“Madam Speaker, as a scientist myself, I am very concerned about cuts to things like the Experimental Lakes Area, marine research, atmospheric research, especially climate research, and the anti-science attitude of the government.
The Conference Board of Canada has rated Canada 14 out of the 17 countries it examined. It gave Canada a D in innovation. That is our Conference Board of Canada. A key element in innovation is basic science research.
Does the hon. member share my concerns about the anti-science attitude of the government and that bad grade from The Conference Board of Canada? Would she like to add to my concerns?”
“One thing people have learned over the last few centuries is the value of observation and measurement. That is why we have made advances in science and technology. It is the idea of empiricism, of measuring and counting the number of teeth in a horse’s mouth and counting the number of people, that gives us the ability to have smart government policies, to really understand what we are trying to govern.
There is an example that has already been brought up in the House today, and that is the Experimental Lakes Area. This is a great example of doing real experiments in real situations so we make smart decisions about environmental policy concerning clean water. The federal government has announced that it will cease funding for the internationally renowned Experimental Lakes Area, which is in northern Ontario and comprises about 58 lakes that have been set aside for pollution experiments.
Scientists pollute these lakes on purpose and then watch the whole ecosystem for decades to see what happens. Then they are obliged to return these experimental areas back to their original state. Research during the experiments and the renewal have helped us understand mercury pollution, the effect of phosphates and detergents, green algae blooms, acid rain and climate change. If people believe that pollution regulations are too strict, they need to know that these very experiments are the ones that help us understand how much pollution is tolerable.
Ending funding for the ELA goes against two of my core beliefs. People have to conduct experiments and measurements to really understand how the world works. This is what I believe in as a scientist. We must use facts and evidence to make good policy, and that is what I hope to bring to the House, along with my colleagues in the Liberal Party and other members in the House.”
“Madam Speaker, any ecosystem is complicated. Sometimes we do not know the unintended consequences of a proposed remedy to a problem. Therefore, we need scientists who understand the ecosystem. We need a multidisciplinary approach with biologists, limnologists and people who really understand how a complicated ecosystem of a lake might respond if we try to apply some policy solution to deal with a problem.
That is why the Experimental Lakes Area is so important. We can isolate a lake and do a real experiment with all the complications in the real world to test a policy solution, to test a remedy, to make sure that we do not have unintended consequences in these very complicated ecosystems.”
“The cuts to Fisheries and Oceans Canada are tarnishing our international reputation. Indeed, a group of scientists from Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research denounced the closing of the Experimental Lakes Area, an open-air laboratory made up of 58 lakes, with the following statement:
“The general public in Canada and across the globe has gained from the numerous insights resulting from the trail-blazing research at ELA over the past 45 years. It seems incredible that, at this time, the Canadian government should choose to destroy this unique, world-class research facility.”
In addition to cutting the research being done as part of various departments’ regular activities, the Conservative government has begun to fundamentally change the activities of the main centres that are conducting research across the country.”
“I just participated in a discussion a few moments ago about the decision of the government, through the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, to cut the Experimental Lakes project. This project has been in existence for four decades in northern Ontario and is made up of 58 small lakes. It does not just perform freshwater science in the laboratory; it has access to the ecosystem. It has access to living, breathing lakes on which it performs important research to determine the effects of various things we as humans do and the effects of development on that ecosystem. The government has decided to cut that.
I do not understand it. Scientists from around the world have condemned this decision, because they recognize the kind of contribution this one organization makes to research and science in the world with respect to how the animals within that ecosystem exist.
The other day there was a little story told by a former director of the Experimental Lakes Area, or the Freshwater Institute, as it is sometimes known, at our subcommittee. He talked about a study they were doing on acid rain and the acid rain levels that were being proposed to be set by government. They found that the levels did not affect the actual fish that were under review, so if they limited their study to that aspect, they would find that those levels of concentration were fine.
However, they went beyond that. They looked at the organisms, the other fish that those fish ate. They determined that the concentration level of acid rain that was being permitted did not affect that particular breed of fish, but it affected everything else that fish ate. In other words, if they had approved that concentration level of acid rain as permissible, it would not have directly killed that fish, but the fish would have starved to death, because all of the food that sustains that fish, allows it to thrive and reproduce, would have gone.
He made that point to underline the changes in the Fisheries Act which focus no longer on fish habitat, in other words the whole ecosystem, but focus most specifically on commercially viable fish. He pointed out that it is completely wrong-headed. He also made the point that the research that is being done by this institute, by the Experimental Lakes Area project, is so valuable. It has made so many important contributions, not only to this country, but to countries around the world in terms of its research.”
“Mr. Speaker, that is a beautiful example because that is important research. However, nanotechnology is also what the Experimental Lakes Area project is involved in. In fact, scientists around the world have referred to it as the world’s only ecological supercollider. In other words, it is all about the use of ecological nanotechnology. I say for the minister of state to support that program, but also to support this program because it is doing equally, if not more, important work and that is the kind of threat the government would put the environment under.”
