Harper Government

Silencing Scientists Threatens Evidence-based Decision Making

    This is a guest post by Michael Rennie, assistant professor at Lakehead University and former research scientists with Fisheries and Oceans Canada. This piece originally appeared on the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression website.

    Decision makers need information to help them make decisions. And those decisions can be best evaluated when all the facts are in. But who supplies “the facts,” and how can we trust that they are unbiased?

The traditional role of government scientists has been to provide those “facts”; as a former government scientist, it was part of my job to provide unbiased advice to decision makers in forming policy. This has become more difficult given recent legislative changes and budget cuts, as well as a shift in emphasis away from basic science and towards advancing the intellectual property interests of private industry.

These changes have made both the “doing” of government science and the communication of scientific findings from government scientists to the public far more challenging than they need to be.

Objectivity is the cornerstone of scientific investigation. Scientists seek answers to how the world works by co

Hello, CSIS!

This post originally appeared on the Dogwood Initiative blog.

I should confess: I talk to lamp fixtures.

I wink at ceiling vents, sing to the dashboard in my car, apologize to the people eavesdropping on my phone calls for how boring my conversations are.

I can’t pinpoint when this running joke began, but it was sometime after I left television journalism and began to publicly criticize the government. Now that I work at Dogwood Initiative — where we’ve actually been the target of homeland surveillance — the joke is less funny.

Last week Dogwood organizers testified at a secret hearing of the Security Intelligence Review Committee — the “watchdog” tasked with keeping CSIS on a leash. We allege not only that Canada’s spy service broke the law by gathering information on peaceful civilians inside Canada, but that government spying has put a chill on democratic participation.

Do you know that feeling, that you’re being watched? It’s like when you park your vehicle in a bad spot and have to walk there after dark. Or you come home after a trip and the door is unlocked. Or you peer into the webcam on your phone or computer and wonder, is anyone there?

Cue Collective Eye Roll: Harper Appoints Kinder Morgan Consultant to Pipeline Regulator

The purpose of the National Energy Board, like any regulator, is to be unprofitable. They perform unprofitable environmental assessments to make sure we have access to unprofitable clean drinking water and preserve unprofitable nature for unprofitable future generations. That’s because citizens value things beyond profits, and the National Energy Board represents citizens. In theory… 

One of the last things the Harper government did before it launched the federal election was to appoint Steven Kelly, who is a consultant for Kinder Morgan, to the National Energy Board. This guy was paid to convince the government to approve the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline. And now he’ll be part of the team that helps to decide if his own argument was convincing. If the pipeline review process was a cutest baby competition, we just hired the baby’s mom.

Here’s Why Canada Needs Federal Carbon Pricing Leadership

Despite the federal Conservative government’s seven-year attack on carbon pricing as a “job-killing carbon tax,” Canada is actually making progress provincially on pricing carbon pollution.

Without any direction from the federal government, Alberta, British Columbia, Quebec and recently Ontario have all introduced systems that require polluters to pay for the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions they produce (as we’ve pointed out elsewhere in this series, those systems have had varying success).

But without an overarching carbon pricing system there is only so much the provinces can accomplish. 

There’s nothing stopping the federal government from attempting to help provinces and territories strengthen and expand their existing GHG programs,” Katie Sullivan, North America policy and climate finance director at the International Emissions Trading Association, said.

Ottawa could provide model rules, methodologies, guidance, tools and centralized infrastructure and architecture for a variety of program elements,” she said. “The federal government could play a valuable ‘enabling’ role.”

Canada Creating a 'Death Spiral for Government Science,' Says Newly Retired Federal Scientist

They say the truth will set you free. But sometimes all it takes is retirement.

That’s the case for Steve Campana, a former federal scientist with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans who is using his retirement as an opportunity to speak openly about the federal government’s policies and the damage Prime Minister Stephen Harper has caused to public interest science.

I am concerned about the bigger policy issues that are essentially leading to a death spiral for government science,” Campana told the CBC.

He said federal scientists work in a climate a fear.

