorities as the Freshwater Institute in Winnipeg, the Bayfield Institute in Burlington and cleaning up Lake Winnipeg and Lake Simcoe.
I would remind members of the House that just a few years ago, in the midst the worst global economic downtown since the Great Depression, governments around the world were facing very difficult choices, not only for us in Canada, but countries all over the world. They continue to do so in many instances.
We have seen difficult cuts to science and technology spending from many of our peer nations, cuts that have cost scientists and professors in nations, such as England, the United States and many others. In contrast, in Canada, our Prime Minister took an entirely different approach. We chose to invest in science and technology.
The opposition, commonly known in the House as the no discovery party, voted against each and every one of the budgets that contained more funding for research. Now the New Democrats are standing wanting us to support an endeavour that they voted against in the first place.
We have made historic investments in science infrastructure, ensuring that our scientists have state of the art laboratories and equipment. Through the knowledge infrastructure program, we invested $2 billion in more than 500 post-secondary research infrastructure projects all across the country.
We did this when jobs were needed the most, but the NDP voted against this $2 billion, which went on to be leveraged by the provinces, the private sectors and the institutions to total over $5 billion. These are good quality jobs for our construction sector when they need it most and laboratories and research capacities for our scientists today and tomorrow.
We know that investments in science and technology and innovation create those high-quality and value-added jobs. They grow our economy and are fundamental to the long-term prosperity of the country.
However, the opposition rejects science when it is not convenient. For example, the NDP leader recently went to the United States and attacked the Keystone XL pipeline, when science has said it is supportable. The New Democrats attack it when it is not convenient for them.
We continue to strengthen research infrastructure through organizations such as the Canadian Foundation for Innovation. Over the years, we have given them over $1 billion to put state-of-the-art equipment into their new laboratories and facilities. Of course, the NDP voted against that as well.
I would like to mention for the NDP that the $2 billion in the knowledge infrastructure program was a stimulus project. It was for two years and it ended. The member takes that information, twists it and suggests that it has been cut. It was a temporary program. The definition of temporary is that it comes and we bump up the expenditure. When it ends, and it has done its job remarkably well, that expenditure is not in the funding. However, the NDP twists those facts.
One fact that the New Democrats continue to ignore is that since 2006, when this government came to office, we have increased science and technology by $8 billion in new dollars. We have made significant investments in basic science and scientific research at colleges and universities across Canada.
Do not just listen to me. The OECD has said that Canada ranks at the top of the G7 in higher education expenditures on R and D as expressed as a percentage of our GDP. Our government is committed to building on these significant achievements. One of the ways we are doing that is through government programs that connect Canadian researchers and institutions to the international community to strengthen Canada's world-class research talent and reputation.
We have programs such as the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships, the Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships and the Canadian Excellence Research Chairs program that ensure that the brightest minds on the planet want to come to Canada, the brightest minds who are already here want to stay here and we have the ability to train the next generation brightest minds.
The Canada Excellence Research Chairs is a $10 million program over seven years. It is the most generous program on the planet. That is exactly why we have a brain gain in the country, despite what one might hear from the opposition.
We are delivering programs that enhance collaboration as well among the private and public sectors, programs such as the Centres of Excellence for Commercialization and Research, the College and Community Innovation Program, Business-Led Networks of Centres of Excellence and the Industrial Research and Development Internships program. These build industry and academic connections that lead to new products and new processes that will lead to new and better jobs and economic strength.
Our efforts are clearly making a difference. In a highly competitive global environment, where innovation cannot lag behind and collaboration matters more each day, we cannot stay constantly with what we have done in the past, but must look to the future and organize our scientific endeavours with that in mind.
Perhaps the Leader of the Opposition can take notes on this fact and share some of the following scientific facts on his next field trip outside Canada, rather than propaganda that costs Canadians jobs and security.