“Mr. Speaker, it is ironic that just as we were talking about nanotechnology I was reading an email from a very prominent nanotechnology researcher who is worried about whether he should be leaving the country to do his research.
My question is about the Experimental Lakes Area. It is a bit strange that in the last couple of years, in the fiscal years ending 2010 and 2011, there was about $800,000 spent by the Conservative government when it was still a minority government on a state-of-the-art research facility in the Experimental Lakes Area. That is when it was a minority government, maybe being careful and afraid to do what it really wanted to do. Now we have a majority government and the Conservatives decide they want to kill the Experimental Lakes program.
Would my colleague comment on the change in behaviour of the Conservatives, spending money to build a state-of-the-art research facility when they were a minority government, and then when they are a majority government and can really do what they want to do, killing the funding for the Experimental Lakes Area?”
“Mr. Speaker, I had this to say earlier. When somebody said to me, “Do the members opposite just not care about information, facts and knowledge?” I said, “Not for a second”.
The women and men on the opposite side are not stupid. They are intelligent people, but the problem is this. What they have shown is if they do not agree with the science and it does not serve their purposes, then they are going to shut it down. The National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy is gone. The National Council of Welfare is gone. The Experimental Lakes Area project is gone.
I do not understand why the government does not have the confidence that is necessary, and that Canadians demand from their government, to allow the House of Commons to be filled with differing opinions and ideas so we ensure that the decisions we make in the final analysis are based on sound research, sound facts and sound debate.”
“Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member’s participating in this debate. I wanted to go back to him with a question on the Experimental Lakes Area project and the decision of this government to cut funding for that organization. I mentioned earlier that this is a unique research facility that has been in existence for almost 50 years and has been instrumental in identifying environmental problems caused by acid rain, phosphorus in detergent and mercury from coal-fired power plants. It is one of the only facilities in the world where scientists can look at the impact of contaminants on the whole ecosystem.
I ask the parliamentary secretary if he would explain why the cut to this organization is in any way in the interests of the fishery.”
“Mr. Speaker, from a broader point of view, let me say that the nature of science is such that science programs, science research projects and so on need to keep evolving because we are faced with new challenges and new questions that need to be answered. They will not all be answered by government scientists by any means, but they keep changing. That means we will be adding programs and at times we will be discontinuing programs that may not be as important as they once were. I think that is the case with the Experimental Lakes. It has done some good work and we hope it continues under the management of either a non-governmental organization or perhaps a university.”
“Mr. Speaker, an internationally famous scientist, Dr. Cynthia Gilmour, is a senior scientist at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center who has done research all over the world with her team in mercury, acid rain, acid lakes and climate change. She has used the Experimental Lakes Area for experimentation. She is not from this country. She has no political stake in this. This is what she said in a letter last week to the minister involved, “By shutting down ELA, you remove a critical tool for finding the most reasonable and cost-effective solutions to national and international environmental issues. The small federal investment in the research station has been returned thousands of times over in public, in ecosystem, in human health.”
My question to this hon. member, and to every member on that side of the House is, will they all follow in mindless lockstep in muzzling scientists and killing research, or will a few of them dare to stand up to their party?”
“Mr. Speaker, it is important to point out that with respect to the Experimental Lakes project, our government is looking to transition this particular project to a partner that will take on responsibility for whatever remaining research priorities there may be.
It is important to point out that our science and technology policy, first developed by this government in 2007, is really unprecedented in the Government of Canada’s support for science and technology. As part of that, we embrace and we celebrate the work that our Canadian scientists and researchers do in this country, at our universities, for our federal government departments. We will continue to celebrate the excellent work they provide.”
“The closing of the Experimental Lakes Area, as we have already heard today, is particularly troubling because of its international importance and its repeated successes that have only proven its worth.
I would like to cite from an article in the June 1 Globe and Mail about its pending closure:
Former top researchers at the centre say the decision is emblematic of the government’s anti-science approach to environmental policy and its emphasis on resource development with little regard for impacts on the ecosystem unless they affect commercially important fish stocks.
“I think they are uninterested in the environment and scientific research into the environment,” said John Rudd, who served as chief scientist at ELA and now consults for private labs. “They don’t want to see things that might get in the way of promoting industry.”
Now a senior scientist at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in the United States, Dr. Gilmour, said:
“By shutting ELA you remove a critical tool for finding the most reasonable and cost-effective solutions to national and international environmental issues.”
She also wrote:
“The small federal investment in the research station has been returned thousands of times over in public and ecosystem health.”
Frankly, the further we go on, the more I start to believe the government’s motto is, “Never let a good policy get in the way of bad decision making.”
