Liberals Unmuzzle Canadian Scientists, Promise They Can Now 'Speak Freely'

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Adrian Wyld/CP
Adrian Wyld/CP

In 2014, The Canadian Press exchanged 110 emails with 16 different government officials, trying to land an interview with a Canadian scientist about rock snot.

They were unsuccessful.

The Liberals have said things will be different, and it seems they're making good on that promise.

"Our government values science and will treat scientists with respect. This is why government scientists and experts will be able to speak freely about their work to the media and the public," said Navdeep Bains, Canada's new minister of innovation, science and economic development, in a statement on Friday afternoon.

The change comes after years of criticism that Stephen Harper and the former governing Conservatives "muzzled" scientists, barring them from speaking to the media. The Tory policy was the frequent target of protests and petitions, including one signed by 800 scientists from across 32 countries in 2014.

During the federal election campaign, Justin Trudeau pledged to change how scientists are treated in the country. On their website, the Liberals promised to "eliminate all regulations that censor government scientists," and even create a government-funded research portal to ensure easy access to information.

The Liberals were applauded on Wednesday, as they took the first step to fulfilling their promise by reinstating the Minister of Science position. Kristy Duncan, who was named to the portfolio, promised to "restore science".

The change is already in action. Scientists at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans were told Thursday they can now speak to the media, David Prince, the director of Canadian Hydrographic Service, told the Toronto Star.

"Scientists look forward to talking about their science, so it was welcome," he said.

On Friday, one of CBC's health reporters, Pauline Dakin, wrote that in the past six to eight years she has never been granted an interview with the health minister.

But twice this week, her colleagues, including radio host Nicole MacLennan, were able to speak with Liberal ministers Kent Hehr and Bains within an hour of requesting interviews.

"It was very exciting," said MacLennan.

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