Last fall, the Council of Canadian Academies, an independent study group, released a report showing that Canadian science and technology was healthy. It is growing and it is recognized around the globe for its excellence, not in Canada or outside Canada by the NDP, but by the top scientific researchers around the world. They ranked Canada's science and technology as fourth in the world, only behind the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany. It was not fourth as a percentage of our population or as a percentage of our GDP, but in absolute terms. They also said that with less than 0.5% of the globe's population, Canada produced more than 4% of the globe's scientific papers and nearly 5% of the world's most frequently cited papers.
Canada clearly is punching above its weight in scientific expertise. Our reputation is helping to further strengthen that and our position and we do not expect or desire to lose that momentum.
Canada has become a powerful magnet for high-quality researchers from abroad. We are pleased that researchers come to Canada to do their work and our researchers go to their nations. That is part of the ongoing ebb and tide of international scientific co-operation. We do not just force our scientists to stay here, we share them with the rest of the world and the rest of the world shares theirs with us.
That is why we will see a change of scientific numbers in Canada, but the bottom line is, as pointed out by many of the researchers, Canada has become a powerful magnet for high-quality researchers from around the world.
Unlike the opposition, our government is extremely proud of the world-class work that our scientists and researchers do. We value and support the important work they do every day. We rely on the critical knowledge that they produce to help us form public policy and meet the needs of Canadians, not just today, not necessarily yesterday, and certainly tomorrow.
Our government employs and supports scientists and researchers in countless capacities. In 2011-12 alone more than 20,000 scientific and professorial personnel worked for the federal government, including some 7,000 engaged in research and development.
The exemplary work of these individuals helps us 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.
As a government, we understand that for these benefits to be fully realized, research findings must be effectively communicated and shared with Canadians. On federal science, as with all matters, the government's policy is to provide the public with clear and objective information about policies, programs and services, and there are many avenues through which this can happen.
For example, each year scientists at federal departments and agencies produce thousands of peer-reviewed articles, research reports and data sets that are available to other scientists, to Canadians and to other scientific communities around the world.
For example, Environment Canada participated in more than 1,300 media interviews. In 2010, its scientists published 524 peer-reviewed journal articles. In 2012, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada issued 1,142 peer-reviewed scientific publications and 711 non-peer-reviewed publications. In 2010, NRCan published 487 scientific publications.
These are just a few of the numerous departments and agencies that actively share their research. The numbers show that this government not only stands behind its scientists and supports them in their work but also makes the data they generate available to Canadians and makes more data available to Canadians than ever before.
In recent years the government has also unveiled new measures to increase Canadians' access to federally funded scientific data.
For example, in 2012 the government enacted changes providing Canadians free access to Statistics Canada's main socio-economic database, CANSIM. Another example is the government's action plan on open government, led by the President of the Treasury Board.
Open government is based on three core initiatives: open data, open information and open dialogue.
Open data is about offering government data in a useful format. It allows citizens, the private sector and non-governmental organizations to leverage government data in innovative new ways. Open information is about proactively releasing information on government activities to Canadians on an ongoing basis. Open dialogue is about giving Canadians in an online community a stronger say in the development of government policies and so on.
Through this initiative, the federal government launched its open data portal, a one-stop shop for federal government data that can be downloaded free of charge by Canadian citizens, researchers, voluntary organizations, private sector business, and the list goes on and on. In fact, the portal features thousands of government data sets now freely available to the public.
We have also put in place initiatives to share federal scientific knowledge directly with Canadians. That can be found at the website science.gc.ca.
These communication initiatives play an important role in our government's science and technology strategy, and it is through this strategy that we have redefined the way governments, business people and the research community band together and work together to drive economic activity through science.
We are working to bring the private, public and academic sectors together for the benefit of all Canadians. Why? It is because, as the Prime Minister has often said, science powers commerce. By moving this data out of our laboratories onto our factory floors and out to the living rooms and hospitals of the world, we will not only achieve more jobs and economic growth here, and a better quality of life, but we will also help people around the world do exactly the same thing.
Ms. Kirsty Duncan (Etobicoke North, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Cardigan.
