Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Capt. Trevor Greene

GET UPDATES FROM Capt. Trevor Greene
 

How the Harper Government Committed a Knowledge Massacre

Posted: 01/03/2014 12:07 pm

Scientists are calling it "libricide." Seven of the nine world-famous Department of Fisheries and Oceans [DFO] libraries were closed by autumn 2013, ostensibly to digitize the materials and reduce costs. But sources told the independent Tyee in December that a fraction of the 600,000-volume collection had been digitized. And, a secret federal document notes that a paltry $443,000 a year will be saved. The massacre was done quickly, with no record keeping and no attempt to preserve the material in universities. Scientists said precious collections were consigned to dumpsters, were burned or went to landfills.

Probably the most famous facility to get the axe is the library of the venerable St. Andrews Biological Station in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, which environmental scientist Rachel Carson used extensively to research her seminal book on toxins, Silent Spring. The government just spent millions modernizing the facility.

Also closed were the Freshwater Institute library in Winnipeg and the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Centre in St. John's, Newfoundland, both world-class collections. Hundreds of years of carefully compiled research into aquatic systems, fish stocks and fisheries from the 1800s and early 1900s went into the bin or up in smoke.

Irreplaceable documents like the 50 volumes produced by the H.M.S. Challenger expedition of the late 1800s that discovered thousands of new sea creatures, are now moldering in landfills.

Renowned Dalhousie University biologist Jeff Hutchings calls the closures "an assault on civil society."

"It is always unnerving from a research and scientist perspective to watch a government undermine basic research. Losing libraries is not a neutral act," Hutchings says. He blames political convictions for the knowledge massacre.

"It must be about ideology. Nothing else fits," said Hutchings. "What that ideology is, is not clear. Does it reflect that part of the Harper government that doesn't think government should be involved in the very things that affect our lives? Or is it that the role of government is not to collect books or fund science?" Hutchings said the closures fit into a larger pattern of "fear and insecurity" within the Harper government, "about how to deal with science and knowledge."

Many scientists have compared the war on environmental science to the rise of fascism in 1930s Europe. Hutchings muses, "you look at the rise of certain political parties in the 1930s and have to ask how could that happen and how did they adopt such extreme ideologies so quickly, and how could that happen in a democracy today?"

ALSO ON HUFFPOST:

Loading Slideshow...
  • Cuts To Science In Canada

    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.

  • Advanced Laser Light Source Project (Varennes, Quebec)

    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 <a href="http://kennedystewart.ndp.ca/sites/default/files/kennedystewart.ndp.ca/field_attached_files/mrs_program_moratorium_impact_report_0.pdf" target="_blank">report by the office of NDP MP Kennedy Stewart</a>, opposition critic for science and technology.

  • Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre (Bamfield, B.C.)

    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.

  • Canadian Coast Guard Ship Amundsen Research Cuts

    Canada’s 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.

  • Experimental Lakes Area (Kenora District, Ontario)

    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 — although <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/03/19/experimental-lakes-area-tories-scientists_n_2910022.html" target="_blank">sources told The Canadian Press</a> 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,<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/04/24/ontario-ela-open-for-year_n_3146662.html" target="_blank"> announced April 24 that it would help keep ELA open</a>). 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 America’s acid rain problem in the 1970s and 1980s among other breakthroughs in areas of toxic contaminants, algae and flooding by reservoirs.

  • Canadian Neutron Beam Centre, Chalk River, Ont.

    $1.27-million shortfall due MRS moratorium. Training for users and students will be scaled back significantly.

  • IsoTrace AMS facility (University of Ottawa, Ontario)

    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.

  • Kluane Lake Research Centre, Yukon

    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, <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2012/07/10/f-kluane-glacier-research.html" target="_blank">CBC reports</a>.

  • Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences, Ottawa

    Launched by the Liberal government under Jean Chrétien in 2000, the foundation awarded more than $100 million in grants for university-led research. In 2011, the federal government’s 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.

  • Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (Nunavut)

    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.

  • The Canadian Centre for Isotopic Microanalysis (University of Alberta, Edmonton)

    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.

  • The National High Field Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Centre (Edmonton, Alberta)

    Program in jeopardy due to MRS moratorium, <a href="http://kennedystewart.ndp.ca/sites/default/files/kennedystewart.ndp.ca/field_attached_files/mrs_program_moratorium_impact_report_0.pdf" target="_blank">according to the NDP</a>.

  • The National Ultrahigh-Field NMR Facility for Solids (University of Ottawa)

    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,<a href="http://kennedystewart.ndp.ca/sites/default/files/kennedystewart ndp.ca/field_attached_files/mrs_program_moratorium_impact_report 0.pdf" target="_blank"> according to the NDP</a>.

  • Office of the National Science Adviser

    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.

  • National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy

    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 — including the idea of introducing carbon taxes. The <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/05/14/national-round table-on-the-environment-and-the-economy-funding_n_1516240.html" target="_blank">Tories confirmed they cut funding because of the group's focus on carbon taxes</a>.

 
FOLLOW CANADA POLITICS