On May 1, a greeting card was mailed to me from a Canadian scientist who I had never met nor heard of before. This scientist continues to work in a field unrelated to my research and in a federal government lab in another province. Shocked by this week's news that the Harper Tories were closing Environment Canada's Experimental Lakes Area, cutting a smokestack emissions research group and a Department of Fisheries and Oceans contaminants program, I reread it today. Here is what it said:
Dear Dr. Weaver,
Just a quick note to say thank you for your efforts to make public the plight of federal government scientists. Restrictions on our ability to address the public are certainly in place and are being enforced. Like you, I suspect that part of the strategy may be to keep the public from knowing that we do anything to earn our salaries so that somewhere down the line, they will get rid of science in the federal government claiming that we don't do anything anyway...This attack on government science and scientists will have repercussions for science in Canada for years to come...
How prophetic this scientist's words were. But they are also deeply troubling.
It's become evident to me that the Harper government has little understanding of science in general, and the distinction between university, government, and industry research in particular (see my other post). It's also evident to me that the Harper government has an agenda: mortgage our future to maximize short-term profits from the tar sands. And in order to fast track implementation, they squash or remove any obstacles that might slow things down. Is shutting down key groups involved in pollution research and monitoring really in the best interest of the public? I think not.
Equally disturbing is the widespread muzzling of federal scientists.
The media play a critical role in a functioning democracy. First, they widely communicate issues of public interest in a timely fashion. Second, they act as watchdogs over those we elect to make decisions that affect our livelihood. Third, they provide us with a forum for public debate. When the media is stymied from getting access to information, and in particular science, the very foundation of democracy is at stake.
What we're seeing emerge in Canada is the dismantling of scientific institutions that have been in place for decades. These institutions have played important roles in ensuring the health, safety and welfare of the Canadian public. But who needs science when it can sometimes lead to inconvenient results? It's a lot easier for the Feds to simply feed media lines to the Canadian public. Besides, as George Orwell pointed out, Big Brother knows best.
Where are the real Tories willing to put the word "conserve" back into the Conservative Party of Canada? There must be a dozen or so sitting in the backbenches. Do they really want to be part of the legacy of destruction this government is bringing to Canadian science?