Lab Canada

Report examines federal government cuts to science

Ottawa, ON – The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) has released a report entitled “Vanishing Science,” based on recent, separate surveys of federal government scientists and the public.

According to newly released data from a survey conducted by Environics Research, over 9 out of 10 federal government scientists (91%) believe cuts to federal science budgets – most of which take effect over the next few years – will have a detrimental impact on the federal government’s ability to serve the public. (Over half – 51% – already believe the impact to be very detrimental.) Moreover, the cuts are strangely at odds with the science priorities of the overwhelming majority of Canadians. A recent poll of Canadians, also conducted by Environics, reveals that nearly three-quarters (73%) believe public health, safety and protection of the environment should be the government’s top science priorities – some of the very areas that have come in for the severest cuts.

The report also reveals:

• a significant majority of Environment Canada scientists (69%) believe Canada is doing a worse job of environmental protection than 5 years ago;

• nearly 9 out of 10 scientists (86%) at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans believe recent changes to the Fisheries Act will hamper Canada’s ability to protect fish and fish habitat; and

• 8 out of 10 scientists (80%) at the National Research Council believe Canada has done a worse job over the past 5 years of advancing our international standing in technology and innovation, an area the Harper government has particularly touted as important to the economy and that includes so-called “basic research” – which the government has all but defunded.

Between FY 2012/13 and FY 2015/16, a total of $2.6 billion is slated to be cut department-wide from 10 federal science-based departments and agencies alone, of which $758.1 million has been cut so far. The cuts have already led to the loss of thousands of federal science jobs, and the elimination or reduction of scores of programs and vital resources. They have also led to the loss of some of the best and brightest scientific minds from government, including:

• Dr. Michael Arts, an international authority on the health of aquatic ecosystems;

• Dr. Kenneth Lee, once the country’s foremost oil spill expert who spent four months providing scientific expertise to efforts at cleaning up the 2010 Gulf oil spill; and

• Jean-Pierre Gagnon, a former engineer with Transport Canada and one of North America’s leading experts on train cars carrying dangerous goods. Gagnon received an “affected” notice in April 2012 and left the federal government the following March 2013, shortly after convening a meeting with industry about the safety of the DOT-111 rail tank car – the same rail tank cars at the centre of investigations into the Lac-Mégantic tragedy of July 6, 2013.

“The Harper government’s efforts to balance the federal budget in time for the 2015 election are being built on deep, unpopular cuts to public science that put at risk Canadians’ health, safety and the environment,” said Debi Daviau, PIPSC president. “These are not cuts to ‘back office operations,’ as the Finance Minister described them in 2012 – not unless by ‘back office’ he means Canada’s natural environment, air and water quality, the survival of other species, and the health and safety of all Canadians.”

Invitations to participate in the online survey of federal scientists, hosted by Environics Research, were sent to 15,398 PIPSC members – scientists, researchers and engineers – engaged in scientific work in over 40 federal departments and agencies. Of these, 4,069 (26%) responded between June 5 and 19, 2013. The survey is considered accurate + or – 1.6%, 19 times out of 20. A shorter public opinion survey was conducted by Environics of 1,003 Canadians between November 14 and 20, 2013. The results are considered accurate + or – 3.1%, 19 times out of 20.