Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The darkest of ages — the Con Age

Scientific inquiry not compatible with Conservative information control
I gave the following 10-minute speech on Tuesday, June 5th, in the House of Commons. The speech was on an Opposition Day Motion that called on the Conservative government to end its muzzling of scientists and to reverse recent cuts to research and data-gathering programs. 

Mr. Speaker, 

Fifteen years ago in 1997, three respected Canadian university scientists wrote a paper with a fascinating title: Is Scientific Inquiry Incompatible with Government Information Control?

In other words — if that wasn’t put simply enough — can science co-exist with government manipulation?

That’s a very good question. 

Here’s a line from that 1997 controversial report:

“Scientists were also explicitly ordered, as they are today, not to discuss ‘politically sensitive matters’ with the public, irrespective of the scientific basis, and publication status, of the scientists’ concerns.”

Mr. Speaker, I ask you, does that sound like scientists have been muzzled?

Because it does to me. 

Let me read from the summary of that 1997 report:

“There is a clear and immediate need for Canadians to examine very seriously the role of bureaucrats and politicians in the management of Canada’s natural resources. 

The present framework of government departments such as the DFO is based on the belief that the conservation of natural resources is best ensured by science integrated within a political body. 

Recent history would suggest otherwise.”

The recent history that would suggest otherwise, Mr. Speaker, was the fall of the fisheries. 

Scientists were just a little bit off when they missed the collapse of what was once the largest fish resource on Earth — northern cod on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. 

The trouble with science in Canada — fish science, for example, Mr. Speaker — is that it’s tainted by politics. 

Science is manipulated and massaged by politicians and bureaucrats to meet their own ends, their own objectives — that’s the way it works. 

The short answer is no, Mr. Speaker, scientific inquiry is not compatible with government information control  — key word being control. 
I have seen too many examples of it over my time as a journalist and editor, and my short time as a Member of Parliament. 
As for the motion we’re debating here today, calling on the Conservative government to end its muzzling of scientists, the Conservative government will say that scientists aren’t being muzzled, Mr. Speaker. 
That science isn’t being manipulated. 
That’s not the case. 
Back in December, on the floor of the House of Commons during Question Period, the minister of Fisheries and Oceans was questioned about how scientists were reportedly afraid to go public with concerns about cuts to Fisheries and Oceans. 
In response, the minister said, “Do I look like a bully?”
I was next to speak, Mr. Speaker, and I answered the minister’s question. 
I said the minister did indeed look like a bully, although I later apologized — and it was a sincere apology. 
The minister does not look like a bully — he looks like a stereotypical Canadian grandfather. 
That’s not how government scientists are bullied, not directly by ministers, it doesn’t work that way, Mr. Speaker. 
It’s not in-your-face bullying.
It’s not blatant muzzling.
It’s more subtle than that. 
On that particular day back in December when the minister of Fisheries and Oceans asked whether he looked like a bully, he was responding to questions about how employees feared they could face sanctions or suspension for remarks on federal job losses within the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

According to their union, scientists were worried about cuts to Fisheries and Oceans but could not speak for fear of being blacklisted. 

As with all cuts, the Conservative government said they would have no negative impact on research. 

But what else are they going to say. 

The scientists say otherwise. 

Or they would, if they weren’t going to be blacklisted “for the rest of their lives.”

The media policy in place at Fisheries and Oceans is similar to what was implemented at Environment Canada. 

Scientists there cannot speak to reporters even about their own research until it is cleared through a network of public relations and even the Prime Minister’s office. 

Last fall, an international research team reported a massive Arctic ozone hole opened had up over the Northern Hemisphere.  

The hole — about twice the size of Ontario — would allow high levels of harmful ultraviolet radiation to hit large swaths of northern Canada, Europe and Russia. 
Environment Canada scientist David Tarasick, whose team played a key role in the report published in the journal Nature, wasn’t allowed to discuss the discovery with the media.

Fisheries and Oceans scientist Kristi Miller was told not to give interviews about her research on the causes of sockeye salmon decline in British Columbia — even though her research had been published in Nature

Scott Dallimore, a Natural Resources geoscientist who had an article published in Nature about a flood 13,000 years ago in Northern Canada, was denied the right to speak to the media until after the media’s deadline had elapsed. 

