Federal Science Minister Gary Goodyear moved to cut short a brewing controversy Tuesday over his views on evolution.
Goodyear raised eyebrows when he refused to tell the Globe and Mail if he believed in the science of evolution. But the minister of state for science and technology clarified Tuesday that he does indeed believe in it.
"We're evolving all the time," Goodyear said in an interview. "Of course I believe in evolution."
Goodyear said he initially refused to answer the newspaper's question because it was "irrelevant," since his beliefs have nothing to do with government policy.
Goodyear has been under fire lately over budget cuts that have left researchers across the country scrambling to find the money to continue their experiments.
The Globe and Mail had reported that some scientists suspect Goodyear is hostile toward science, "perhaps because he is a creationist."
But Goodyear, a self-described Christian, said religious beliefs — his or anyone else's in government — have no bearing on federal science policy.
"Our decisions on the science and tech file are not based on what one reporter wants to have people believe, which is that religion somehow forms a part of our policy," he said.
He said science policy is developed by "a multitude of people," in consultation with scientific advisory bodies, research granting councils and other stakeholders.
Far from being hostile, Goodyear argued that the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper has increased funding for science in every budget, including committing $5.1 billion over three years in the most recent budget.
A spokesman for Harper also stressed that religious beliefs have no bearing federal science strategy.
Kory Teneycke defended Goodyear's refusal to answer the initial Globe and Mail question, arguing that agreeing to discuss his beliefs would have given credence to the idea that religion plays a role in science policy.
"It's a dangerous road to go down to make religious beliefs a part of science funding," Teneycke said.
"Once you start going down that road, you really are opening Pandora's box."
Critic questions Goodyear's initial silence
Still, NDP science critic Jim Maloway questioned why Goodyear didn't just answer the question in the first place, and wondered if he was ordered by the Prime Minister's Office to snuff out any controversy by belatedly proclaiming a belief in evolution.
"I guess you have to take his word for it, but I would be suspicious that the management wouldn't be all over this," Maloway said.
Creationist beliefs have caused trouble for the Conservatives and their predecessor parties in the past. In the 2000 election, Stockwell Day, then leader of the Canadian Alliance, was ridiculed for suggesting the Earth was 6,000 years old and that humans once shared the planet with dinosaurs.
During a TV panel, Liberal strategist Warren Kinsella held up a stuffed purple dinosaur and reminded Day that, "The Flintstones was not a documentary."
Kinsella, who will head up the election war room for current Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, used his blog Tuesday to draw parallels between Day and Goodyear. Borrowing from The Flintstones theme song, he referred to Harper's "modern stone-age government" and called Tories "kooks right out of history."
However, the Liberals' official science critic was kinder to Goodyear. While he criticized funding cuts to research granting councils and the government's fixation on commercializing research, Marc Garneau said there doesn't seem to be any religious motivation to the decisions.
"With respect to science policy, I can not honestly say I've seen a direct link — so far," said Garneau, a former astronaut and onetime head of the Canadian Space Agency.