It’s a sobering report: the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada’s http://www.pipsc.ca/vanishingscience outlines how the federal government seems intent on erasing the nuisance of scientists and fact-based decision making. Since 2008, federal budget cuts have seen more than 2,000 federal science jobs simply disappear — a raft of cuts seem designed to make sure facts don’t get in the way of government dogma.
How does it feel for scientists inside the federal government? Morale is plunging, and many are looking to escape to places where scientists are valued.
Here’s what a few of them said.
• “In 31 years on the job, never have I witnessed such systematic destruction of the scientific capability of the federal public service.”
• “Science has been cut to the bone; there is no way to reduce further without just stopping.”
• “Cuts to staff have severely reduced the quality of service that DFO is able to provide to industry and the public.”
• “The face of DFO is now virtually gone from communities and especially in the North where all the development is occurring. We are becoming a ‘Banana Republic’ when it comes to environmental legislation and regulations. These wholesale changes are being led by ideology and not cost savings or common sense. The list of threatened and endangered species continues to grow. Salmon stocks are struggling all along the west coast of North America. The number of contaminated sites continues to grow and clean up efforts are tied up in politicized bureaucracy.”
And here, straight from the report, are descriptions of some of Canada’s most senior scientists who have simply been declared redundant.
Dr. Michael Arts, an international authority at Environment Canada on the health of aquatic ecosystems.
Dr. Kenneth C. Johnson, a senior epidemiologist at the Public Health Agency of Canada and the only remaining scientist at PHAC or Health Canada whose work focused on the study of tobacco and cancer, specifically the connection between second-hand smoke and breast cancer.
Dr. Phil Burton, a research scientist and manager of Northern Projects for the Pacific Forestry Centre of the Canadian Forest Service, who played a vital role in assessing the impact of the mountain pine beetle and, before his departure in 2012, Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline proposal.
Jean-Pierre Gagnon, an engineer with the federal government for 32 years — 23 of them spent at Transport Canada — and one of North America’s leading experts on train cars carrying dangerous goods, including the DOT-111 rail tank cars at the centre of the Lac-Mégantic tragedy on July 6, 2013. Over a year earlier, in April 2012, he received notice that his position would be affected by workforce adjustment. At the time, he was working on a project reviewing the security and integrity of non-pressurized rail tank cars such as the DOT-111. Shortly before he retired from the public service in March 2013, he had convened a meeting with industry on the safety of the DOT-111 cars.
Dr. Kenneth Lee, who before receiving an “affected” notice in May 2012 enjoyed a 30-year career with DFO, was director of the Centre for Offshore Oil, Gas and Energy Research and the country’s foremost oil spill expert. He spent four months in the Gulf of Mexico providing scientific expertise to efforts at containing the 2010 oil spill. Today, he directs ocean research at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Australia.
Canada had a reputation for world-class science, like it had a reputation for peacekeeping, like it had a reputation for international aid. Stop and ask yourself: what kind of reputation do we have now?