Conservatives circle wagons to defeat NDP motion on science funding, communications

Guest Contributor
April 3, 2013

A heated debate over a three-pronged NDP motion critical of the Conservative government's handling of science and science communication was defeated 157 to 137 on a March 20 vote that split along party lines. The motion, which advocated a free and open exchange of scientific information, freedom of government scientists to discuss their findings with the public and an extension of funding to the Experimental Lakes Area research facility until a new operator is found, was introduced by NDP science critic Kennedy Stewart (see box).

The debate was marked by barbed exchanges over whether the government has cut or increased funding to research and an NDP accusation that the Harper government was engaged in a "reign of terror" — a charge the Tories was denounced as "propaganda" and "fearmongering".

factual dispute

During one exchange between Kennedy and Gary Goodyear, minister of state for science technology, Statistics Canada data on federal expenditures for S&T (R$, September 20/12) were hotly debated. Kennedy stated that the data show that federal outlays have declined over the past three years and asked whether Goodyear agreed that constituted a cut. Goodyear responded that Kennedy should "do better research than that", adding that the 2012 Budget added $1.1 billion "for science, technology and innovative firms".

Kennedy argued that Canada's cutting of science funding coupled with the "muzzling" of government scientists was crippling the country's ability to be an innovation leader.

"One cannot expect that Canada will be in the position to lead the global push for innovation in the 21st century on one hand, but then on the other, ruthlessly slash the scientific research capacity from which innovation stems. One cannot expect that the voices of Canadian scientists will be the ones that inspire the world, but still choose to muzzle many and cast over all the fear of retribution," said Stewart. "Canadian scientists need the freedom to speak freely and have their work judged not by political loyalty tests but by their peers in the field."

The government responded by alleging that the NDP was misrepresenting the facts.

"I have to say from first-hand experience working in this field that I have seen the change in funding and the impact on science and technology that has come directly from this government," said Michelle Rempel, parliamentary secretary to the Environment minister. "Every single one of these facts that my colleagues have stated have been out of context, misquoted. They are patently fearmongering,"

Goodyear also refuted the allegations of funding cuts.

That, in the opinion of the House:

   (a) public science, basic research and the free and open exchange of scientific information are essential to evidence-based policy-making;

   (b) federal government scientists must be enabled to discuss openly their findings with their colleagues and the public; and

   (c) the federal government should maintain support for its basic scientific capacity across Canada, including immediately extending funding, until a new operator is found, to the world-renowned Experimental Lakes Area Research Facility to pursue its unique research program."

Motion moved by Kennedy Stewart, NDP science critic

"On my side of the House, we vote yes to funding science and technology at every chance we are given," said Goodyear. "We have seen difficult cuts to science and technology spending from many of our peer nations, cuts that have cost scientists and professors in nations, such as England, the United States and many others. In contrast, in Canada, our Prime Minister took an entirely different approach. We chose to invest in science and technology."

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