Canada's PM Stephen Harper faces revolt by scientists

The Guardian
July 9, 2012

Canada's prime minister, Stephen Harper, faces a widening revolt by the country's leading scientists against sweeping cuts to government research labs and broadly pro-industry policies.

The scientists plan to march through Ottawa in white lab coats on Tuesday in the second big protest in a month against the Harper government's science and environmental agenda.

Harper is accused of pushing through a slew of policies weakening or abolishing environmental protections – with an aim of expanding development of natural resources such as the Alberta tar sands.

His government is also accused of jeopardising Canada's scientific reputation by shutting down the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA), a research station that produced critical evidence to help stop acid rain.

"In my view there are a lot of attempts in this country, and other countries too, to push through resource-based economies," said Prof John Smol, a freshwater lake biologist at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. "People working at ELA are constantly finding reasons why you can't just put a pipeline here, or an industry there, because there are going to be environmental costs."

Andrew Weaver, a climate scientist at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, was even more pointed. "It's not about saving money. It's about imposing ideology," he said. "What's happening here is that the government has an ideological agenda to develop the Canadian economy based on the extraction of oil out of the Alberta tar sands as quickly as possible and sell it as fast as it can, come hell and high water, and eliminate any barriers that stand in their way."

However, a spokeswoman for Gary Goodyear, the minister of state for science and technology, said the government remained committed to funding science. "Our government has made historic investments in science, technology and research to create jobs, grow our economy, and improve the quality of life for Canadians," she said.

But Canadian government officials also indirectly confirmed scientists' charges that Harper was far more interested in funding research with direct industry applications, than in funding pure science or environmental research. 

Read the full story in the Guardian.

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Posted July 9th, 2012