By Tim Collins
Last year’s proposed closure of the Centre for Plant Health in North Saanich was only one in a long line of wrong-headed decisions regarding scientific research in Canada, says Saanich-Gulf Island MP Elizabeth May.
“The Harper government is only interested in science that is business-led and industry-relevant,” said May in an interview with the PNR.
“With that sort of mentality, it isn’t surprising that they barged ahead with closing a facility that they viewed as being involved in ‘non-productive’ science.”
She says she suspects that “someone, somewhere, thought it would be a good idea, and just ran with it.”
“It was part of the government’s assault on science,” continued May adding that “it’s been going on for years and the problem is that it’s all being done in an atmosphere of secrecy.”
That alleged secrecy has been decried by scientists, academics, journalists and environmentalists across Canada and, on Sept. 18, those concerns led to nation-wide protests by a group calling itself Evidence for Democracy.
Their rallies, dubbed Stand Up for Science, were held in 17 cities to draw attention to increasingly strict communication policies that prevent researchers and scientists (like those at the Centre for Plant Health) from relaying information to the media or the public.
Lu Zhao, the organizer of the Vancouver Stand Up for Science rally said that the rallies were meant to draw attention to the fact that at the same time as the federal government is making “absurd and obscene” cuts to basic science, they are engaged in a systematic muzzling of scientists in their employ so that the public remains unaware of the situation.
“It’s an assault on our basic rights to know what’s happening,” said Zhao.
It’s a sentiment shared by Elizabeth May.
“It’s all very Orwellian,” said May.
“For example, the proposed closure of the Centre for Plant Health was rumoured to come from some sort of weird interagency rivalry between the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the more business oriented Agri-Food Canada. But no one would talk about that.”
May said that the federal government has increased the number of information officers who manage the message of scientists by 15 per cent.
“It’s unprecedented and antithetical to democracy to silence or intimidate scientists in this way,” said May.
“It seems that the Harper government is allergic to transparency.”
When the News Review originally requested an interview with scientists at the Centre for Plant Health, the interview was not granted. It required ten days of phone calls and emails to the Media Relations Office in Ottawa for the News Review to be granted a brief interview.