Mr. Marc Garneau (Westmount—Ville-Marie, Lib.)
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my hon. colleague from Scarborough—Guildwood.
Let me start by summarizing very simply what our motion is today: one, we must stop muzzling our federal scientists; two, with few exceptions, we must make publicly funded government research readily available to the public, after all, they pay for it; and, three, we must create the position of chief science officer to ensure that the results of publicly funded research are made available to Canadians through some kind of central portal.
I have to say today that there is an element of the absurd in the very fact that we should have to present this motion to the Parliament of Canada. Who would have thought that in a country like Canada, muzzling scientists would be an issue?
Today, we are talking about science. For those who like definitions, the Canadian Oxford defines science as:
1. The intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment. 2. Systematic and formulated knowledge, esp. of a specified type or on a specified subject.
I dare say that I know enough about science to know what it is. I conducted research during my career. As president of the Canadian Space Agency, I was in charge of federal scientists and their research.
First and foremost, science is neutral. It is simply looking for answers. The results of good scientific research are just that: results. It is up to us to characterize those results as good or bad. Science naturally leads to discovery. That discovery informs us and sometimes allows us to find solutions to our problems. For instance, it can help us find a life-saving drug.
However, science plays another role and that is to inform us. Sometimes science gives us good news and sometimes it gives us bad news. If the news is bad, then we have to do something about it.
For example, we may learn that certain fish stocks are at risk of being completely depleted and that we must impose a moratorium on fishing certain species, or that smoking causes cancer and that we need to educate the public on the hazards of smoking, or that global warming is occurring due to the increase in the human production of greenhouse gases.
All of this comes out of scientific research. The examples I have given you are examples of bad news. However, I believe we would all agree that it is just as important to hear the bad news as it is the good news. That is why scientific research is so important. That is why scientific results must absolutely guide our deliberations as lawmakers, and why we must legislate based on the best possible scientific evidence available to us. We owe that to Canadians. That is not what is happening with the current government.
This government denied global warming for a long time and some Conservatives still deny it, although they do not dare to say so publicly. Some have called it a “social conspiracy”. Those very words escaped the lips of the Prime Minister. Apparently, this conspiracy is driven by a Canadian anti-oil cabal.
We certainly know that federal scientists at Environment Canada cannot discuss or publish their research without the minister's consent. It is also quite clear to us that the government did not react to the scientific results that clearly indicate that we must take action to deal with greenhouse gases.
If my colleagues do not believe that Canadian scientists are being muzzled, then they should consult the most prestigious scientific journal in the world, Nature. They will find two editorials that openly criticize the Canadian government for muzzling our federal scientists.
As we all know, this government got rid of the mandatory long form census. We are all well aware of the results. I was at the committee hearings when the government decided to eliminate this form. Hundreds of groups told us the same thing: it made no sense to get rid of the most important database used to formulate our social policies in Canada.
As members know, the response rate, which used to be 93%, has fallen to 68%. The 32% who do not fill out the form are the people we should be following because they are the ones most in need of social measures.
This is the government that stopped funding the Experimental Lakes Area. This was an internationally recognized scientific laboratory that allowed Canada initially to study the effects of acid rain and later on to look at such things as the effect of phosphates flowing into our water systems, these kinds of things. Everybody agreed that this was very important for Canada. However, the government did not share that feeling and decided it would stop financing it. Fortunately the Government of Ontario was able to use its funding, demonstrated the necessary understanding of the importance of the Experimental Lakes Area and we still have it today.
This is the government that got rid of the national science advisor. The previous Prime Minister of this country, Mr. Martin had put in place a scientific advisor to advise Canadians and in particular to have the Prime Minister's ear about the importance of science in this country. Obviously the current Prime Minister did not share that opinion, and first of all demoted him to report to the Minister of Industry. Then the Minister of Industry got rid of him.
This is the government that initially decided to stop funding Arctic research on ozone depletion, something that very much affects Canadians living in the far north of this country.
This is the government that refuses to recognize that scientific research related to crime and detention is important. This is a government that prefers to just lock up everyone and throw away the key.
This is a government that does not recognize the importance of social sciences and the value that they bring to us in terms of formulating policy in the government.
This is a government that devalues the importance of basic or fundamental research. This government focuses on applied research whenever it sees a commercial return, but it does not feel that basic or fundamental research is important.
This is a short-sighted view of the importance of science. This is playing God with the decisions about what science is important. It has proven time and again to be wrong.
In conclusion, science is an extremely important tool that guides us in our decision-making as legislators. We must share research results, whether they are good or bad. We must take action especially when the results are bad. We must definitely allow our scientists to speak freely about their research and publish it. They should not have to ask for permission to do so, except in some very exceptional cases. Finally, federal research should be shared with as many Canadians as possible. After all, they are the ones paying for it. To that end, we propose to create the position of chief science officer to ensure that government science is available to all Canadians through a central portal.
I hope that the government listened carefully to us today and that it will accept this motion, which is very important not just to the future of the country and our scientists, but also to policy-making.
Subtopic: Business of Supply
Sub-subtopic: Opposition Motion—Federal Science Research