Scientists work for a better tomorrow through exciting discoveries, from aerospace to astronomy and from biotechnology to nanotechnology. Science matters more than ever before because the challenges we face, climate change, shrinking biodiversity, are greater and the potential benefits are larger. Canada therefore needs robust science for the public good—for example, to identify risks to ecosystems and human health and to develop solutions to reduce dangers and protect the health and safety of Canadians and the communities in which we live.
Tragically, science is under persistent attack in Canada, despite the fact that the benefits of university research and development are $15 billion and 150,000 to 200,000 person-years of employment per year.
In 2008, an editorial in the prestigious journal Nature criticized the Conservative government for closing the Office of the National Science Advisor, skepticism about the science of climate change, and silencing federal researchers. Budget 2009 cut $148 million over three years from the federal research granting councils. Moreover, the government attempted to direct research towards subjects it perceived as priorities. Scholarships were to be focused on business-related degrees. This was a flawed strategy, as no one can predict with any certainty what the most important inventions and technologies will be in the future.
As one of Canada's Nobel laureates, John Polanyi, wrote, “We have struggled for a long time to come to terms with the fact that our universities serve the public interest best when free of government interference in academic affairs.”
The reality is that countries that maintain and increase their investments in research and development during difficult economic times emerge stronger and more competitive when the recovery begins. In 2009, James Turk, the executive director of Canadian Association of University Teachers, warned that lack of funding and increasing government micromanagement means we could lose a lot of our top researchers.
James Drummond, the chief scientist at the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory, in Eureka, explained that he would be able to improve the lab through new infrastructure funding but would not be able to operate it. On April 30, 2012, PEARL was scheduled to cease full-time, year-round operation.
In addition to government cuts to research funding, cuts to federal science programs and scientists, there have been new media protocols for government scientists since the Conservatives came to power in 2006. For example, Canadian journalists have documented numerous cases, from an unexplained virus in salmon, to a two-degree Celsius increase in global temperatures being possibly unavoidable by 2100, to a 13,000-year-old flood in northern Canada, in which prominent researchers have been prevented from discussing peer-reviewed articles.
Researchers would once have responded quickly to journalists, but are now required to direct inquiries to a media relations office which requires written questions in advance and that still might not allow scientists to speak. Federal scientists are under growing surveillance and control. Numerous studies have shown a pattern of suppression, manipulation and a distortion of federal science. Officials have limited public access to scientific information.
Recently a symposium called "Unmuzzling Government Scientists: How to Re-Open the Discourse" was held at the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in Vancouver. The government's media policies were once again under scrutiny. According to the journal, Nature, “The way forward is clear: it is time for the Canadian government to set its scientists free”.
I can attest not only to the muzzling but also to the fear on the part of scientists. I used to consult for Environment Canada, and I have numerous friends who are scientists across Canada and the United States. Because of 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 have one friend who was so concerned that he or she wrote to me from the 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 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, by the war on democracy, environment and science. The persistent attack on science for the public good reached a boiling point on July 10, 2012, when Canadian scientists rallied on Parliament Hill in order to protest the closure of federal science programs, the muzzling of scientists and the “untimely death of scientific evidence and evidence-based decision-making in Canada”.
At the end of the month, Canada's world-renowned Experimental Lakes Area, with 58 lakes and considered to be one of Canada's most important aquatic research facilities, will shut down. In fact, the government has already begun dismantling the station. In the space of a few weeks, 11,000 Canadians signed a public petition, sent hundreds of letters of support for the ELA to government officials and held rallies across the country. Leading scientists from around the world and across Canada support ELA's cause. Opposition members of Parliament have delivered petition after petition and undertaken press conferences, including one to push the Minister of the Environment to adopt the 58 lake facility. Liberal MPs held briefings for all members of Parliament and senators and put forth motions to study the value of the ELA and the potential effects of transferring the facility to a third party.
Following the presentation of two Liberal motions regarding the ELA, in both the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development and the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, the issue was addressed in camera without public explanation, and the motions are now no longer before the committee.