Mr. Speaker, this is frequently how the muzzling occurs. 

Mr. Speaker, I was a journalist for 20 years — I was a reporter and a persistent one. 

I was like a dog with a bone. 

Earlier in my career I would be allowed to sit down with a scientist one on one — no problem. 

By the end of my career, I wasn’t allowed to sit down with a scientist — even with a public relations official at their side. 

I had to submit questions in advance, in writing, and get an official, formal response. 

Are scientists being muzzled?

Take it to the bank, Mr. Speaker. 

The prestigious British journal Nature has written two editorials in the last two years calling “the Canadian government to set its scientists free.”

The truth will set us free, Mr. Speaker. 

The truth, not as the Conservatives see it, but the pure and untainted truth. 

The Conservatives are taking the art of muzzling to another level, Mr. Speaker. 

The ultimate muzzling is to eliminate the person being muzzled altogether, to eliminate the position, to eliminate search and data-gathering programs. 

If — under the Liberals — we had the decade of darkness under the Conservatives we have entered another period of dark ages. 

The darkest of ages, Mr. Speaker — the Con Age.  

Conage is a new word, according to the Urban Dictionary.  

It means completely and utterly owned. 

The Conservative government is attempting to eliminate all opposition and opposing opinion by eliminating the information at the source. 

Welcome to the Con Age, Mr. Speaker. 

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative government’s Trojan Horse budget makes sweeping cuts to departments, agencies and organizations that engage in research and data collection. 

Meaning, scientific research is being increasingly corralled into demand driven funding models to service profit-driven demands from big industry. 

Big industry, Mr. Speaker, which is who this Conservative government caters to. 

Budget 2012 eliminates the National Roundtable on the Environment and Economy. 

By year’s end funding will be cut to a team of seven smokestack air pollution specialists who cracked down on toxic pollution that kills more than 21,000 Canadians a year. 

Environment Canada will lose 20 per cent of a budget of a key program that checks to see whether the mining industry meets emission standards. 

The unit at Environment Canada that responds to oil-spill emergencies will be dramatically scaled back and most of its regional offices will be closed. 

Cuts to Fisheries and Oceans, including the Ocean Pollution Monitoring Program, and seven of the department’s 11 libraries will be gone. 

There are also further cuts to Parks Canada. 

The Conservative government plans to cut funding for the Experimental Lakes area, which studied the impact of acid rain. 

The list goes on and on. 

The Conservatives will say they don’t see a trend, but that’s because their heads are stuck in the Con Age. 

The last thing I want to touch on, Mr. Speaker, is the elimination on the National Council of Welfare, created in 1962 to provide research and poverty in Canada. 

The Council of Welfare was once described by a former director as a friend to the opposition, and a royal pain in the butt once a party takes government. 

No wonder it’s been eliminated, Mr. Speaker. 

I’ve been wearing a wristband since before the federal election. 

I haven’t taken it off, Mr. Speaker. 

The wristband says Make Poverty History. 

Before I make each and every decision as a politician I ask myself how this will impact the Canadian poor. 

The Conservative government should ask itself the same question with respect to the elimination of the National Council on Welfare. 

It will not help poor Canadians; it will make their plight that much harder. 

Mr. Speaker, this past weekend I held a Town Hall in my riding to discuss the Conservative Trojan Horse budget. 

One of the speakers was Chris Hogan, executive director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Environment Network.  

Chris said something about this Conservative government’s gutting of environmental legislation, and cuts in general that has stuck with me. 

He said, “Less science equals less knowledge. It’s basically like driving with the lights off.”

Mr. Speaker, this Conservative government is at the wheel of this country and its driving, full speed, with the lights off.

Not only that, Mr. Speaker, this Conservative government is eliminating the police so there’s less of a chance they’ll be pulled over.

This Conservative government is an accident waiting to happen. 

But make no mistake, Mr. Speaker, there will be a public roadblock in 2015. 

And this Conservative government will be forced off the road.  

And the Con Age will come to a dead stop. 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

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