“Mr. Speaker, the government says it will privatize the Experimental Lakes Area program, if it does not eliminate it altogether. However, the program does large ecosystems-scale research whose findings inform federal public policy. Because of the program, we have an acid rain treaty with the United States and we have taken phosphate out of detergents.
Canada’s ecosystems belong to Canadians. Only the Conservatives would think that privatizing research fundamental to the health of our aquatic ecosystems is a good thing.
Why is the government not treating Canada’s water as a public trust?”
“Mr. Speaker, let me assure my colleague that it is.
He is indeed correct. The Experimental Lakes Area program, over the decades, has greatly informed both treaty-making as well as public consumer goods; it played a big part in the acid rain treaty.
At the same time, we want to put the research where the challenges are. Environment Canada is moving its scientists farther west, to examine the acidification of lakes in western Canada.”
“Mr. Speaker, the government is throwing out tools that would allow it to develop and implement a national water strategy.
It is sabotaging the Fisheries Act; it is abandoning the Experimental Lakes Area; it is cutting the Institut Maurice-Lamontagne—the only francophone research centre at Fisheries and Oceans Canada; it is eliminating the water resources strategy group at Environment Canada; and it is ending groundwater modelling. The list goes on.
Will the government ever stop pretending that it wants to adopt a national water strategy?”
“Mr. Speaker, clean and cleaner water is a priority of our government, certainly for Environment Canada. We have invested significantly in our Great Lakes, in Lake Simcoe, in Lake Winnipeg. We continue to maintain the highest standards of water quality monitoring across the country, leaving to the provinces and municipalities water quantity because they are the ones that regulate both metering and pricing.
This government does not pay lip service to the environment, as the previous Liberal government did. We are getting things done.”
“Mr. Speaker, the Experimental Lakes Area of the Freshwater Institute is a vital program for keeping our ecosystems healthy. It has helped us make outstanding discoveries, especially in terms of the effects of acid rain and pollutants—”
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
“The government cannot ignore it, but it does not seem to be bothered about it. In fact, it is so indifferent to it that it is making reckless cuts to Fisheries and Oceans, slashing $80 million, including a number of layoffs in research and science-related areas.
It is ending the Experimental Lakes Area program in northern Ontario, it is eliminating the aboriginal inland habitat program, and it is cutting the funding for aquaculture sciences activities. Furthermore, it is eliminating the ocean population monitoring program at Fisheries and Oceans, which means, for this program alone, the abolition of 75 scientist positions.
We know that these cuts drastically reduce our ability to resolve marine pollution issues, such as the problems associated with municipal sewer systems, contaminated sites, the impact of pesticides on salmon and the effect of PCBs on killer whales.”
“Furthermore, five research centres will be axed: the Freshwater Institute in Winnipeg, which works in cooperation with the Experimental Lakes Area in Ontario; the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia; the Institute of Ocean Sciences in Sidney, British Columbia; the Gulf Fisheries Centre in Moncton; and the Maurice Lamontagne Institute in Mont-Joli, in the Gaspé, in my riding.”
“Madam Speaker, I am inclined to agree with the member that not all of these overt attacks on science, data, facts and knowledge are even about money.
I would ask the member for her view on one example that has come to light with the Experimental Lakes Area in northwestern Ontario through the Freshwater Institute in my home province of Manitoba, where it has been demonstrated that the research has paid for itself over and over again. It is a paltry $2 million a year, and I do not say that lightly. Given the fact that it is unique in the world and internationally renowned and acclaimed, is it not more about shooting the messenger pre-emptively than even about saving money, when it is an almost insignificant amount of money when we are talking about a $40 billion deficit?
By preface, I would like the member’s views on one recent piece of research by these scientists. We knew that phosphates and nitrates going into Lake Winnipeg were bad so we were trying to eliminate them both. The scientists at the Baltic Sea had the same problem.
These scientists realized that if the phosphates were eliminated to reduce the algae bloom and the nitrates, it may in fact be counterproductive. We saved $400 million by not going after the nitrates with the same zeal as the phosphates. In the Baltic Sea, they saved $3 billion by concentrating their efforts where it was effective. It was all because the scientists were doing original research.
Does the member agree with me that this is not really about saving money, that this is about pre-emptively shooting the messenger to avoid messages the government does not want to hear?”
“Madam Speaker, the member is absolutely correct. This is not really about saving money. It is about following an ideology.
The government does have absolute contempt for basic research and for investigator-driven research where people have a hunch that a return on investment might not be tomorrow with a new drug, but that it will be in saving lives and actually improving the quality of life.
That institute has paid for itself time and time again. It is this very linear thinking by the government that the savings must be found in the same department or in the same part of a department. Whole of government approaches or how this country works is just of no interest to the government.
The government just wants to know how it can cut, and particularly cut the stuff that will find things that might be embarrassing and that it might have to act on.”