The Canadian public supports the ELA. An Environics Research poll showed that over 73% of Canadians oppose the decision to cancel federal funding for the ELA, including 60% of those identifying as Conservative voters. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans claims it cannot find the $2 million per year required to run the ELA, although it would require $50 million to remediate the lakes in the area upon the centre's closing.
Scientists suggest the Conservatives are trying to silence a source of inconvenient data. As a first example, PEARL, the Polar Environmental Atmospheric Research Lab, which gathered atmospheric information related to air quality, climate change and ozone required only $1.5 million to permit its year-round science program.
Also potentially on the chopping block is one of Canada's oldest and most celebrated scientific research stations, the 50-year-old Kluane Lake Research Station, located in the Yukon adjacent to the largest non-polar icefield in the world. The sensitive region is ideal to measure climate change.
ELA has been compared to the Hubble telescope for its service in aiding scientific research. The research conducted at the ELA must continue. The research must be made public and ELA must be owned by the public.
In closing, we must fight for a government that understands that scientific research is fundamental to meeting Canada's needs, will restore science to its rightful place, will back promises with action and money, and will protect scientific findings from being altered, distorted or suppressed. All Conservative cabinet ministers should stand up for science, for scientists, for unmuzzling researchers, and for ensuring a scientific integrity policy so Canadians can receive the best cutting-edge science to ensure evidence-based decision-making. The government must protect our water now and for our future generations, and not protect navigation as it did in Bill C-45. That means ELA must continue.
Hon. Lawrence MacAulay (Cardigan, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak on the motion from my hon. colleague for Burnaby—Douglas. I want to thank him for introducing such an important motion.
On this side of the House, we fully understand the importance of having proper research and science in place in order to produce the best public policies for the benefit of all Canadians. Unfortunately, we have a government that does not believe in science. In fact, it is worse than that. We have a government that has launched an attack on science in this country. It has closed or cut funding to some of the best scientific research centres in Canada and has muzzled our scientists. This is absolutely unacceptable. Canadians have the right to know the results of our scientific research that is funded by tax dollars. However, we have seen many federal department crack down on what their scientists are allowed to say in public.
We know DFO's new communication policy: Crack down hard on scientists. All interview requests are now forwarded to the minister's office, and they are routinely denied. This is truly hard to believe.
Within the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, many research centres have been negatively affected by the Conservative government. This department is in constant need of more science dollars for the survival of our many economically important fisheries throughout the country and for the survival of our oceans, lakes and rivers.
However, rather than ensure proper science funding for DFO, the Conservative government has slashed funding for many of its important research stations. These stations include the Institute of Ocean Sciences, the Freshwater Institute, the Kluane Lake Research Station, the Maurice Lamontagne Institute, the Gulf Fisheries Centre, the Bedford Institute of Oceanography, the St. Andrews Biological Station and the Experimental Lakes Area, one of the most important research areas in the country. This is only for DFO. Many more harmful scientific cuts have been made in other federal departments and programs.
The closure I want to focus on, and the one that I believe is perhaps the best example of the government's shameful attack on science, is the Experimental Lakes Area, or the ELA.
The ELA is one of the world's most renowned facilities for freshwater research. It is one of a kind and has produced a lot of critical information and policy over the last 40 years. Last spring, the government announced that it would be ending the operation of the ELA. Later the government stated that it would try to find a new operator by March 31, 2013.
This facility is located in northwestern Ontario. It includes 58 small lakes and is managed through a joint agreement between the Canadian and Ontario governments. It is truly a living natural laboratory for freshwater research, and it is the only place in Canada where whole-lake ecosystem research can take place. In fact, it is the only place in the world where this type of research can take place.
The ELA has been critical in developing evidence-based environmental policy, regulations and legislation, including regulations to control phosphorus in the Great Lakes. ELA research led to Canada becoming the first country to ban phosphorus from laundry detergents. Other research led to legislation to curb acid rain production and demonstrated that reducing mercury emissions from burning fossil fuels will rapidly lower mercury levels in fish. Ongoing research evaluates nitrogen removal from municipal waste water and the effects many household products could have on our freshwater.
