Harper Government Must Set Canadian Scientists Free

By Obert Madondo |  | Published June 28, 2012, by The Canadian Progressive

Nature, one of the biggest and most-read scientific journals in the world, is lamenting the Harper Government’s undisguised hostility to openness, expert opinion, and publicly-funded scientific expertise. Rightly so.

At some point, the government’s stated communication policy, posted on a federal website and directed civil servants, was to: “Provide the public with timely, accurate, clear, objective and complete information about its policies, programs, services and initiatives.” That was then. Long before Harper and the Conservatives became entrenched and power-mad.

In a February 29th editorial, Nature observed:

Since Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party won power in 2006, there has been a gradual tightening of media protocols for federal scientists and other government workers. Researchers who once would have felt comfortable responding freely and promptly to journalists are now required to direct inquiries to a media-relations office, which demands written questions in advance, and might not permit scientists to speak. Canadian journalists have documented several instances in which prominent researchers have been prevented from discussing published, peer-reviewed literature. Policy directives and e-mails obtained from the government through freedom of information reveal a confused and Byzantine approach to the press, prioritizing message control and showing little understanding of the importance of the free flow of scientific knowledge.

The situation has gotten worse since the article’s publication. Nuked: the world-renowned Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) near Kenora in northwestern Ontario.

World-renowned Canadian environmentalist, Dr. David Suzuki, was forced to quit the David Suzuki Foundation after government allocated $8 million to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to crackdown on charities engaged in so-called “political activities.”

But that wasn’t enough for the right-wing Big Oil lobby group, EthicalOil.org. The group recently dispatched a 44-page letter to the CRA asking the agency to investigate the David Suzuki Foundation, and “review” its charitable status.

Meanwhile, changes to the proposed by Bill C-38, the omnibus budget recently rammed through Parliament, seek to weaken or eliminate Canada’s once-mighty environmental protections. Particularly the Fisheries Act. Jeffrey A. Hutchings, President of the Canadian Society For Ecology and Evolution, a professor in the Department of Biology at Dalhousie University, expressed his concerns in this letter to Keith Ashfield, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans.

The Harper Government isn’t listening. It continues to muzzle scientists. It refuses to let them speak freely with the press. Research results are censored and sanitized before they’re publicly released.

By comparison, Barack Obama and the U.S. government are heading the opposite direction. Nature has observed that federal agencies, “including the US National Science Foundation (NSF) and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued guidelines that promote openness with the press.”
The call is worth repeating: Time for the Harper Government to set Canadian scientists free!

Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based progressive blogger, and the founder and editor of The Canadian Progressive. Follow him on Twitter: @Obiemad