Trudeau Pledge Tracker: Reinstating 40 Million in Science Funding and Appointing a Chief of Science

SHARMINI PERIES: Welcome to the Real News
Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. In the results of Monday night’s election
which brought victory to the Liberal party of Canada and an end to ten years of Conservative
rule, the scientific community played an important role. Now that the Conservatives have been
defeated they’re hoping for a new way forward in dealing with issues affecting science.
The defeated Harper administration had been at constant odds with scientists, denying
the reality of climate change, muzzling research, and de-funding marine science programs, leading
many to accuse the government of unleashing a war on science, especially environmental
science. The Liberal party has promised a progressive
turn for scientists, saying in a statement, we will value science and treat scientists
with respect. The party has also promised to appoint a chief science officer who will
ensure accountability, transparency, and freedom for scientists throughout Canada. In addition,
the new government would reinstate $40 million in funding for the Department of Fisheries
and Oceans. Joining us now to discuss all of this is Alana
Westwood. Alana is the research coordinator for Evidence for Democracy, a Canadian nonprofit
which promotes evidence-based decision making in public policy. She’s also a Ph.D. candidate
at Dalhousie University. Alana, thank you so much for joining us today. ALANA WESTWOOD: Thanks for having me. PERIES: Alana, let me begin with, what specifically
was happening to federal scientists under former Conservative government under Prime
Minister Stephen Harper? WESTWOOD: Yeah, we’ve seen a really extreme
situation develop in the last ten years. Really widespread muzzling, accounts of which started
to trickle down fairly early. But it was really after the Conservatives won a majority in
their second term that the cuts came swift and hard. So over 200 Canadian scientific
institutions, monitoring programs, water quality, air quality, toxicology, were completely cut.
Thousands of scientists who were cut, over 2000 right at the beginning with many more
to follow, as well as their support staff. Entire programs were gutted and completely
lost capacity to do the work that they were mandated to do as part of the public service. PERIES: Now, this has been going on for ten
years. Will the de-funding of these numerous scientific organizations have a lasting effect
for science in Canada? WESTWOOD: Unfortunately it will. Many of the
monitoring institutions in particular that were lost now have huge data gaps. One thing
that comes up a lot that’s very important is the long-form census was taken away, which
was the main way by which the government was able to keep track of demographic information
about Canadian citizens. Conservatives removed that, and now we have this data gap that really,
we’re just going to sort of have these dark years for the last four years of Canadian
history, not really knowing what people were doing, where they were living, what their
needs were during that time. PERIES: Alana, what type of policy should
the Liberals introduce in order to reverse the scientific research that was curbed under
the Harper government? WESTWOOD: Well, the Liberals have made some
great promises. They’ve promised, as you mentioned, to bring in a chief science officer that would
help allow scientists to be unmuzzled, to share their work freely, and also make sure
that evidence was considered during parliamentary decisions. So that’s a great starting point.
They have pledged funding for Fisheries and Oceans, as you mentioned, also for science
for Parks Canada. It is a great start, but what we need is we
need a lot more support for basic science. We need support for researchers to be able
to do the kind of work that leads to, for example, the Nobel Peace Prize, or the Nobel
Prize in science, which was won by a Canadian just two weeks ago. And that sort of thing
comes from foundational research. PERIES: Now, Alana, Trudeau is planning to
continue a Harper-type agenda when it comes to extraction and pipeline construction, and
moreover has supported the Keystone XL pipeline. Do you think that this might curb efforts
by the scientists to speak freely? WESTWOOD: Well, the Liberal government has
promised to work with the provinces and to address climate change. However, there’s no
concrete emissions targets in their platform, so it remains to be seen how that falls out.
But I know that they do at least seem to be wanting to start off the next series of climate
talks on a different foot. They’ve also planned to bring back federal
environmental assessments, which were slashed under the Harper government. So that could
mean a lot. This would allow for assessments of cumulative effects, looking at the effects
of projects like Energy East or trans-Canada pipelines sort of across the range of the
project. So it really depends how strong the legislation is around environmental assessment
and whether or not it has any teeth. PERIES: Now, one curious thing for me, being
an outsider from science looking in, is that it’s taken so long for the scientific community
to protest, to take a position, to really crack down on this kind of de-funding and
really come out in the way that they protested to get Harper out. Why didn’t they do this
a long time ago? WESTWOOD: It’s actually a very unique thing
that’s happened here in Canada. In 2012 we saw thousands of scientists march on Parliament
Hill demanding a change, and that was the first time anything like that’s happened.
Scientists in general tend to be a somewhat reclusive bunch. They’re very curious, driven
by specific questions, and they want to focus on those questions rather than focus on political
engagement. But this is the first time that I’ve seen in Canada, and in fact that I’ve
really seen anywhere else, that en masse scientists are realizing that if they don’t take responsibility
for their own voice no one else is going to do it. So now finally we’re seeing scientists standing
up and saying the situation is so bad we’re not going to stand for this. It’s time to
demand change. And that’s exactly why Evidence for Democracy was formed, as well as other
groups that have gotten involved and really drove a lot of, a lot of the different thinking
that we saw around this election. PERIES: Alana Westwood, she is the research
coordinator for Evidence for Democracy, a Canadian nonprofit. I thank you so much for
joining us, Alana, and I wish you lots of luck in moving forward with the Liberals here. WESTWOOD: Thank you so much. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the
Real News Network.