Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Tories’ assault on science is bad for nature and the economy

All this government wants is to have quick jobs in place before the next election, science be damned

With the U.S. Republican National Convention in full swing as I write, the fight between fact and fantasy rages on south of the border, barely acknowledged but painfully present.

It flared up when Todd Akin, the GOP Senate candidate in Missouri, made up “facts” about human biology to back up his belief that all abortions are evil. In a similar vein, more Alabama and Mississippi Republicans believe President Barack Obama is a Muslim than a Christian.

In Canada, however, our prime minister assures us we’re not like that. On the biggest economic issue facing B.C. today – approval of the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline – “science, not politics” will determine the outcome.

So, in the interests of science, let’s check the data on the Harper government’s belief in science, facts and evidence.

We could start with the cancellation of the Environmental Lakes project that monitored 58 small lakes across northwestern Ontario. It was created to save Lake Erie and discovered that the phosphorous making our laundry white was clogging waterways with algae soup. That evidence led to getting phosphorous out of detergents, enabling the lakes to recover. The project’s work on acid rain led to air pollution changes that saved more lakes. When it was shut down, the project was working on the effects of climate change on these lakes. One scientist said the shutdown imposed a “blindfold of ignorance … on our once great country.”

Not just a blindfold. A muzzle has also been applied to our scientists, preventing experts from speaking publicly about publicly funded research – unless they get foot-dragging approval from the prime minister’s communication office. That long process has contributed to an 80% drop in media coverage of climate change, according to a leaked Environment Canada document.

The Harper government has also cancelled funding for a decade-long climate research project, the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Science (CFACS). Its $117 million budget supported almost 200 projects that have led to breakthroughs in climatology, meteorology and oceanography.

CFCAS chairman Gordon McBean called these closures “a nightmare scenario for scientists across the country.”

Four former fisheries ministers and 625 Canadian scientists spoke out against Bill C-38’s new fisheries regulations that will stop scientific evidence from getting in the way of industrial project approvals.

In July, 2,000 scientists rallied in Ottawa to draw attention to “The Death of Evidence” in Canada, one of them saying “an iron curtain is being drawn between science and society.”

And this government has the gall to say it relies on science for its decision-making?

The Harper government has also reduced funding for research at Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the National Research Council Canada, Statistics Canada and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). It appointed climate change doubters like ex-Fraser Institute executive director Mark Mullins and former Tory cabinet minister Maxime Bernier to the NSERC board.

It shut down the National Round Table on Environment and Economy, an arm’s-length body providing independent advice on environmental protection, because it didn’t like their advice.

It didn’t renew the National Science Advisor post in 2008.

It ended the long-form census that provides data for informed evidence-based decisions.

Former Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland said: “If we compromise on scientific ... evidence, repairing nature will be enormously costly – if possible. Politics that disregard science and knowledge will not stand the test of time.”

All this government wants is to have quick jobs in place before the next election, science be damned. Unfortunately, jobs based on fantasies will never survive the test of time.

Just ask Newfoundland’s cod fishermen – if you can find any. •