Information produced at the ELA is also used by researchers across the country and around the world to investigate how climate change will affect Canada's aquatic resources. Research at the ELA also provides the scientific evidence required to manage commercial and recreational fisheries.
The fact that we can now conduct responsible monitoring in the oil sands is a direct result of invaluable research done at the ELA.
First nations chiefs in Ontario and Manitoba have called upon the Conservative government to reverse its decision to terminate the ELA. Four former regional director generals of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans have spoken out against this closure. Liberal members of Parliament have been actively fighting the closure and are working with the Coalition to Save ELA.
Last October I introduced a motion for the fisheries committee to study the ELA, the research done at the facility, its impacts on public policy and the potential consequences of closing, remediating or transferring the ELA to a third party. I know that my colleague from Etobicoke North did the same in the environment committee.
The ELA costs the federal government $2 million or less to operate per year. In fact, we are hearing that the ELA could keep going for as little as $600,000. However, closing the facility entirely could cost up to $50 million. The government is now saying that the cost of closing the facility could be as low as $8 million, but we well know that it is going to be a lot of millions. Either way, it seems that the priorities of the government are severely misguided. For the cost of shutting down the ELA, the government could keep it open, and Canadians, in fact the entire world, could benefit from its research for years to come, perhaps even decades to come. However, the government would rather close up shop than keep this scientific research alive.
In fact, even though March 31 of this year was the date given for the government to find a new operator, we now know that the destruction of the buildings on the site has already begun. It was also reported that scientists have been told to remove their belongings in preparation for the demolition of the site. There were rumours that the International Institute for Sustainable Development, the IISD, the Winnipeg-based United Nations think tank, was the only group known to be discussing the possible takeover of the facility. The IISD was not aware of the destruction that was taking place at the ELA. This brings into serious doubt that the government is sincere that it will actually transfer the facility to a new operator.
It is certainly my fear, and the fear of all members on this side of the House, that it is not its intention at all. It is my fear that the research produced by the ELA does not go along with the government's agenda, and it has decided to shut it down, no matter what it costs. Canadians will be the ones who bear the cost of the closure of this facility, not only for the millions of dollars it would take to shut the facility down and clean up the site but also for the loss of all the possible research and policy the ELA could have produced for decades into the future.
For a country like ours, where nature is such an iconic symbol, to lose one of our most important natural research facilities is beyond belief. It is a black eye on the country, along with many other policies of the government. It has severely damaged our reputation on the international stage. The government repeatedly says that it is closing the ELA because it no longer fits the core mandate of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. I find this excuse completely unacceptable.
I hope that government members will look at what is, in fact, taking place: the destruction of the scientific community across Canada, the muzzling of scientists, and their making sure that we do not have the best possible scientific advice to put policy in place for this country. Again, I urge government members across the way to take a look at this, support this very important motion and save the scientific work that is so important for fisheries and other aspects across this country.
Ms. Anne Minh-Thu Quach (Beauharnois—Salaberry, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to mention that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard.
Today's debate is vital. The current ecological and economic crisis is a reminder that Canada needs to invest in public science and basic research and freely distribute scientific data. Climate change is real, and we are already suffering from its effects. We are at a crossroads, and we need science now more than ever.
Need I remind hon. members that, just 40 years ago, our industries were polluting the St. Lawrence River, we were burning toxic waste and miners were dying of cancer because they did not have the information and protection they needed?
We have come a long way since then. We set up research institutes, cleaned up our lakes and rivers and decontaminated thousands of sites across the country, but there is still a lot of work to be done. Today, we are paying for the mistakes of the past.
Right now, the situation in Canada is of grave concern. This Conservative government is undoing all the progress that we have made over the past decades. By making cuts to scientific research, censoring scientists, abolishing our environmental laws and destroying world-renowned research institutes, such as the NRTEE, the government is setting us back 50 years.
