Print Edition: April 3, 2013
Late last month, the Conservative government defeated a motion intended to enable scientists to openly discuss their findings.
The motion, if passed, would have acknowledged that basic research and scientific information is essential to evidence-based policy-making, and demonstrated the government’s commitment to science by renewing its support for the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) research facility.
Burnaby-Douglas MP Kennedy Stewart of the NDP proposed the motion.
“Science is not test tubes or data sets or microscopes or space stations, but a method by which we explore and attempt to explain our world,” he stated, continuing on to say that, without public disclosure of scientific data, “we do not generate science but mere propaganda.”
Conservative and Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon MP Mark Strahl took the other side of the issue and voted against the motion.
“The motion was unnecessary,” he said in his statement to The Cascade. “No government in Canadian history has invested in science and technology like our Conservative government has.”
The motion was debated in the House of Commons for two-and-a-half hours before it was defeated in a vote of 157 to 137. The vote was divided by party, with exclusively Conservative MPs voting against.
Another Conservative Fraser Valley MP, Randy Kamp (representing Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge-Mission) also spoke up during the debate.
“The nature of science requires us to look at what we are doing from time to time and ensure that it is focused on the things we need to know and the priorities we have set for ourselves as a department and as a country,” he said.
However, according to a letter from former operations manager of the Experimental Lakes Area facility John Shearer, at least some scientists would disagree.
“Only in relatively pristine lakes, under relatively controlled conditions, and over years of study, can we begin to find meaningful solutions to problems that are damaging our lakes, rivers and fish populations,” Shearer wrote to the editor of the Kenora Daily Miner and News in December. He alleged that the government funding “is for industrial and commercial science, not environmental science. It is for science intended to […] extract natural resources and promote industrial development.”
Since the 1960s, the ELA has been a resource for the international community in studying aquaculture and human effects on the environment. The ELA costs the government about $2 million to run each year.
Kamp, who is also the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, asserted that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans “has been spending $200 million or so every year on science, and it continues to do so.”
Taking these numbers into account, ELA takes up one per cent of that annual estimation.
“It deeply saddens me when I think of how this government […] has surrendered this critical international research facility to loggers’ chainsaws.” Stewart said in the debate. “Instead of being used to solve questions such as the effect of silver nanoparticles on the environment, the forests around the lakes are likely to be logged bare.”
Gary Goodyear, Minister of State (Science and Technology) noted that “what we want to do is ensure that the tax dollars we are spending on science and technology, at record historic levels, are spent on the needs of the nation. Those needs change. The world faces different challenges from one year to the next.”
Goodyear emphasized that the Conservative government is building research capacity that will benefit society economically.
In a statement released by Stewart after the motion was defeated, he promised that “despite the Conservatives’ rejection of this motion, [the NDP] will not waver in our commitment to defend scientific freedoms, evidence-based policy and basic scientific research from the Conservatives and the reckless policies.”