Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Silence of the Labs

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) aired an episode of The Fifth Estate on Friday night. I taped it and watched it yesterday between curling matches and the Canadian figure skating championships.1

The Fifth Estate program documents the shutting down of various government labs by the Conservative government of Stephen Harper. The title says it all: Silence of the Labs. Follow the link and you can watch the entire program. I highly recommend that you watch the first two minutes to get the gist of what's happening in Canada.

Here's part of the summary that appears on the CBC website ...
Scientists across the country are expressing growing alarm that federal cutbacks to research programs monitoring areas that range from climate change and ocean habitats to public health will deprive Canadians of crucial information.

"What’s important is the scale of the assault on knowledge, and on our ability to know about ourselves and to advance our understanding of our world," said James Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers.

In the past five years the federal government has dismissed more than 2,000 scientists, and hundreds of programs and world-renowned research facilities have lost their funding. Programs that monitored things such as smoke stack emissions, food inspections, oil spills, water quality and climate change have been drastically cut or shut down.

The fifth estate requested interviews with two senior bureaucrats and four cabinet ministers with responsibility for resources, the environment and science. All of those requests were denied.

On Tuesday, the fifth estate received a statement from the office of Greg Rickford, Minister of State for Science and Technology, and the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario.

"Our government has made record investments in science," it stated. "We are working to strengthen partnerships to get more ideas from the lab to the marketplace and increase our wealth of knowledge. Research is vibrant and flourishing right across the country."

But members of the scientific community disagree. CBC’s the fifth estate spoke to scientists across the country who are concerned that Canadians will suffer if their elected leaders have to make policy decisions without the benefit of independent, fact-based science.
The CBC is a crown corporation. That means it has to report to a branch of the government and some its Board of Directors are government appointees. A lot of its funding comes from the Federal Government.

You probably won't be surprised to learn that the CBC is also under attack from the Harper government. I don't think that pressure is going to diminish once Conservative MPs see this program.

[Photo Credit: I took this picture during a protest on Parliament Hill in July 2012. There are videos in the Fifth Estate program but I didn't see any glimpses of me of any of my friends.]

1. So many exciting things on television—one has to have priorities. I don't watch the Leafs any more.