The experimental lakes program is a very good example. For 40 years now, the research conducted on 58 lakes has allowed us to make extraordinary advances in the field of biology that are recognized throughout the world. For example, this research has helped us to better understand the blue-green algae phenomenon and the role of phosphates in the development of cyanobacteria. This research has helped to improve water quality in many of our lakes. And that is not all. The research on these lakes in their natural state has helped to advance scientific studies at the international level. This is the only laboratory of its kind in the world.
Yet the Conservatives do not really seem to understand the importance of this institution. Their decision to do away with the experimental lakes program is a monumental mistake. The government is saying that it will save $2 million by closing this site, yet it costs only $6,000 to operate and replacing it or getting a private institution to run it would cost several million dollars.
What is more, the Conservatives are not considering the cost of depriving our country of data that are essential to preserving the quality of our water. The Conservatives seem to think that this is no big deal, that we will stick future generations with the bill and that they will deal with the problem.
In addition, this week we learned that Fisheries and Oceans Canada had locked up the Experimental Lakes Area cabins and was preventing scientists from accessing the site. Yet Ottawa had announced that it would continue managing the site until next September, but that it would not be paying for any research after March 31.
For months the government has been saying that it is looking for a private sector organization to take over the program, but nothing has happened yet. Britt Hall, a biochemist at the University of Regina and the director of the Coalition to Save ELA, is worried that 44 years' worth of data will be lost and that experiments will be cancelled.
Researchers at Trent University in Peterborough had to stop their work. They were working on the use of microscopic amounts of silver to prevent bacteria. It will be impossible for them to finish their research.
Cuts at the PEARL atmospheric research station in Nunavut also demonstrate this government's lack of a long-term vision. This winter, researchers were not able to gather data. It is important to continue funding research in areas as vital as climate change.
The list of this government's strategic errors is long: cuts to experimental farms and Mont-Joli's Maurice Lamontagne Institute, abolishing Statistics Canada's long form census, cuts to fishery research, cuts at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, at the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada's major resources support program, and so on.
Thanks to documents obtained under the Access to Information Act, we recently learned that there is concern amongst Environment Canada scientists who are responsible for monitoring air quality. Many of them work in offices in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver, ensuring that we are complying with laws limiting land and atmospheric pollution. Employees are saying that the government will eliminate positions and that monitoring will be compromised. There is cause for concern.
When the Minister of the Environment goes to Copenhagen, Rio or Durban and says that his government is protecting the environment, but we here in Canada see that cuts are being made to essential, basic scientific research, there is every reason to doubt the sincerity of his remarks.
Yet public research is essential for a developed economy such as ours. The three key players in scientific research—universities, the private sector and the government—all play a fundamental role. The government funds research through programs, institutions and tax credits. Therefore, why eliminate these incentives in science and continue to offer tax breaks to oil companies? That is a double standard.
Public research cannot always be replaced by the private sector. Take Statistics Canada's consumer price index, for instance. Only the government can measure it, and companies really need that information.
Yves Gingras, a professor who is the Canada Research Chair in history and sociology of science at UQAM, said:
|| People often say the Conservatives are opposed to science. I think instead that they are in favour of strategic ignorance, so they can justify their inaction in certain areas that could hurt industries. When fishers observe that there are fewer fish, the government will be able to tell them that it does not know why and that the government is not to blame if it could not predict the shortage.
It is troubling to see that these cuts to science are accompanied by drastic changes in environmental legislation. With Bill C-38, the Conservative government drastically modified the environmental assessment process for hydrocarbons. Consultations were reduced to a minimum, almost to nothing, in fact. With Bill C-45, it took away all protection for our lakes and rivers.
All of this is accompanied by a culture of secrecy and censorship that has been imposed by the Conservative government since 2006. The prestigious Royal Society of Canada, an institution that has been around for more than 100 years and whose members are scientists in all fields, wrote an open letter to condemn the Conservatives' attitude. The Royal Society of Canada made a very simple request, namely, that the government stop preventing scientists from announcing their discoveries to the Canadian public. It is a fairly basic request. In a democratic society, it is important to discuss what action to take based on fact rather than simply being guided by ideology.
