Canada's war on science

02933935.jpg A protester wearing a Grim Reaper costume stands on Parliament Hill during a rally on Tuesday July 10, 2012, in Ottawa to protest the federal government's cuts to science policies. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

First aired on Shift (09/10/13)

In July 2012, hundreds of scientists marched on Parliament Hill to protest what they described as "the death of evidence" due to cuts to research programs by the Harper government. Now journalist and author Chris Turner has published a new book that sheds light on the situation. He talked about The War on Science: Muzzled Scientists and Willful Blindness in Stephen Harper's Canada in a recent interview on Shift.

Turner acknowledged that it might seem extreme to characterize the government's actions as a "deliberate attack on scientific research." But he added that particular researchers were being told they couldn't talk to the press or public about their work, and weren't allowed to answer questions at conferences.

war_on_scence.jpg Turner told host Paul Castle that the omnibus budget bill of 2012 really targeted environmental monitoring in particular, and that scientists themselves were surprised by "the arbitrariness and the intensity" of it. He pointed to the Experimental Lakes Area facility, which lost its funding despite being "a one-of-kind facility it has an international reputation for doing ground-breaking research" according to one scientist. "I think if you work in front-line environmental science, if you're drawing a salary form the federal government, you definitely feel like this is not the safest place to be."

Turner said that the pattern of cuts indicates a "very, very clear, deliberate strategy to reduce the government's own capacity to produce data that will get in the way of certain kinds of policy, particularly regarding large-scale resource extraction and development." He went on to say that the government has openly stated that its priority is "making Canada the most friendly jurisdiction in the world for resource development."

Turner believes that there's an ideological principle at the heart of the policy. He argues that Harper and his government want "to make things as smooth and as easy as possible for industry, and otherwise to get out of the way."

Turner also argues that the government has targeted environmental monitoring because although it can discount independent research, data from the government's own agencies is harder to ignore. He cited the rewriting of the Fisheries Act, in which language was changed "basically to reduce what's protected," resulting in "a much less robust legal document."

Though the public at large may not be aware of what's going on, Turner said that many of the sources he talked to for the book, on and off the record, are concerned. "There is much more widespread dissent than we even know, but there's definitely sort of a climate of fear around communicating any kind of message at all to the public or even to colleagues in a forum."

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