I see that is going to be a huge problem in coming years,” he said. “We are at the point where the vast majority of our senior scientists are in the process of leaving now disgusted as I am with the way things have gone, and I don’t think there is any way for it to be recovered.”

Canadian Government Called on to Federally Regulate Fracking

The Council of Canadians called on the federal government Tuesday to implement regulation of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in Canada. The process, widely used for unconventional oil and gas recovery in western Canada, is linked to numerous human and environmental health threats and currently faces bans or moratoria in Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, as well as Newfoundland and Labrador

The next Oka in Canadian history is going to be in B.C. and it’s going to be about energy,” indigenous lawyer Caleb Behn said during a press conference in Ottawa addressing the fracking boom in northern British Columbia and other parts of western Canada. 

I guarantee it. The writing is on the wall. It is just a question of when in my view. That is why the regulators need to step up.”

Cap and Trade in Quebec and Ontario: A Primer

Cap and trade is in the new kid in town as far as carbon pricing goes in Canada. In April, just before the Premiers' Climate SummitOntario made headlines by announcing it will join Quebec’s cap and trade system, which is linked to cap and trade in California.

So just how does it work? Here's our short primer.

The system was first adopted by Quebec in 2013 (although it’s worth noting the province did impose a tax on gas and diesel fuel back in 2007).

The benefits of emissions trading, beyond ensuring the climate goal is reached in a measurable manner, is that business has flexible compliance options and ‘carrots’ — incentives for making smart, economic business decisions,” Katie Sullivan, director for North America and Climate Finance at the International Emissions Trading Association, said.

Like Alberta’s carbon levy, Quebec’s system puts a price on emissions above a certain level.

Internal Documents Show Feds Doubted Their Own First Nations Consultation Process for Northern Gateway Pipeline

Internal documents obtained by B.C.'s Haisla Nation show the federal government had concerns about the consultation approach proposed for Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline since at least 2009.

The documents, requested by the Haisla Nation nearly four years ago, were released through Access to Information legislation recently and show the federal government was warned it wasn’t fulfilling its duty to consult Aboriginal peoples as required under Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution.

An Environment Canada e-mail included in the documents contained a list of concerns regarding the consultation process, stating, “it is not clear that [the process] would meet the honour of the Crown duty.”

The e-mail also acknowledged “First Nations were not involved in the design of the consultation process” and that there was a “lack of clarity” concerning First Nations’ rights and title.

Haisla Nation Chief Councillor Ellis Ross said he received the trove of documents with “mixed emotions.”

We’re very satisfied to know the staff of Environment Canada agreed with us in terms of the inadequate process in place to address rights and title,” Ross said. “But it’s disappointing this information is in our hands now when we can’t do anything with it legally or politically.”

Gwynne Dyer Warns Climate Change Greater Global Threat Than Terrorism

When the iconic Gwynne Dyer recently spoke to a sold out crowd at Goldcorp Auditorium at Simon Fraser University he said although terrorism dominates media headlines it’s the global threat of climate change that keeps him up at night.

Delivering a lecture on his vision of “The New World Disorder,” Dyer said the Western world obsesses over the Middle East, overblowing the significance of radical terror groups to global security.

It's astounding how little the Middle East matters,” Dyer told the crowd. “I mean, it monopolizes our news media, but the Middle East contains 10 percent of the world's people. Only five percent of the world's people are Arabs. And it accounts for about three percent of the world's economy, including all the oil.”

How is Your Province Acting on Climate? A Primer for the Premiers' Climate Summit

In the lead up to December’s UN climate talks in Paris, most countries are approaching their promised emission reductions with new national regulations. Canada’s Conservative government is taking a different path.

Instead of considering a federal carbon tax, Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq has asked premiers to submit their own cuts and how they will achieve them. In a letter submitted to all premiers on Friday afternoon, Minister Aglukkaq notes that Canada is falling far short of its promised 2020 emission cuts and suggests it is up to individual provinces to fill in the gaps.

Those reductions — plus working out the details of the Canadian Energy Strategy — form the agenda for Tuesday’s Premiers' Climate Summit on Climate in Quebec City.


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