For instance, the census is one of the tools that enabled Canada to become one of the most developed countries in the world. It is one way for the government to develop targeted, effective public policies. For instance, it tells us what the average age is in a given area, which helps public health authorities target their actions. It guides entrepreneurs who are looking for opportunities, by mapping out the average income in a given region. It also helps community organizations that want to reach out to a specific clientele.
Let us talk about the status of French, since today is the International Day of La Francophonie. The status of French in Canada is another example that proves how useful the census can be. The data collected made it possible to accurately follow major linguistic trends, thereby allowing governments to adapt their policies in order to ensure the vitality of the French language. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister could not care less. He has decided to put his own ideological interests ahead of the country's interests.
For a government that claims to care about important issues like economic development, public health, the environment and the status of French, its attitude—tossing aside all scientific data and muzzling scientists—is not very responsible.
In my opinion, good public policies should be based on proven, credible facts. We will continue to advocate for complete freedom for all Canadian researchers and an end to this censorship.
I hope the Conservatives will put their shoulders to the wheel and support this important motion, so that our scientists can restore their image, regain their zeal and continue to participate in the essential research that Canada so desperately needs. Above all, I hope that we can give new hope to young Canadians who are thinking about a future in innovation, research, science and technology.
Ms. Hélène LeBlanc (LaSalle—Émard, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to share with you my experience as it pertains to this matter.
In 2004, I went back to school to complete a BA in the pure sciences. It was a wonderful experience to submit to the rigour of scientific inquiry. My studies in agricultural and environmental sciences were a wonderful experience because of the team work and the quest for answers to our questions. It is interesting to note that when we asked a question or formulated a hypothesis, other questions surfaced. That is what science is all about.
Knowledge is rooted in science. When we engage in scientific inquiry or conduct experiments, we are searching for science. These studies allowed me to look at the world in a different way and to take another look at the universe, whether it was an infinitely small universe or an infinitely immense universe, in microbiology or in physics. These studies provide the opportunity to see the world in a different light.
The 2011 election gave me the opportunity to become an MP and sit in Parliament. In my opinion, Parliament is a place for debate where we ask ourselves questions and look for the best solutions to the important issues brought before us. Parliament Hill and the public service employees who serve Canadians exist to help parliamentarians find the answers they need so that the laws introduced in the House of Commons are based on facts, evidence and probative data from Statistics Canada or scientific research.
Public research is interesting. As my colleague said earlier, research and development is carried out by universities and industries, and also by the government. That is called public research. In Canada, for a number of decades, we have been interested in various subjects. We are a Nordic country, with a particular climate. Thus, we are interested in meteorological data. In fact, Canada began establishing meteorological stations in the mid-1800s and even earlier.
These data have been collected over the years and allow us to see daily weather trends. Meteorological data allow us to see if it is time for farmers to plant or, later in the year, to harvest, or if we should be wearing a winter coat or a raincoat. When these meteorological data are collected over a number of years, they also reveal climate trends.
It is the same for environmental data. Environmental monitoring must take place over a number of years.
The beauty of public scientific research is that it provides the data needed to track trends. That is what the Experimental Lakes Area did. Since 1968, when this program was established, the region has served as a living laboratory to answer our questions about, say, lakes that were dead. What was the cause? What would fix the problem? The ELA allowed us—and will allow us, if the government wakes up and realizes the need to continue—to collect essential data. It is very important for us as parliamentarians and Canadians.
I would also like to point out that while I was in Vancouver, I was one of the only parliamentarians who attended the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference. I had the opportunity to meet with science professionals who denounced the muzzling of scientists, which we have already talked about. I spoke about my studies and the importance of being able to debate issues and how to address them.
Then, last spring, I participated in a protest against muzzling scientists. It was very exciting to see a number of scientists rise up during the protest to denounce this.