Politics has âunderminedâ science in Canada and itâs time voters make it an election issue, an Ottawa group urges.
Evidence for Democracy (E4D), a non-profit organization that advocates on behalf of the scientific community, has created a website that calls out the federal government for actions the group says have sabotaged Canadian progress and prosperity.
âWeâre really trying to get across the sort of idea that science and government making smart, informed decisions is part of what made Canada such a great country,â the groupâs executive director Dr. Katie Gibbs said in an interview with The Huffington Post Canada.
Launched days before Sundayâs writ drop, True North Smart + Free centralizes records of research funding cuts and instances of scientific censorship.
Screengrab of the new True North Smart + Free website.
âI think most people donât understand that science underpins most of the issues that we do end up discussing. You know, things like economic policies, social policies, the environment,â the former Environment Canada research consultant said.
âScience and research is so essential for making good decisions on all of these issues.â
The closure of seven research libraries and an internal government memo accusing an oil sands researcher of âbiasâ are among cases the website highlights.
Visitors to the website are asked to take the âscience pledgeâ â a non-binding declaration condemning ârestrictive rules,â promising support for actions that champion a transparent, evidence-based political system that serves in the public interest.
A long list of names shows federal candidates among those who have taken the pledge, including Liberal MP Marc Garneau, NDP MPs Paul Dewar and Kennedy Stewart, and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May.
Gibbs has been involved with past Green Party campaigns during and after the 2011 election.
When asked why the issue is significant, she explained there's more to the campaigns than election-time politicking â itâs about the publicâs right to having policies shaped by scientific evidence, not just politics.
âItâs more of a concern about the state of our democracy. Especially when you look at the muzzling of scientists issue. Thatâs not just a science issue,â she said on the topic of what keeps her stirring at night.
âHaving freedom of speech, having an informed electorate. Itâs really that erosion of democracy that keeps me up at night the most.â
Scientific Freedoms And âLong-Term Prosperityâ
In 2013, hundreds of scientists made their way to Parliament Hill to protest the muzzling of their peers and cuts made to research funding.
âAs a commentary on the state of affairs, when people like me start showing up wearing their lab coats having come from their laboratories, things are pretty bleak,â University of Ottawa professor Jeremy Kerr said to the crowd at the time.
Scientists had gathered to call out tightly reinforced government polices barring free communication between media and federal scientists without the involvement of department media officials.
Then-minister of science and technology Greg Rickford responded to the furor at the time with a statement.
âOur government is committed to science, technology and innovation and taking ideas to the marketplace,â the Conservative MP said. âCanada is ranked number one among G7 countries for its higher education expenditures on research and development.â
He added that jobs, economic growth and âlong-term prosperityâ are the governmentâs aspirations.
Union: Free The Facts
Nearly two years after the âStand Up for Scienceâ protests, federal scientists and the unions representing them are still condemning bottleneck access rules and continued funding cuts.
Ten science-based departments and agencies will have lost $2.6 billion and 7,500 jobs by 2017, according to the Professional institute of the Public Service of Canada.
âFacts shouldnât be denied, they should be talked about. The government has to restore funding to world-class government research programs and facilities, negotiate scientific integrity provisions, and let its scientists do their jobs,â said union president Debi Daviau in May.
Last week, news of a successful Canadian-led Ebola vaccine trial offering complete protection from the deadly virus made international headlines. The scientific achievement was heralded as âan extremely promising developmentâ by World Health Organization chief Margaret Chan.
In Canada, a country directly involved in the landmark field trial, comment or reaction of any kind from government scientists proved difficult to get even under extraordinary circumstances, according to CTV's Kevin Newman.
â Kevin Newman (@KevinNewmanCTV) August 1, 2015
With files from The Canadian Press
Related on HuffPost:
A selection of programs and research facilities being closed, downsized or in jeopardy due to federal funding cuts or policy changes made by the Conservative government.
May be forced to close in 2014 if new funding isn't secured due to moratorium on the Major Resources Support Program (MRS) at Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). Several of the following MRS cuts are detailed in a report by the office of NDP MP Kennedy Stewart, opposition critic for science and technology.
Losing a third of his research budget, worth about $500,000 a year. The money runs out April 1, 2014 due to MRS moratorium at NSERC.
Canadaâs only icebreaker dedicated to research has received $2.8 million in total MRS funding. Moratorium on MRS will result in far less research and higher costs to charter; loss of four technicians out of six.
The government announced the closure of the Experimental Lakes Area run by Fisheries and Oceans Canada in northwestern Ontario. The cuts will save it about $2 million a year â although sources told The Canadian Press the actual operating cost of the facility is about $600,000 annually, of which a third comes back in user fees. (The Ontario government, working with Ottawa, Manitoba and others, announced April 24 that it would help keep ELA open). The facility, an outdoor laboratory consisting of 58 lakes, laboratories and living quarters, has been in operation since 1968 and is credited with helping solve North Americaâs acid rain problem in the 1970s and 1980s among other breakthroughs in areas of toxic contaminants, algae and flooding by reservoirs.
$1.27-million shortfall due MRS moratorium. Training for users and students will be scaled back significantly.
High precision measurement of radiocarbon and other trace radionuclides for geological dating and tracing in the earth and environmental sciences. Operation in jeopardy. The facility recently received $16 million in funding from the Ontario government and Canadian Foundation for Innovation to set up new geoscience labs at the University of Ottawa. It was counting on $125,000 per year from MRS to maintain operations. That funding was to increase with new facilities. "It is shameful that our main funding organization for the sciences has decided that it should withdraw from supporting solid empirical research through funding laboratories," a spokesperson said.
The Kluane Lake facility, one of Canada's oldest research facilities, lost $106,000 due to MRS cuts. The facility is run by the Arctic Institute of North America, a joint U.S.-Canada research operation that is administered by the University of Calgary along with the University of Alaska, CBC reports.
Launched by the Liberal government under Jean ChrĂ©tien in 2000, the foundation awarded more than $100 million in grants for university-led research. In 2011, the federal governmentâs first omnibus budget bill killed the foundation. At the time, the government said it would replace some of the funds with $35 million to be distributed through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) over five years for all climate research activities.
Located on Ellesmere Island near Eureka, Nunavut, it is one of the most remote weather stations in the world and does key research on climate change, ozone and air quality. Closed after it lost $1.5 million in annual funding due to the closure of the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences.
MRS moratorium means the centre no longer has an open door policy for Canadian researchers or a special reduced NSERC rate for research conducted by Canadians in the labs. "The long-term prognosis for the geochronology labs is not good," a spokesperson said.
Program in jeopardy due to MRS moratorium, according to the NDP.
The facility will close without MRS funding, leaving $10 million in capital equipment idle, including the only Canadian-based 900 MHz Bruker Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometer, according to the NDP.
The office, created in 2004 by the Liberal government of Paul Martin and led by Arthur Carty, pictured, was intended to provide independent expert advice to the prime minister on matters of national policy related to science, ranging from nanotechnology, high energy particle physics and ocean technologies to climate change and the environment. The Harper government closed the office in 2008.
Funding for the arm's length, independent advisory group was cut in the 2011 budget and the group wound down in 2012. Since 1988, it had been producing research on how business and government policies can work together for sustainable development â including the idea of introducing carbon taxes. The Tories confirmed they cut funding because of the group's focus on carbon taxes.